Christine Craft lives above a garage on the beach just south of here, alone in a one-room apartment where you can hear little but the trucks on the highway and the surf from the ocean. It's not exactly what you would expect of a 38-year-old former television anchorwoman just awarded $500,000 by a jury because she said she was demoted for being "too old, unattractive and not deferential enough to men." Her place looks like a museum set from the '60s.
In an era when the anchorwoman look is halfway between the Redbook cover girl and Wharton business school, Craft is an anomaly. In her apartment you can find:
A boar's head hung above the bed. A gnarled tree strung with Christmas lights. A picture of her interviewing Joan Baez. An article from People magazine thumbtacked to the wall, with a headline that reads "Mick Jagger Turns 40." An old highway sign that says "Scenic Drive." A potbellied stove. A Ronald Reagan campaign poster that she calls "pop art." A sushi calendar. The front page of The Kansas City Times on the day of the verdict. "The I Ching Book of Changes." "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker. A flier about Wet magazine. A labrador retriever named Brinkley, after David.
And a surfboard.
"I was never the girl who could sit on the beach and comb her hair and wait for the boys," she says, sitting barefoot on a platform bed that is six inches from the floor. Morning light comes through a window that faces the Pacific, shining on a face that is pretty but drawn. "In those days I had really thick glasses, and my surfing nickname was 'The Mole' because I could never see. That's where the crow's feet come from, all those years of paddling in the sun. I would see a dark shadow behind me, and I knew it was a wave, and then I would take off in my fumbling beginner's fashion, right in front of the best guys. You're just not supposed to do that. But I couldn't see them. And they'd say, 'Oh, what a mole.' Women surfers always faced being made fun of . . .
"But I think the lesson of surfing is a very elegant one. It's very simple, and not intellectual at all. If you paddle out on a huge day when there are big waves, you are going to be scared to death. It's a combination of excitement and fear. Once you take off on the big wave, you either get nailed--or you have this amazing ride, which is such a phenomenally beautiful experience." Her voice becomes a whisper. "It frees you from thought, and has a rhythm and a music to it that is an esthetic experience without parallel. But if you sit out there and wait all day, because you're frightened, you'll still be there when the sun goes down." RIDING THE WAVES
Surfing may be the best metaphor for Christine Craft's life, a patchwork of odd jobs, television journalism, a marriage that lasted six years, sun, fun and a skateboard she took everywhere. For years she literally followed the tides in search of the best waves, and then later, faced with a news director who told her that Kansas City viewers turned the dial when they saw her, had the nerve to ride out that personal tidal wave--and fight it. That may explain how a California golden girl who was never particularly political, and who even now refuses to call herself a feminist, became a symbol for the unequal standards women reporters face in television news.
She is not at all like the pictures taken of her during last month's trial in Kansas City. There, in her conservative suits, round collars and blow-dried hair, she gave off an image she describes as "the aging cheerleader look." In person, she has a bohemian quality. She is slim, athletic and tanned, with blond hair layered loosely to her shoulders. She doesn't look like one of the young models she complains she has had to compete against in her career. Her face has seen too much sun. On this particular day, she wears a bathing suit under her T-shirt and jeans. Later, when the waves are better, she'll go surfing.
"It's therapy," she says.
She has just quit the $25,000-a-year anchor job at KEYT in Santa Barbara that she returned to after she was dropped by KMBC. This month she begins a lecture tour, and plans for a book and a movie are already under way. She quit KEYT because she was tired of television, and says she needs the money she can earn from lectures to pay off her legal debts.
A federal judge recently upheld the $500,000 in damages against Metromedia Inc., then owner of KMBC, agreeing that Metromedia was guilty of fraud for telling Craft she was being hired for her journalistic skills, and then demoting her after viewers criticized the way she looked. But he still has to rule on a charge of sex discrimination, and since the defense has filed a motion for a new trial, Craft isn't expecting to see the money anytime soon.
"I'm broke," she says. "I have offers to do lectures all over the country. Hopefully, it'll be profitable. What's wrong with that?"
