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- May 16, 1983
- Vol. 19
- No. 19
Tug-of-War for a 10-Year-Old
Pop Star Helen Reddy and Her Ex-Manager, Ex-Mate, Jeff Wald, Fight for the Affection of Their Son, Jordan
The combatants are 41-year-old Helen Reddy, the 1970s Queen of Housewife Rock, her ex-husband and ex-manager, Jeff Wald, 39, and Milton Ruth, 30. Ruth is Reddy's drummer, lover of less than a year and her fiancé. Their battleground: the affections of Jordan Wald, born just as his mom hit the top of the charts with I Am Woman a decade ago. It is a custody fight filled with viciousness and even violence, with hate, lies and sadness—all of it documented with embarrassing candor in pounds of legal papers.
The climax of this domestic donnybrook came on March 16. It was dinnertime in the seven-bedroom, 11-bath, $3.5 million home in the exclusive Brentwood section of Los Angeles that Reddy and Wald shared until their divorce. Reddy had just returned from a week's tour of Europe to promote Imagination, her 18th album. With her at dinner were Ruth and Jordan.
Jordan was acting up, Helen says—"eating his food with his hands, swearing and being a smart aleck." She scolded him and he "began shouting obscenities at me." Reddy tried to leave; Jordan blocked her way, and Ruth stepped in. Jordan says he "threw me up against the wall, hurting my shoulder, and proceeded to swear at me." Insists Ruth: "I did not in any way strike Jordan. It looked like somebody was going to get hurt, so I just picked him up and took him back to the dining room." Reddy called Wald, asking him to take the boy for the night. Jordan also called his father three times—"in near hysteria," claims Wald—begging to be taken away.
Wald soon arrived in his silver Maserati and "burst through the back door with his bodyguard," Reddy says, "and began shouting obscenities at me, calling me a bitch, a whore" and one other, unprintable appellation. He shouted for Ruth: "Hey, scumbag, come down here!" Ruth says Wald was "swearing at me and repeatedly yelling, 'Hit me! Hit me!' Then suddenly Jeff lost control, grabbed me and hit me."
Jordan hopped in the car, then Wald tried to run down Ruth, the boyfriend contends. "Helen picked up a mop and starting hitting the driver's side of the car with it. When I heard his bodyguard shout, 'Jeff, Jeff, there's a .45 on the floor of the car,' I pushed the button to open the [driveway] gate." (Wald says he doesn't own a .45.) Finally, according to Ruth, Wald drove off shouting, "I am going to get you yet."
And all the time Jordan huddled in the car whimpering, "Mommy, I'm sorry. Mommy, I'm sorry."
Thus ends the 17-year, middle-of-the-road romance of Helen Reddy, one of the biggest pop-rock singers to come out of Australia until Olivia Newton-John arrived, and Bronx-bred Jeff Wald, who made millions managing stars who made millions.
Reddy first filed for divorce from Wald in 1981, but she dropped it a day later "because it was my understanding that he was going to discontinue his use of cocaine." Wald had confessed to—and sworn off—his decade-long, $100,000-a-year snowfall.
Last June 28 Reddy filed for divorce once more. The next day she fired Wald as her manager. And that summer she fell in love with Ruth, and he moved in with her. They plan to marry next month.
The divorce became final in January. It was a calm one, as such things go. "I thought this case would resolve itself by agreement," says her attorney, Gary Olsen. They agreed to have joint custody of Jordan, and to sell their house and split the profit. They also settled on their Lake Tahoe retreat and their share of a Honolulu radio station. What remains in dispute, Wald points out, "is future income." He argues that he made Reddy a star, so he deserves a piece of her action.
That was the major unresolved issue between Reddy and Wald—until that dinnertime debacle. Within days both enraged parents filed for sole custody of Jordan. Since then both sides have been commuting to court. Wald says that Helen called the custody fight a "negotiating tactic." He speculates that she would "trade me our son's birthday for the use of a car—or whatever the hell it was. I'll negotiate anything she wants with the business, with the properties, whatever. Our son is nonnegotiable!" Reddy refuses to counter Wald's charges because both are under court order not to talk about specifics of the case (though both did grant limited interviews to PEOPLE).
