Previously, Schlessinger combined a local radio career with a private practice as a marriage and family counselor, but since going national she has concentrated her efforts on the daily syndicated The Dr. Laura Program, and on authoring self-help books. A television talk show was launched in 2000, but it was short-lived. The Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives, and The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands are among her bestselling works.
Early family lifeSchlessinger was born January 16, 1947 in Brooklyn, New York, to Monroe (Monty) Schlessinger, a civil engineer, and Yolanda Ceccovini Schlessinger, an Italian war bride. She grew up in Brooklyn, then on Long Island. She was an only child for eleven years until her sister, Cindy, was born. She has described her childhood environment as unloving and unpleasant and her family as dysfunctional, ascribing some of the difficulty to extended family rejection of her parents' mixed faith Jewish-Catholic marriage. While in her late 20's, Schlessinger separated from her first husband, who was a dentist, and moved to Los Angeles, where her parents had resettled.
Education and academic careerSchlessinger received a bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and a Ph.D. in physiology from Columbia University in 1974. Her doctoral thesis was on the "Effects of Insulin on 3-0-Methylglucose Transport in Isolated Rat Adipocytes". She lectured at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of California, Irvine, and Pepperdine University.
Radio careerSchlessinger's first time on radio was not as a host, but as a caller to the show of shock jock forerunner Bill Ballance in 1974. Impressed by her quick wit and sense of humor, Ballance began featuring her in a weekly segment. Ballance, who was married, also began a two year romantic relationship with her, which came to light many years later. Schlessinger's stint on Ballance's show led to her own shows on a series of small radio stations, and by 1979, she was on the air Sunday evenings 9-midnight on KWIZ in Santa Ana, California. In 1979, the Los Angeles Times described her show as dealing with all types of emotional problems, "though sex therapy is the show's major focus".
In the late 1980s, Schlessinger was filling in for Barbara De Angelis's noontime relationship-oriented talk show in Los Angeles on KFI, while working weekends at KGIL San Fernando. Her big break came when Sally Jessy Raphael began working at ABC Radio, and Maurice Tunick, former Vice-President of Talk Programming for the ABC Radio Networks, needed a regular sub for Raphael's evening personal advice show. Tunick chose Schlessinger (who until that time, was little-known outside of Southern California), to fill in for Raphael.
Ultimately, Schlessinger began broadcasting a daily show on KFI which was nationally syndicated in 1994 by Synergy, a company owned by Schlessinger and her husband. In 1997, Synergy sold its rights to the show to Jacor Communications, Inc., for $71.5 million. Later, Jacor merged with Clear Channel Communications and a company co-owned by Schlessinger, Take On The Day, LLC, acquired the production rights. Today's Dr. Laura Show is a joint effort between Take On The Day, which produces it, Talk Radio Network, which syndicates and markets it to radio stations, and Premiere Radio Networks, (a subsidiary of Clear Channel), which provides satellite facilities and handles advertising sales. As of September 2009, Schlessinger broadcasts from her home in Santa Barbara, California with KFWB as her flagship station. Podcasts and live streams of the show are available on her website for a monthly fee, and the show is also on XM Radio.
At its peak, The Dr. Laura Program was the second-highest-rated radio show after The Rush Limbaugh Show, and was heard on more than 450 radio stations. In May 2002, the show still had an audience of more than 10 million, but had lost several million listeners in the previous two years as it was dropped by WABC and other affiliates, and was moved from day to night in cities such as Seattle and Boston. These losses were attributed in part to Schlessinger's shift from giving relationship advice to lecturing on morality and conservative politics. Pressure from gay-rights groups caused dozens of sponsors to drop the radio show as well. In 2006 Schlessinger's show was being aired on approximately 200 stations. As of 2009, it was tied for third place along with The Glenn Beck Program and The Savage Nation.