Spending a day with Craft is entertaining, if frenetic. She is gregarious, does an excellent Valley Girl imitation, and is smart, funny and articulate. Her phone rings every few minutes, bringing new lecture dates, questions from reporters, hellos from friends. "I'm in the midst of major life changes," she says to one, "but otherwise I'm fine."
Her case is important because it raises questions about whether women in television are judged more on appearance than men are--and if television executives will allow them to age on the air. "We'll never have our female Walter Cronkites and Eric Sevareids without pioneers like Christine Craft," says Gloria Steinem, the feminist. Critics, though, say the trial was pointless because women anchors, particularly at the local level, are hired primarily on looks.
"That's taking the cavalier attitude," says Craft. "You know, 'Don't you know that television news is show business?' It sure as hell shouldn't be. I still believe in spite of everything that television is a sacred trust. It should still be that the best journalists, the people with the best overview of the day's news, should be having those anchor chairs."
She has not always been a woman of causes. A decade ago she was a surfer in Hawaii who met her husband when she did the voice of a computer run amok in "Sabotage," an underground film he was helping to make. When she mentions him, she hums a few bars of Wagner's "Wedding March" from "Lohengrin," announces "I have pictures!" then pulls a scrapbook out of a paper-clogged drawer. She flips through it with interest. "Oh, here we are sitting naked by the pool," she says casually, which they are.
She has spent much of her life in quiet rebellion. "Have I always been a troublemaker?" she asks, bringing up the thought herself. "I think so."
Craft had problems at CBS Sports long before she ever got to KMBC in Kansas City; as her former CBS producer, Robin Leventhal, puts it: "Christine isn't afraid to challenge authority."
She was popular with colleagues at KEYT in Santa Barbara, and was admired by the news director there for an unusual sensitivity in television journalism. (At another station, she once refused to aim a camera at a hysterical woman whose husband had just died.) But she is also remembered at KEYT for a certain arrogance. Once during the 11 p.m. Friday night broadcast, her last of the week, there was a story aired about a local French bakery. Craft turned to her co-anchor, King Harris, and asked him, on the air and in French, if he liked French bread.
"Un peu," managed Harris, who barely spoke French but recovered enough to get out the words for "a little." News director Carol Breshears was on the phone, instantly. "I didn't find it funny," she says.
Craft does have a flair for the dramatic. While working at a chic store in the '60s that sold, as she calls it, "groovy stuff" to "upper-middle-class liberal Democrats from Carmel and Pebble Beach," she illustrated the amazing unbreakability of a French glass bowl by dropping it before a customer's eyes--and watching it smash on the floor. "We've never had that happen before," said Craft. "Here, let me prove it to you." She went through two more.
When she traveled across the country for CBS Sports, she brought her skateboard again. "In most places, it's a wonderful way to get through cities quickly," she says. For her debut on the short-lived "Women in Sports" program, she appeared with an enormous black eye, thanks to a racquetball injury. Later, when CBS paid to fix a drooping eyelid--a bit of cosmetic surgery the defense brought up at the trial--Craft had not one, but two, shiners on the air.
"Through all of this, I become the ugly 'mutt,' " Craft sighs, referring to a remark made about her during a station-sponsored "focus group" audience reaction session in Kansas City. "It really makes me reclusive."
She is. Underneath the woman who says she doesn't care that people call her an opportunist because of her lecture tour, and underneath the woman who has a knack for seizing media attention, is an isolated person. Few have gone through the kind of personal and professional scrutiny that she has. "When I saw her when she got back from trial," says her former co-anchor, King Harris, "even with all this mail sitting around, I got the feeling she was very alone--and very vulnerable."
It was only in the past year that her divorce became final. Her ex-husband has a new girlfriend, and the two of them travel in Craft's old circles. "It's no fun to be the outsider in all of these couples," she says. "So I just avoid all my old friends most of the time. Another thing that isolated me personally was that a lot of people who were close to me said, 'You know you just can't fight city hall,' or 'You can't change the fact that men rule the country.' They may have been right on some level, but I was just appalled. So I distanced myself from those people, too, and I kept around me only those who would say positive things . . .