Reddy and Wald have agreed to a 60-day cooling-off period, during which they will share Jordan. At its end, in early June, a California Superior Court judge will hear all the sides and will then decide what is best for the boy.
Still, things are far from cool. The sniping continues now over three issues: Jordan's custody, Helen's money—and Milton Ruth. "I do not get along with him," Jordan states in a court document. "He has several times used physical force on me, once shoving my face in the fireplace. Further, he continuously says bad things about my dad and calls him nasty names." Jordan said in a statement taken by Wald's lawyer that he was "fearful of returning to the residence."
Ruth denies ever hitting the boy. In fact, he says, there are times when Jordan "almost looks at me as a big brother. We get along pretty well. We play basketball. I help him with homework and we watch movies." After Ruth moved in with Reddy, he remembers telling Jordan, " 'I'm in love with your mother and we care for each other.' I told him that I wasn't trying to take his father's place, that all I really wanted was to be his friend."
Wald is no fonder of Ruth than the boy seems to be. He refers to the 5'7" Ruth as "the midget drummer," even though Wald is an inch and a half shorter (both tower over 5'2" Reddy). "The entire problem was provoked by Ruth," he says. Ruth, on the other hand, claims Wald has "threatened my life numerous times. He says, 'Don't go out for walks. Look over your shoulder. You're a dead man.' You can't say, 'He's just upset.' He is very volatile."
Indeed, Wald grew up tough on the streets near Yankee Stadium, and he retains the dialect. Three years ago he was acquitted on charges of drawing a gun on a picketing restaurant employee at the Sahara Tahoe.
Only last month Wald stormed through his former home, breaking down doors and windows. There are, predictably, two sides to that story. Soon after their "cooling off" began, Wald went to the house to pick up his belongings. While he was there, Reddy and Ruth had a private investigator watching him. The investigator says that Wald broke in with Jordan and took $35,000 worth of valuables: silver, television sets, paintings, Jordan's baseball mitt and a shotgun. When Wald couldn't get into Helen's locked office, the investigator says, he heaved a huge rock at its door; when that failed to get him in, Jordan broke a window with his fist.
By way of explanation, Wald points out that the silver was his grandmother's. He concedes that he took two small TVs, but notes that he left nine or 10 others behind. And while he carted away four paintings (he's returning one, a Chagall print), 36 other works of art remained in the house. Wald does not mention the shotgun.
Property, both sides agree, is a minor issue in this fight. Money continues to be a big one. Wald argues that he made Reddy what she is. "I made all the deals," he says.
When they were introduced at a Greenwich Village party in 1966, her career was "nothing," according to Wald. "She was an illegal alien, singing in Irish bars for $50 a night." (Reddy, a naturalized citizen for the past eight years, insists she always had the proper visas.) They soon started living together and married in 1968, after Reddy split from her first husband, the now deceased father of her 20-year-old daughter, Traci (who spoke two lines on her mother's 1974 hit single You and Me Against the World).
They moved first to Chicago, where Wald booked acts—including Helen's—for Mister Kelly's nightclub, and then to L.A. Flip Wilson, a friend and later a client of Wald's, got Helen on The Tonight Show. In 1971 she recorded her first single for Capitol Records—I Don't Know How to Love Him, from Jesus Christ Superstar. "Which," Wald smirks, "she hated." Nevertheless, they went out and flogged it "just like the Coal Miner's Daughter. Helen and I drove in the snow with the records in the car and stopped at radio stations." It paid off. I Don't Know How to Love Him was Reddy's first hit.
The next year Woman was released as a single. "The record company told me it was the worst record they had ever heard and that I'd end her career with that s—t," Wald recalls. "So I went around the country, station by station, between April and December." In December Billboard listed the single at No. 2. "I said that if the record goes to No. 1, I'd name our son Billboard Wald. The record went to No. 1." Fortunately, Wald did not make good his promise when Jordan was born Dec. 12.