On August 10, 2010, on a call with an African-American woman who was seeking advice concerning her own interracial marriage, Schlessinger used the word "nigger" eleven times, while arguing that merely using the word did not constitute racism. She argued with the caller that she had the right to say the word because black comedians and actors on HBO say it, and cited a previous race-related comment made by her that was "funny" (and was made to her bodyguard, a black man). She also pointed to black people allegedly voting for Barack Obama for President on the basis of skin color as an example of blacks as well as whites making judgments based solely on skin color. She apologized for doing the "wrong thing" a day later.
On Augurst 17, 2010 Dr. Laura announced the end of her radio show during an appearance on Larry King Live.
Second marriage and later family lifeneurophysiology who was married and the father of three children. According to divorce filings, Schlessinger and Bishop began an affair. Bishop left his wife and moved in with Schlessinger. They lived together as an unmarried couple for approximately nine years, and Schlessinger tried to get pregnant after reversing an earlier tubal ligation and suffering an ectopic pregnancy. Bishop and Schlessinger married in early 1985 with Schlessinger announcing at the wedding that she was pregnant. Schlessinger bore their only child, Deryk Schlessinger, in November 1985, when she was 38. Her son enrolled in Hillsdale College in the fall of 2002; he subsequently left college and joined the United States Army under its 18x Special Forces contract program.
Schlessinger was estranged from her sister for many years, and had not spoken to her mother for 18 to 20 years before her death in 2002. Schelssinger's mother's body was found in her Beverly Hills condo approximately two months after she died from heart disease. In 2006, Schlessinger wrote that she had been attacked in a "vulgar, inhumane manner by media types" because of the circumstances surrounding her mother's death, and that false allegations had been made that she was unfit to dispense family values advice. She explained that she had not mourned the deaths of either of her parents because she had no emotional bond to them. She described her father as "petty, insensitive, mean, thoughtless, demeaning and downright unloving". Her mother, she said, had "pathological pride", "was never grateful and would always find something to criticize," and "constantly expressed disdain for men, sex and love". She credited her father with being charming, with giving her the drive to succeed, and said her mother was beautiful as a young woman. She said her mother was the one who broke off their relationship. Schlessinger is also a black belt in karate.
Religious beliefsSchlessinger had not been a believer in religion until she and her son began practicing Conservative Judaism in 1996. In 1998, Schlessinger, Bishop, and their son converted to Orthodox Judaism, and began instruction under Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka of Ottawa, Ontario. During this time, Schlessinger sometimes used Jewish law and examples to resolve the moral dilemmas of her callers. She occasionally clarified ethical and moral issues with her local Orthodox Rabbi Moshe D. Bryski, before mentioning them on the air. She was embraced by many in the politically conservative segment of Orthodox Judaism for bringing more awareness of Orthodoxy to her radio show. Some of her expressed views were explicitly religious, and are referenced her 1999 book The Ten Commandments: The Significance of God's Laws in Everyday Life. Although her other books have stressed the importance of morality, they are more secular in nature.
In July 2003, Schlessinger announced on her show that she was no longer an Orthodox Jew. In a series of monologues following that announcement, she explained that she did not feel a connection with God, and felt frustrated by the effort she had put into following the religion. Her religious approach on the show lessened substantially after this announcement. In December 2006, she stated that she was outraged that a Rabbi was demanding that a menorah be put in the Seattle International airport adjacent to a Christian holiday display. Schlessinger then said that she would be putting a Christmas tree up in her own house.
TelevisionIn 2000, Schlessinger signed a deal with Paramount Domestic Television to produce a syndicated talk show, which would be carried mainly by the owned and operated stations of Paramount's sister company CBS. The deal came after years of Schlessinger stating she would not work with Paramount's parent company Viacom or CBS, due to their radio division Infinity Broadcasting producing and distributing Howard Stern's terrestrial radio program. With the television show, producers hoped to extend the enormous success of Schlessinger's radio show to daytime television. However, the show was fraught with controversy before it ever aired and it proved to be very short-lived.