"Actually, I would love to just fall in love, have a baby, write a great book and, you know, live out in the country and grow fennel." She's laughing, but she's serious. "Pretrial, I was called every name in the book. Not only was I a lesbian, but I was an out-of-the closet one. The columnist for The Kansas City Times called up and said, 'You know that's the real rumor.' "
Craft dismisses it. "I knew a lot of gay women in San Francisco, and I guess by associating with people who are gay, it creates that image. But in the last few years, I've hardly seen anybody. I'm just by myself." SURFER WOMAN
Christine Craft is her real name, and even though her mother had friends with boats, she still thought it would be nice to name her only child after herself--Christine Leininger, an actress who married Willard Craft, a high school administrator. "Thanks a lot, Mom and Dad," says Craft, who would have preferred Erica.
Craft grew up in San Marino, an upper-class enclave near Pasadena. Her mother, whom she describes as "a cross between Elizabeth Taylor and Nancy Reagan, only a little older," did television commercials and repertory theater. Craft's mother describes her daughter as "a rugged individualist" who loved the beach. "I have pictures of her when she was 3," she says. "In one of them she's heading for the sea--and I'm running after her."
She started surfing when she was 13. She was bright and popular, an active high school student who marched with the drill team, worked for the yearbook and wrote for the literary magazine. On the beach she was the picture of youth on a slick board under the California sun. "We used to have a wonderful time together," remembers Wendy Gordon, a childhood friend of Craft's who is now an anchorwoman at KHJ in Los Angeles. "She introduced me to all the guys at the beach, and then we'd double-date. I idolized her. She was one of the few girls who surfed."
The fun continued into college at the University of California at Santa Barbara. "I picked Santa Barbara," says Craft, "because it has excellent surf and the campus sits on a perfect point." She laughs. "That doesn't sound very responsible, does it? I figured I could study and have surf breaks.
"In other words, I didn't get serious about college until I was in my senior year. And I got very, you know"--she starts laughing and breaks into imitation Valley Girl talk here--"stoked although she says it "steowked" on William Blake, and all of those things. I finally realized what I was doing in school."
After graduating, she worked at a private school in Goleta, teaching emotionally disturbed teen-agers, then left that for a succession of jobs. She lived in Hawaii and worked as a cocktail waitress, a rental agent, and for a while sold curtains at Sears. And she always surfed.
"I'm not just someone who came from Daddy's money, fresh out of journalism school, and through an 'in' got a job," she says. "I have been in the real world. I have been broke, I have been on unemployment a couple of times. If I do a story on waitresses and their problems with the new tip laws that are proposed, I understand where they're coming from."
When she was 28 she married Lorenzo DeStefano, a man she describes as "a budding young filmmaker." He was 20, a Portuguese Italian Hawaiian, and his mother built hotels. "He was very handsome," she says. "I had always wanted to be married at least once, and we fell madly in love, and never really thought about the age difference . . . so we had a good time, and then I got into TV."
Just like that?
"Well, I know this sounds silly, but it's like Barbara Honegger saying, 'I heard a voice.' "
"NO!" screams Craft, laughing. "I DIDN'T! IT WASN'T A VOICE! IT WAS MY OWN VOICE! I was writing in my journal, and I thought, 'My God. There are all of these women doing TV news, and I know I could do it as well as some of them, maybe even better than a few.' " She went to the station in Monterey, asked to be a reporter and got a job doing three car ads for $35. She tried again at the station in Salinas, and that time ended up as a weather girl.
That, she says, is where she had her first encounter with sexism. She says that the then-general manager, Boyd Lawlor, asked her during a heat wave to do the news in her bikini. "So I thought and I thought and I thought, and I came to work the next day in a trench coat." She told viewers that it was so hot she was going to do the weather in her bathing suit, and then flung open the trench coat to reveal rented bloomers and ruffles, "the world's most unattractive outfit."
Lawlor says Craft did "an excellent job" but adds: "I can't recall that I told her to do that, although it makes for a hell of a story. But I'm surely not calling the woman a liar."
"People loved it," Craft says of her outfit. "And it was something that I always used in speeches after that. Which is, that the way to deal with sexism in anything is with humor. Because it had worked beautifully. And I went on for years laboring under that illusion. Until I got to Kansas City and ran into something entirely different." GETTING SERIOUS
By the time Craft got to Kansas City in 1980, the surfer had become an ambitious television reporter who had moved from city to city in search of the best jobs, not the waves. After Salinas, she was offered the weekend weather and some sports reporting in San Francisco, and she and her husband decided to split. Next she did "Women in Sports" for CBS in New York.
