I think that the women in our family have never grown up.
Georgia Holt, 51, may have a point. She’s had six husbands, and her incumbent “fellow” (as she calls him) is 30, two years younger than her daughter, who just happens to be Cher Bono All-man. But who needs to grow up? Georgia may be a grandma, but right now she’s possibly the hottest property in the family (which also includes Cher’s half sister, actress Georganne La Piere, 26, a veteran of the ABC soap General Hospital).
It all began for Georgia last month when her singers’ workshop class graduated with a gig at Hollywood’s gaychic Studio One. Immediately Dinah, Merv and Mike jostled to book her. Eagles’ rocker Don Henley found two songs for her, and Columbia Records proffered a contract. Also, after not speaking for several years, Georgia’s become close again with Cher, who led the standing ovation at Studio One. “Now that we have something in common, she has welcomed me into her world,” says Mom.
Just a few years back, Georgia concedes, she’d sold her piano and car for rent money. Now she says, with the same shattering frankness that was part of her daughter’s popularity despite her outrageous life: “I know that a record company might want to sign me just because I’m Cher’s mother. I’d like to have a career, but I’m not going to be a novelty or a flash in the pan. A lot of people say I can do it.”
People have been saying that since she was born Jackie Jean Crouch in Kensett, Ark. Her father was a 17-year-old baker. Her mother was 13. While Dad moved from town to town looking for work, he taught his daughter how to sing and play guitar. At 6 she was performing on an Oklahoma City radio station, and by 10 she had sung with bandleader Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys.
The impoverished dad and precocious daughter began hitchhiking west, stopping in saloons where Jackie Jean (she took her new name at 21 from a friend’s home state) would sing for nickels and dimes. “When I saw the movie Paper Moon, I said, ‘That’s my life,’ ” Georgia recalls. “Only Daddy didn’t sell Bibles—he sold me.” Not too successfully, however. She remembers spending nights in Salvation Army shelters and having cast-off clothing pressed on her. Despite her stint on radio and a string of talent and beauty contest victories, she spent most of her time shuttling between her separated parents and bouncing through (by her count) 17 different junior high schools.
While still a teenager and working in a Fresno donut shop, she met John Sarkisian. “Johnny was very charming and could talk you into anything,” she recalls. Sarkisian, in fact, talked her into a quickie Reno wedding. “I left him the day after,” confesses Georgia. “I knew I didn’t want to be married. But he told me to try it for three months, and if I didn’t like it, then I could walk out. Well, before three months was out I was pregnant with Cher.”
The newlyweds split within a year. “In those days it wasn’t right to sleep with someone if you weren’t married,” says Georgia. “So I ended up getting married a lot.” After her seventh mismatch (she married Sarkisian twice), Georgia opened Granny’s Cabbage Patch, a quilt-and-bed boutique in Brentwood. It was there that she met Craig Spencer, a Washington, D.C. antique dealer 21 years her junior. “I knew deep inside he was a good person, but I thought he was interested in me just so he could tell people he went to bed with Cher’s mother,” she remembers.
Spencer, however, had only Georgia on his mind. A month after their first meeting he sold his shop in Georgetown, moved into her Encino home and began referring to Cher and her sister as “the kids.” Both Spencer and Georgia are deeply religious and burble to each other in a private baby talk to avoid the scorn of skeptics. For example, the “Shorty” they refer to is not Georgia’s ex-son-in-law Bono but God. Spencer has suggested an eighth trip to the altar, but Georgia has so far demurred. At her 50th-birthday party he asked what she wanted. When Georgia mentioned her long-abandoned singing career, Spencer took charge of the boutique and insisted she enroll in the school run by Phil Moore, onetime coach to Lena Home and Diahann Carroll. “I think Georgia has a better voice than Cher,” Craig says loyally, and she does indeed have the same tone without the nasal quality. “And I think Cher could have done a lot more for her mother than she has.”
Lately, though, Cher has given Georgia a concert grand and some flashy hand-me-downs, and has been chatting up record companies. And at Studio One Cher’s personal makeup man arrived to tone down Mom’s shiny cheeks. Meanwhile Georgia gave up her granny glasses, exchanged her matronly hairstyle for a frosted blond coif and honed her size-10 figure with workouts at a local gym and a no-liquor diet. “Even now, people think I’m rich because I look rich, or because I’ve been married to rich men, or because my daughter is rich. But I’m barely hanging on by my fingernails,” Georgia admits. “I’m still looking for a pot.”
Perhaps, but Georgia Sarkisian Alcaid Southall Collins La Piere Holt plans to use Jackie Jean Crouch when she signs her first recording contract. Her own mother, Lynda, now 64, a self-proclaimed psychic living in New-hall, Calif., forecasts that “Jack’s going to be a big star.” Observes her daughter: “I would love to have been well adjusted, but then I’d be like everybody else. There is a total uniqueness that I wouldn’t trade that comes from being in such a wacko family.”