Schlessinger's views on homosexuality were a major factor in the show's undoing. In the months leading up to the premiere of her TV talk show, Schlessinger called homosexuality a "biological error." She expressed the view homosexuality was acceptable as long it wasn't public, or those that were did not attempt to adopt children. She regularly compared LGBT parenting to pedophilia by reiterating her view that "a huge portion of the male homosexual populace is predatory on young boys." Schlessinger was frequently criticized in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual (LGBT) media for her view of homosexuality as a "biological error," and for her opposition to adoption by same-sex couples. Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), a LGBT media watchdog group, began monitoring Schlessinger's on-air comments about LGBT people, posting transcripts of relevant shows on its website. Schlessinger attempted to repair her relationship with the LGBT community without success. Her March 2000 public apology on her radio show was withdrawn two weeks later when it was not wholeheartedly accepted.
In March 2000, a coalition of gay activists launched StopDrLaura.com, an online campaign with the purpose of getting Paramount to cancel the show prior to its premiere. They protested at Paramount studios and stated her views were offensive for being bigoted. StopDrLaura.com eventually organized protests in 34 cities in the U.S. and Canada, and picked up on an advertiser boycott of both the radio and the TV shows started by another grass-roots organization which called itself "Silence Of The Slams" operating its boycott through AOL Hometown. In May 2000 the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) ruled that her "consistent characterization of the sexual behavior of gays and lesbians as 'abnormal,' 'aberrant,' 'deviant,' 'disordered,' 'dysfunctional,' and 'an error' " constituted abusive discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and as such, were in violation of the human rights provision of its Code of Ethics. The CBSC found similar fault with her generalized statements that pedophilia is more prevalent among members of the gay community.
Not long before her show was set to premiere, Schlessinger was a guest on The View. The appearance was tense as protesters were outside the studio and she was confronted by audience members. Host Joy Behar took issue with some of her comments, and host Barbara Walters raised the issue of Schlessinger's nude photos, in response to criticisms Schlessinger made about a photo of Walters naked, and a past affair Walters had revealed with a married man.
Amid growing concerns at Paramount and CBS, the first episode of her show aired September 11, 2000. However, many critics and viewers found that the format of the show had been dulled down to the point where it didn't stand out from any other daytime talk show and failed to generate the energy and interest of her radio show. The biting rhetoric that worked so well on radio seemed overly harsh for face-to-face discourse, owing to the normal sympathetic nature of most other daytime hosts, and the radical change in Schlessinger's demeanor from her radio persona left viewers cold. The credibility of Schlessinger's TV show also suffered during its first month. The New York Post and other media reported that Schlessinger had used a member of her staff more than once to falsely pose as a guest on the show. A September 25, 2000, episode named "Readin', Writin', and Cheatin'" featured a so-called college student who specialized in professional note-taking. On the next day's show, "Getting to the Altar," the same guest appeared in different hair and makeup, and said she was a woman living with her boyfriend. In fact, the woman was San-D Duchas, a researcher for the show. Her name even appeared in the closing credits of the shows on which she posed as a guest.
In October 2000, Schlessinger paid for a full-page ad in the "Gay Hollywood" issue of Variety as a Yom Kippur apology for previous negative remarks. However, she stopped short of apologizing for the overall message of the comment and repeated it (albeit more carefully worded) on later radio broadcasts. On an April 2009 Larry King Live appearance she affirmed her belief that marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman.
By November 2000, over 170 of the advertisers that had originally committed to Schlessinger's show left as a result of the StopDrLaura.com and Silence Of The Slams boycotts, and the ratings plummeted. CBS directed its stations to move the show to a late-night slot, or replace it altogether. As a result, Philadelphia's KYW-TV dropped the show entirely. Other stations outside of CBS did the same thing, while others moved it to weaker sister stations. The television show was canceled in March 2001 and last aired in September 2001. In 2004, Schlessinger said that although there is more money and celebrity in television, it is not as meaningful or intimate as radio, and for her television was a "terrible experience".
