Rupert Murdoch’s new fiancee: ‘Rags-to-riches’ story began with marriage into wealthy San Francisco family
Rupert Murdoch’s announcement Monday that he is marrying for the fifth time left many asking: Who Ann Lesley Smith, the woman who has signed up to become the latest wife of the 92-year-old billionaire?
As Murdoch’s own New York Post reported, Smith is the 66-year-old widow of another media mogul: Chester Smith, the Modesto-based radio and TV executive who died in 2008. Smith told the Post’s Cindy Adams that her whirlwind romance with the Fox News founder, which began in September, was “a gift from God” and that they share many of “the same beliefs.”
The New York Post also shared a curious detail that raised questions about Smith’s connections to the Bay Area. Smith supposedly was a former chaplain for the San Francisco Police Department, Adams reported. While a San Francisco police spokesperson said the department had no record of Smith ever being affiliated with its chaplain program, other past interviews with Smith suggest that the one-time dental hygienist started her “rags to riches” story in San Francisco high society. In the 1980s, she endured a tumultuous first marriage to the much-older John B. Huntington, a scion of one of California’s pioneering railroad families.
Rupert Murdoch’s new fiancé: Ann Lesley Smith. They met last September and they’re getting married this summer, Cindy Adams reports in Murdoch’s @nypost https://t.co/NrplqQgL93
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) March 20, 2023
“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, rich and then poor,” Smith said in a 2017 interview with the Modesto Bee, which also reported that she also had worked as a runway model, songwriter, recording artist, journalist and radio personality.
Smith told the Christian Broadcasting Network that her marriage to Huntington was bedeviled by pain and abuse. According to a 1992 California Court of Appeal ruling that is available online, the marriage lasted from 1985 until the couple’s separation in 1989. The divorce involved a bitter court fight over spousal support and Smith’s claims that she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the “painful” relationship. In the aftermath of the marriage, Smith told CBN she was suicidal and in need spiritual redemption, which she said came when Jesus and prayer brought “new meaning” into her life.
Details about Smith’s life prior to her marriage to Huntington are sketchy. Her interviews with CBN and the Modesto Bee don’t go into where she was where she was born, where she grew up, her name at birth or anything about her family. All that’s known so far known about her early years is that she graduated from Idaho State University and began working as a dental hygienist.
That was her job when she met and married Huntington, a lawyer and philanthropist who had a net worth of more than $15 million, according to the court ruling. At the time of the marriage, Smith was 28 and Huntington was 47. She stopped working as a dental hygienist and enjoyed their “extremely high” standard of living, the records show. Huntington owned a home in Tiburon, an estate in Lake Tahoe and nine cars. While he was bringing in $500,000 a year income, Smith testified that she probably spent $6,000 a month on clothes.
“During the day my life was just so fun,” Smith said. “John was into cars, and we had a stable full of every kind — exotic Ferraris and everything.
“The world just opened up to me. Almost like royalty…” Smith continued. Her husband was a descendent of pioneer railroaders Collis P. Huntington and Henry E. Huntington, according to his 1996 San Francisco Chronicle obituary. He also was a member of the exclusive Pacific Union, Bohemian and University clubs and had served as a trustee for the California Historical Society and been a member of the California Arts Commission and the San Francisco Ballet’s board of trustees.
When Smith wasn’t shopping, she told CBN that she rode horses, did charity work and modeled clothes for top designers. But at night, she said, Huntington turned her “house of happiness into a house of horror.” His drinking turned him into “a different person.”
“He would lock me out of the house,” Smith said. “He physically abused me, mentally abused me, emotionally… which is actually worse than physical because you start to believe the lies.”
Smith told CBN that a prenuptial agreement left her with no place to live after their divorce, with the “once wealthy socialite” describing how she went from “riches to welfare.” It can’t be immediately confirmed whether Smith was forced to go on welfare, but the court ruling shows that she received temporary spousal support of $5,000-$7,500 per month for more than two years following her separation from Huntington.
Smith took the case to trial to press for spousal support to be continued while she found a new career. She said she didn’t want to return to work as a dental hygienist because it was a stressful, “dead-end” job with no advancement. Smith said she had unsuccessfully tried to land other jobs in public relations at a winery and as a part-time writer for a Bay Area newspaper.
“She testified that she did not think she was ready to go to work immediately because she had been through a lot, had not worked in a long time, and wanted to see what her options were and make the right choice before entering something new,” court records show.
At the trial, three mental health experts testified on her behalf, raising questions about her ability to function in a job or “in the world.” They said she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder that had left her “depressed” and “preoccupied with memories of a very painful marriage.”
But her psychiatrist from 1986 to 1989 testified for Huntington and disagreed with the PTSD diagnosis, court records show. Instead, he said he believed she had “a mixed personality disorder with narcissistic, major hysterical and occasional borderline dimensions.” He suggested that the personality disorders formed in childhood and were “crystallized” by her marriage. He thought successful treatment of her personality disorder could take up to five years and could not say whether she could work again.
The trial court denied her request for support to be continued and for her husband to pay her attorneys’ fees. The appellate court affirmed that decision in 1992.
Huntington died in 1996 of cancer at age 59. His obituary said that he was survived by a fiancee named Ann Jackson of Portland, Oregon, and by three daughters.
It’s not clear when Ann Lesley Smith met her second husband, Chester Smith, but the Modesto Bee said they encountered each other through her work “as a prison chaplain.”
Like Ann Lesley, he was a person of “strong faith.” Like Huntington, he also was at least two decades older and very rich. A major country star in the 1950s, Chester Smith had turned to broadcasting and built a TV station empire based in Modesto that earned him millions, the Modesto Bee said. He also had the foresight to open the first UHF television station in Northern California in 1966, offering Spanish-language programming and later helped form the Spanish-speaking network Univision.
Following Chester Smith’s death, his widow chose to enjoy a relatively quiet life on their ranch outside Modesto, the Modesto Bee said. She stayed in the public eye somewhat by hosting a weekly talk show, “Ann Lesley Live” on the conservative news station, Power Talk 1360. “The things I talk about usually are things I’ve been through,” Smith told the Modesto Bee.
Five years later, Smith met Murdoch just as he was ending his fourth marriage to former model Jerry Hall in August. Murdoch was previously married to former flight attendant Patricia Booker, journalist Anna Murdoch and entrepreneur Wendi Deng. Murdoch told the Post that Smith attended a gathering at his vineyard in Bel Air in September.
“I was very nervous,” Murdoch said of their romance. “I dreaded falling in love – but I knew this would be my last. It better be. I’m happy.” The News Corp founder proposed last week, on St. Patrick’s Day. Smith said they bonded over their shared knowledge of the media industry.
“Like Rupert, my husband was a businessman,” Smith told the Post. “Worked for local papers, developed radio and TV stations and helped promote Univision. So I speak Rupert’s language. We share the same beliefs.
The couple intend to marry later this summer. “We’re both looking forward to spending the second half of our lives together,” Murdoch said.