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A Tycoon’s Wife Blows Into Town : Anna Murdoch in L.A. on Tour to Promote First Novel

Times Society Editor

The Australian-born media tycoon was standing by the piano in Barry Diller’s high, beamed ceiling living room smiling benignly. One arm was protectively around his wife’s waist and when asked what he thought about her new role as a novelist he positively beamed. “It’s wonderful,” he said, “and she’s writing another.”

Rupert Murdoch, who at last count owns 88 newspapers and magazines (London’s Sunday Times, the New York Post among them) plus Metromedia and 20th Century Fox Studios, his most recent acquisitions, had flown into Los Angeles unexpectedly to be at his wife’s side for her book party hosted by Fox’s chairman and CEO. The evening had enough clout to draw biggies such as camera-shy Jack Nicholson, who chatted amiably with producer Robert Evans, possibly putting to rest those rumors about a rift over the making of the sequel to “Chinatown”; Fox’s Larry Gordon; ABC’s Tony Thomopoulos; producers Leonard Goldberg, Sherry Lansing and Dan Melnick; “Dynasty’s” Esther Shapiro; Dino de Laurentiis and his producer, daughter Rafaela; Universal’s Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Sheinberg; Mr. and Mrs. George Segal; heiress Wallis Annenberg; Tony Perkins and his wife Berry with one of their sons; agent Sue Mengers; Motown’s Berry Gordy; Richard and Lili Zanuck; Ray Stark and so on.

After years of being the pretty and helpful wife, the good mother, Anna Murdoch at 41 has come into her own with the publication of her first novel, “In Her Own Image.” It was published this year in London by William Collins, a firm controlled by her husband, and more recently in the United States by William Morrow, a firm with which Murdoch has no connections.

Three-Week Promotional Tour

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We caught up with the novelist at the tail end of a three-week promotional tour, one she appears to have handled with good cheer, serenity and confidence. Still ahead of her is the book’s launch in Canada.

Anna Murdoch, a tall blonde who bears a striking resemblance to actress Lee Remick, was born in Scotland and migrated to Sydney, Australia, where she worked as a journalist and married her boss. She was 19, he was 33 when they met. They were married in 1967. And by the look of it they’ve lived happily ever after, the dynamic acquirer and the serene beauty.

From Australia they moved to London where both their sons were born (daughter Elisabeth is 17, Lachlan is 14 and James is 12). Five years later they moved to New York, a city Mrs. Murdoch likes because of its “anonymity. I never could have gone back to school in Australia nor in London,” she remarked. She said it took her nine years to go from a B.A. to a master’s at New York University. “I have tenacity and the university was sad to lose me. I had become a fixture.” She was happy “coming to the U.S. I like living in a country where you are judged by what you do.”

She had always wanted to write a book. “Like most journalists. I began three. Then while working on my master’s I realized the 40s were looming and if I didn’t do something about it, it would be too late.”

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Advice on Writing

Writing wasn’t difficult, but the discipline it took was. “It was difficult to find the time, living the life I lead, which is an interesting one, but very busy one.” She found mornings best, before noon, while the children were in school. “I never write when they’re home and I never go to bed without a note pad by my side.”

Her favorite advice on writing is from Anthony Trollope, the prolific 19th-Century English author. “He said,” she recounted, “that all a writer needs is a pencil, paper and a large wad of sealing wax to put on the seat and to sit on it.” In the middle of writing “In Her Own Image,” the Murdochs moved to another apartment “and I took the pages out of the typewriter and put them into an attache case. It wasn’t bad, though, it gave me time to digest it and the characters never leave you. Perhaps the book should have been called ‘True Grit.’ ”

Although the book is not supposed to be autobiographical it is set on an Australian farm, much like the one the Murdochs own and where they visit twice a year.

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Rupert Murdoch has encouraged his wife from the beginning. She said that when she was working on the last draft, “getting up very early to write, working on weekends, he took the children off to Colorado (they have a house in Aspen) and they loved it. They got away with murder.”

She’s equally sensitive to his needs. On this trip they stayed at the Hotel Bel-Air, but she took a suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel for her interviews. “I’m trying to keep it (the book) separate . . . I want to do this professionally.”

Advice to Parents

According to his wife, “Rupert’s business is his hobby so we get a lot of it at home, lots of phone calls. We talk about it at breakfast and we’d love it if the children came into the business.” But neither parent is pushing it. “The hardest thing,” Anna Murdoch said, “in raising children is to stand back.” Both Murdochs agree, she said, that “our primary role is to be good parents. And we try very hard. We take it very seriously. It’s important to be there. We have help, nice people, but I’m the one who wants to put my imprint on them.” She sat back, looking very much like a proud mother and added, “They’re lovely children and we’re very proud of them.”

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Her lively sense of humor keeps cropping up. “We were in London, flew to East Germany for lunch, then rushed back to London to catch the Concorde so we could be home to have Saturday night dinner with the children. And when we got home we found they were out. They had gone to the movies. What could we do, but go to bed?”

Relies on Her Instincts

Her husband “often asks me about people.” Her instincts are good, she said. “I’m fairly accurate.” As for discussing business deals with her, “I’m one of a great number of people he talks to.”

When asked about rumors that because he has acquired a movie studio the Murdochs are house hunting in Los Angeles, Anna Murdoch gave an answer of sorts. “I think Rupert’s looking for a house. I need one more house like I need a hole in the head. But if Rupert really wants it, I think he’ll have it.” Actually, she wouldn’t mind living in California. “I adore the Pacific. I adore Sydney. (They keep an apartment there.) And I think the gardens would entice me. I like gardens. We have a terrace in our New York apartment and I pretend my boxes are my gardens.”

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At times she appears to underestimate herself. Like when she says quietly, “I’m a regular wife who would like her husband not to work so hard so he could spend more time with her. But I don’t nag. I just sigh.”

For Anna Murdoch, being bored is the worst thing that could happen to her. Fortunately it’s not likely to. At the moment she describes her life as “like living two or three at one time.” Which is fine with her, she insisted, “As long as you can keep your feet on the ground.”


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