Fictional characters portraying Dr. Laura have appeared on two television programs. In 1999, Schlessinger was parodied as "Dr. Nora" on the sitcom Frasier. The character was portrayed as having dogmatic and fundamentalist social views that promoted social conservatism. The character was also shown to have a degree that belies her therapeutic advice and was ultimately shown to be estranged from her mother. In response to her comments about homosexuality, an anonymous person sent a rhetorical and sarcastic "letter to Dr. Laura" that was widely circulated circa 2000 on the Internet. The email attempted to illustrate disagreements with literal interpretations of the Bible, especially with regard to homosexuality. Although "[t]he 'letter' to Dr. Laura may or may not have actually been sent to her," it was the inspiration for a character clearly meant to be Schlessinger, who was thinly disguised as "Dr. Jacobs", a socially conservative radio talk show host in a Season 2 episode of The West Wing called "The Midterms" which aired in October 2000. In that episode, Jacobs was shown to be religiously dogmatic and publicly challenged by the President character for using the Bible to call homosexuality "an abomination" and cited numerous other examples of Old Testament prescriptive punishments that seemed illogical to modern society.
ColumnsFor several years, Schlessinger wrote a weekly column syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate that was carried in many newspapers, as well as Jewish World Review. She discontinued the column in July 2000 citing lack of time due to her upcoming television show. She wrote a monthly column for WorldNetDaily between 2002 and 2004, with one entry in 2006. In 2006, Schlessinger joined the Santa Barbara News-Press, writing bi-weekly columns dealing with Santa Barbara news, as well as general news and cultural issues discussed on her radio show. She suspended the column in mid 2007, resumed writing it later, then discontinued it in December 2008. She currently writes columns on her blog, on a variety of topics.
BooksSchlessinger has published a number of books. Several follow the mold of her successful Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives, with similarly named books giving advice for men, couples, and parents, while others are more religious or moral in orientation. The later advice books emphasize religion more than the earlier works, until her announced departure from Orthodox Judaism in July 2003.
Her 2004 book, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, sold well despite poor reviews by critics. It was a departure from her previous books, which tended to focus on premarital relationships and children. Proper Care asserts that men need direct communication, respect, appreciation, food, and good loving, rather than tearing down the husband's sense of strength and importance. Schlessinger's thesis is that wives have the power to change their husbands' attitudes by seeing to these needs, and then their husbands will "swim across shark-infested waters to bring you a lemonade." The book proposes that wives have the power to promote devotion, compassion, and love from their husbands.
MagazineFor several years, Schlessinger published a monthly magazine, Dr. Laura Perspective. She was the editor, her husband was a contributing photographer and her son was the creative consultant. The magazine has ceased publication.
WebsiteSchlessinger has a website which contains hints for stay at home parents, her blog, a reading list, and streaming audio of her shows (by subscription only). When it was started, 310,000 people tried to access it simultaneously and it crashed. Certain aspects of feminism are often discussed on her website; she was a self-proclaimed feminist in the 1970s, but is now opposed to feminism.
Charitable workSchlessinger created the Laura Schlessinger Foundation to help abused and neglected children in 1998. Schlessinger regularly asked her on-air audience to donate items for My Stuff bags, which go to children in need. All other donations came from other people or groups, usually in the form of donated items for the bags. Per the foundation's reports, money not used for operations was directed toward pro-life organizations, such as crisis pregnancy centers. In September 2004, Schlessinger announced that she was closing down the foundation because it had become too difficult and costly for her and her husband to underwrite, and they wished to devote their "energies and resources to other pressing needs".
Schlessinger has been cited as an influential and wealthy donor to Project Prevention, an organization that pays drug and alcohol addicts $200 to use long term birth control or to be sterilized. Her support of the organization has been criticized as unethical, racially biased, and as an endorsement of eugenics. Schlessinger has praised the group emphasizing the voluntary nature of the sterilization or implants, and has said that people who oppose Project Prevention are defending a woman's right "to maim and destroy babies inside her body".
