July 20, 2011— -- Rupert and Wendi Murdoch were true to character Tuesday when she went from the statuesque, socialite wife of a media mogul to a protective spouse with a steady right hook, according to Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff.
"I thought, 'That's our Rupert and that's our Wendi,'" Wolff told ABC News of his reaction to the couple's behavior during the otherwise solemn parliamentary hearing.
"She's kind of fearless, actually," he said of Wendi Deng Murdoch.
In an unexpected twist of events at the hearing Tuesday in which Murdoch and son James were peppered with questions about allegations of phone hacking, Murdoch's wife was the first to jump to her husband's side as an attacker threw what looked like a shaving-cream pie in the News Corp. chairman and CEO's face.
Wearing a pink suit jacket, video footage shows Deng, 42 and married to the 80-year-old Murdoch for 12 years, jump up and lunge after the attacker faster than anyone, taking an open-handed swing at the man who was arrested shortly thereafter.
"That doesn't surprise me. She's fairly feisty," said Eric Ellis, who wrote a detailed profile on Deng for the Monthly in June 2007. "I think it was an instinctive reaction that anyone would have … looking after her partner."
But Deng is much more than a protective trophy wife and mother to two of Murdoch's children. She is a Yale University business school graduate and former News Corp. employee who also worked as the head of MySpace China, purchased by Murdoch in 2005.
"She's in there living the life," biographer Wolff said. "This is a woman who came to the U.S. when she was 18 from China, speaking no English, with her first job in a Chinese restaurant.
"She's done it all," he said. "She's had no pretense that she's taking it and grabbing it for herself, and the thing you feel is kind of good for her."
Deng's background is as feisty as the right hook and quick reflexes she displayed to protect her husband as he faced tense questioning by a British parliamentary panel, and now sees his media empire rollicked by scandal and arrests.
Born in the northeastern province of Shandong in China, Deng traveled to California in 1988 at the age of 18 after working as an interpreter in China for a Los Angeles couple, Jake and Joyce Cherry. She stayed in the United States, under a visa sponsored by the Cherrys, to work and to study.
Deng eventually became romantically involved with Jake Cherry and, when the Cherry's marriage ended, Deng and Jake married, only to divorce less than three years later.
"The husband was much more in love with Wendi than Wendi was with the husband," Steve Fishman, contributing editor for New York Magazine told ABC News.
Deng's love affair with Murdoch began under a cloud of scandal as well.
The couple met in 1989, when Deng was living in Hong Kong and working for Murdoch's Star TV. They were married in June of 1999, 17 days after his divorce from his second wife of 31 years, Anna Murdoch, was finalized.
"She was interested in his business and he's flattered and says he wants to get to know her," Fishman said of how the couple's relationship grew.
The couple have two young daughters together, Grace and Chloe. Murdoch has four grown children, Prudence from his first marriage and Lachlan, James and Elisabeth from his second marriage to Anna.
Loyal Wife, Family Tensions
"The other thing is nobody really likes Wendi," Wolff said, alluding to family tensions that arose when Deng reportedly battled Murdoch's adult children to secure a voting position for her children in the family trust, giving them access to a stake of News Corp., worth billions of dollars.
"Despite all this, she has persevered ...," Wolff said. "The feeling you come away with is this is a person with incredible faith and vitality."
As Murdoch's wife, Deng became a red-carpet regular in the United States herself, counting many of the rich and famous among her friends.
Just as the scandal embroiling her husband and her family's fortunes exploded this weekend, Deng was in New York's glitzy Hamptons, attending a screening of the film she produced, the just-released "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan," a story set in 19th century China about the tough cultural norms imposed on women.
She reportedly flew to London Tuesday to be there for her husband's hearing.
"Their relationship has changed over the years, she provided him company and comfort in the early days," the Monthly's Ellis said. "[She's] probably become closer to him and more of an advisor more recently."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.