From then on both careers took off. Wald estimates that Reddy made $30 million in the last decade. Wald made perhaps another $15 million on his own, representing stars from Tiny Tim to Sylvester Stallone (he now represents Stephen Stills and Robert Stack). The Walds poured much of their money into their homes, a plane (since sold), a boat, jewelry and investments in such ventures as Famous Amos Cookies. They've also, Wald adds, "given away millions": $125,000 to the University of Southern California, $250,000 to build the Helen Reddy-Jeffrey S. Wald Adult Outpatient Clinic at L.A.'s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and hundreds of thousands to liberal politicians from the late Hubert Humphrey to Jerry Brown.
Reddy hasn't had a big hit since 1977's You're My World. But she's still making albums and concert tours, selling out two shows at the Tropicana in Atlantic City only last month. "They're coming to see me," declares Reddy. "I think I'll be around for another 100 years."
Wald must think so too. He is, after all, demanding a chunk of her future income. "I gotta keep making my millionplus a year to exist the way I want to exist," he says. As Wald sums up his case: "There's no fairness there. She can sing, I can't. I can manage, she can't. But it's her career. Now I have an interest in that, and I'll fight for it." "Hell hath no fury," suggests Reddy's attorney, Olsen, "like a husband who lost his meal ticket."
In fact, Wald, now dating 27-year-old aspiring actress Fabrienne White, speaks well of his years with Helen. "I enjoyed 95 percent of it," he says. "I had a lot of fun, a lot of success. When it gets down to this nastiness...and then it escalates into pettiness..." Agrees Reddy: "I think the record speaks for itself as far as our getting along." Before their divorce, both were seeing a psychologist, and they have agreed to be interviewed by a court-appointed psychiatrist before this mess is settled. Wald says that he and his ex may never iron out all their differences, but both are seriously trying to come to terms on Jordan's future.
"He's very bright, very observant," his proud mother said recently after playing basketball with her son while boyfriend Milt cooked dinner. Wald boasts that Jordan has already traveled to 31 countries. "Helen had him this summer in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur," says Dad. "He needs that identification, to go onstage and sing with her. He's bilingual—he speaks Spanish as fluently as English. He goes to the Mirman School for gifted children. He loves music. He has his mother's voice. And he's a baseball nut."
Wald praises Reddy as a mother—"until recently very loving, very understanding, very supportive. The kids have a lot to learn from her." Jordan, he concedes, "loves his mother. I want him to love his mother." That much appears to be mutual. "I don't doubt," Reddy allows, "that he loves his child."
Over the years Reddy made heroic efforts to be with her children. She would see her son in the evening, fly to Vegas for two shows, then fly back for breakfast with him. "I don't consider myself that much more remarkable than thousands of other women who are working at a job and raising a family," she says. "I chose to be in show business. I chose to have a child."
Now, however, it's Jordan who's doing the commuting. After he left Reddy's home that horrible night in March, he has spent some nights with his mother. Most of the time he lives in Dad's one-bedroom suite in Beverly Hills' top-dollar L'Ermitage Hotel. Once things are settled, Reddy plans to buy a smaller house in the same neighborhood. Wald plans to rent one nearby.
To get it settled, their son will have to go back into court. "A lot of it will be up to Jordan," Wald says. Attorney Olsen has proposed that a lawyer be appointed for Jordan because "the kid is being bounced around legally."
Through all this, Wald admits, Jordan's schoolwork has suffered but is now improving. The investigator who witnessed the so-called "break-in" said he saw Jordan transformed in 90 minutes from a quiet kid into a "swaggering," stuttering, cursing boy.
"I think eventually he'll be okay," Reddy says. "In the best of worlds, it's very difficult for a child to accept the fact that his parents are divorced. A bad situation has been made worse by all this, uh, friction."
In ancient Israel, King Solomon told two adults that he'd settle an argument over a child by cutting the baby in half. Things have progressed since then—but not much.
- David Wallace.
November 23, 2015
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