Jean Houston read Joseph Campbell when she was 10, identifies with the Greek goddess Athena, has talked in sign language to chimpanzees and has reportedly even eaten worms at a banquet in China.
But the woman identified over the weekend as Hillary Rodham Clinton's "human-potential" adviser is no crackpot, say friends, psychologists and other members of the human-potential movement, despite reports of imaginary conversations in which the first lady asked advice of her late respected predecessor Eleanor Roosevelt.
Houston holds degrees in psychology and the history of religion. She has taught at Columbia University, the New School for Social Research and has conducted motivational presentations for such major organizations as IBM, Xerox, General Dynamics and UNICEF.
She is not in the same category as "witches, wackos and psychos," said Amy Morse, a massage therapist, healer and entrepreneur from Manhasset, N.Y. Morse, a former Wall Street broker who made a career change with Houston's encouragement after losing her job in a corporate downsizing, is a close friend and Internet correspondent.
"She's a genius, a profound thinker, she's ahead of her time," said Morse, who has known Houston since 1988.
Houston became front-page news over the weekend when an excerpt of Bob Woodward's new book The Choice described a guided visualization exercise Houston conducted with Hillary Clinton.
"It's news when the first lady has a guru. It's not news if she has a friend," said Robert Masters, Houston's husband of 31 years, from their home in Rockland County, N.Y.
Monday, he said, the house was overrun by paparazzi.
Houston was raised in a theatrical home; her father, a comedy writer, wrote the famous "Who's on First" sketch immortalized by Abbott and Costello. Despite actor's training and Joseph Papp's offer of the role of Viola in Twelfth Night, Houston turned her back on the stage in favor of studying the human psyche and its potential.