In 2007, Schlessinger began fundraising for Operation Family Fund, an organization which aids the families of fallen or seriously injured veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2008, she helped raise more than $1 million dollars for the organization.
AwardsSchlessinger has received numerous awards from both media and conservative organizations. She was the first woman to win the prestigious Marconi Award for Network/Syndicated Personality of the Year (1997). In 1998 she received the American Women in Radio & Television's Genii Award. She was on the Forbes top 100 list of celebrities in 2000 with estimated earnings of $13 million. In September 2002, the industry magazine Talkers named Schlessinger as the seventh-greatest radio talk show host of all time. In 2005 and 2008, she was nominated for induction into the Radio Hall of Fame, but was not selected.
Schlessinger received a National Heritage award from the National Council of Young Israel in March 2001. She also received the National Religious Broadcasters' Chairman's Award, and has lectured on the national conservative circuit. She was the commencement speaker at Hillsdale College in June 2002 and was awarded an honorary degree as a doctor of tradition and culture.
In 2007 Schlessenger was given an Exceptional Public Service award by the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Education. In 2008, Talkers Magazine presented her with an award for outstanding community service by a radio talk show host.
- Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives. Villard. 1994. pp. 232. ISBN 978-0679416418.
- Ten Stupid Things Men Do to Mess Up Their Lives. HarperCollins. 1997. pp. 320. ISBN 978-0060173081.
- Damsels, Dragons and Regular Guys (repackaged portions from Ten Stupid Things Men Do...). Andrews McMeel Publishing. 2000. pp. 80. ISBN 978-0740707438.
- Parenthood by Proxy: Don't Have Them if You Won't Raise Them. HarperCollins. 2000. pp. 288. ISBN 978-0060191252.
- Stupid Things Parents Do to Mess Up Their Kids (Parenthood by Proxy trade paperback ed.). Harper. 2001. pp. 288. ISBN 978-0060933791.
- Ten Stupid Things Couples Do to Mess Up Their Relationships. Cliff Street Books. 2002. pp. 288. ISBN 978-0060512606.
- The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands. HarperCollins. 2004. pp. 208. ISBN 978-0060520618.
- Woman Power: Transform Your Man, Your Marriage, Your Life (The Companion to the Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands). HarperCollins. 2004. pp. 256. ISBN 978-0060753238.
- Bad Childhood Good Life: How to Blossom and Thrive in Spite of an Unhappy Childhood. HarperCollins. 2006. pp. 257. ISBN 978-0060577865.
- The Proper Care and Feeding of Marriage. HarperCollins. 2007. pp. 240. ISBN 978-0061142840.
- Stop Whining, Start Living. Harper. 2008. pp. 208. ISBN 978-0060838331.
- In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms. Harper. 2009. pp. 224. ISBN 978-0061690297.
- How Could You Do That?! The Abdication of Character, Courage, and Conscience. HarperCollins. 1996. pp. 269. ISBN 978-0060173074.
- With Rabbi Stuart Vogel (1998). The Ten Commandments: The Significance of God's Laws in Everyday Life. HarperCollins. pp. 352. ISBN 978-0060191382.
- Why Do You Love Me?. With Martha Lambers, illustrated by Daniel McFeeley. HarperCollins. 1999. pp. 40. ISBN 978-0064436540.
- But I Waaannt It!. Illustrated by Daniel McFeeley. HarperCollins. 2000. pp 40. ISBN 978-0064436434.
- Growing Up Is Hard. Illustrated by Daniel McFeeley. HarperCollins. 2001. pp. 40. ISBN 978-0060292003.
- Where's God? Illustrated by Daniel McFeeley. HarperCollins. 2003. pp. 40. ISBN 978-0060519094.
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