Craft loved traveling all over the country doing weekly five-minute segments for CBS, but she had some battles with Robin Leventhal, her producer, over the control of the stories. Leventhal did most of the research, writing, directing and editing. "I didn't exactly let Christine in," she says.
Craft knew sports better than most women broadcasters, but CBS was only lukewarm about her on-camera style. "We must have looked at 30 or 40 girls to host--or hostess--this thing," says Barry Frank, at that time a CBS vice president. "We settled on Christine. I thought she was acceptable. Not great. She didn't have that charisma that was going to make her a star."
It was at CBS that Craft says they dyed her hair "platinum blond" (Frank denies it) and made her wear "kabuki" makeup. "There's always a muddled question with Christine," says Leventhal, who is still friends with her. "She's assigned to do a show. She's going to be on camera. Is it professional to complain so much about the issue of appearance?" Even Craft admits: "I look back now at those tapes, and I don't look half as bad as I thought I did."
The series was canceled after seven months, and Craft went back to California. She tried selling art, decided that was harder than television news, then took a job reporting and anchoring at KEYT. In 1980 she accepted the job offer from KMBC; not only was it a larger market, but a $15,000 increase over her then-yearly salary of $20,000.
And then began the nine months since examined in detail at her two-week trial. "I said to them, 'If you need someone who's band-box perfect from tip to toe, don't hire me.' They said, 'Oh, no, we like you just the way you are.' "
She was out by August 1981, when she says that then-KMBC news director Ridge Shannon told her that appearance was causing a problem. He offered her a job as a reporter at the same salary, but, she says, "I'm not a masochist." She decided to sue immediately. Then she got into her car and, with her hair beginning to fall out from stress, drove across the country to Santa Barbara.
"It was a wonderful catharsis," she says. "I was able to cry and scream and listen to rock 'n' roll and stop in New Mexico and buy new tapes and do all those things within the quiet privacy of my own reality. It was wonderful."
She went back to her old job at KEYT, and then this July, nearly two years after she left Kansas City, she returned for the trial. There, she and her lawyer detailed the clothing calendar she had to follow at KMBC, the makeup sessions and the focus groups, informal gatherings of viewers who watch videotapes of television reporters and anchors, then critique them. In a tape played at Craft's trial, one leader of a focus group was heard to say, "Let's spend 30 seconds destroying Chris Craft," and "Is she a mutt?" Another time, the leader suggested to an all-male focus group that one of the participants might like to "have sex" with one of Craft's women competitors.
The defense claimed that it had no choice but to demote Craft because audience reaction to her was strongly negative. Station manager R. Kent Replogle testified that KMBC first learned in a May 1981 viewer survey, as distinct from the focus groups, that its audience was unhappy with Craft four months after she started the job.
On Aug. 8, after deliberating eight hours, the jury announced its verdict. Craft told reporters immediately afterward that she felt "like doing a triple jump. Any company has the right to hire and fire as they see fit. But if it breaks federal law, then that's another matter entirely."
Looking back on it now, she thinks the trial has changed her. "I'm braver," she says. RECOGNITION
The morning has turned into afternoon. Craft thinks lunch up the road in Montecito, a resort of Jaguars and food boutiques, might be fun. She settles on the San Ysdiro Pharmacy, a chic drugstore that offers cold pasta and things like artichoke and potato salad. Craft orders soup, salad and a Moosehead ale.
"I'm going through some big trauma here, too, you know," she says. "I've just quit what is essentially my basic identity in this town. And it's hard to do that."
But she's well known in Santa Barbara. During lunch, people come up to the table and tell her they think what she's doing is great. One man gives her a bottle of champagne. The waiter brings her a complimentary piece of chocolate-chip cheesecake. Even a little girl in the bathroom recognizes her.
Lunch over, Craft stops to see a friend, goes back to her house, gets her board, puts it in the water, paddles out under a gorgeous California day--and surfs.