Wendi Murdoch Is Creating a Career of Her Own

June 16th, 2012

Facundo Arrizabalaga/European Pressphoto Agency

Wendi Murdoch with her husband, Rupert, and his son Lachlan in London in April during the inquiry into the phone-hacking scandal at News Corporation’s British newspapers.

LAST January, Amy Chua got an unexpected e-mail just before an excerpt from her provocative child-rearing manual, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” appeared in The Wall Street Journal. It was from Wendi Murdoch, the wife of Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corporation owns The Journal.

“She wanted her daughters to come to New Haven and meet my daughters,” Ms. Chua said in a phone interview. Like the Murdoch girls, Ms. Chua’s daughters are fluent in Chinese and English, and have a Chinese mother who grew up with a mother of her own who was unimaginably strict by Western standards.

“She was asking for advice like, ‘How do you get a child to practice piano for more than one hour a day?’ ” Ms. Chua recalled of their first meeting. “She parents almost identically to the way I do.”

In return for Ms. Chua’s parenting tips, Mrs. Murdoch gave the author some advice. After the excerpt ran in The Journal, Ms. Chua found herself the subject of an angry backlash on mommy blogs, morning TV and newspaper columns. A lot of friends tried to console Ms. Chua, but Mrs. Murdoch was different.

“She was like: ‘Why do you care what people think? You have two wonderful daughters. Get over it,’ ” Ms. Chua recalled.

If anyone is qualified to give advice on developing a thick skin, it’s Wendi Deng Murdoch, 43, who harbors an ambition and busyness that would most likely exhaust even the most determined of Manhattan socialities.

Since the couple wed in 1999, Mrs. Murdoch, the third wife of Rupert Murdoch and 38 years his junior, has been viewed with suspicion and skepticism. At best, she was described as a “trophy wife” and at worse a “gold digger.”

Lately, the intricate narrative of how Deng Wen Di from Jiangsu province in eastern China became Wendi Murdoch of the Rockefeller triplex on Fifth Avenue (and other homes in Beverly Hills and Carmel, Calif.; London; Cavan, South Australia; and Beijing) has taken another turn.

Even as her husband’s company, News Corporation, faces scrutiny over a phone-hacking scandal at its British newspapers, Mrs. Murdoch has emerged with her own independent career and has immersed herself in a social circle that includes David Geffen, Larry Ellison, Tony Blair, Nicole Kidman and Bono, one that is often free of her husband’s presence.

Her first film, “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” based on the best-selling book and produced with Florence Sloan, the Chinese wife of another media mogul, the former MGM studio chief Harry E. Sloan, came out in 2011. The pair are close to signing a deal with Sony Pictures to distribute their second movie based on the memoir “Journey of a Thousand Miles,” by the Chinese pianist Lang Lang.

Through a family spokesman, Mrs. Murdoch declined to be interviewed for this article, as did other members of the Murdoch family. But many of her friends were willing to discuss Mrs. Murdoch’s new and, they say, more accurate public persona.

They describe someone who is, above almost all things, a world-class networker, collecting powerful friends and brokering connections. She hosts annual dinner parties with powerful women, hosts book parties for friends, and regularly holds get-togethers. When Tony and Cherie Blair visited Beijing in 2009, Mrs. Murdoch organized a dinner party with Chinese power brokers. (Mrs. Blair is now among those suing News Corporation’s British newspaper unit in the phone hacking scandal.)

In May 2011, when Hugh Jackman, a close friend who made a cameo in “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” was in early performances of his one-man show in San Francisco, the project was largely a low-profile one. Until Mrs. Murdoch got involved.

“As a surprise Wendi flew in with about a dozen of the most influential people in the business,” Mr. Jackman wrote in an e-mail. “She is the best publicist anyone could ever have.” The show later moved to Broadway.

If there was a single moment that crystallized Mrs. Murdoch’s ascendancy in the public imagination, it was during her husband’s testimony last July before a British parliamentary subcommittee over the widespread phone hacking that happened at one of his newspapers, The News of the World. Wearing a pink blazer, she sat behind him, then instinctively vaulted out of her chair to protect her husband from a protester’s pie attack.

“Until the cream-pie incident, she’d really been branded the classic younger wife with a tinge of racism and stereotyping,” said Andrew Butcher, a former senior communications executive at News Corporation. “That turned everything around for her.”

“It seemed to finally give the marriage legitimacy,” he added.

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