John Ritter’s father, the cowboy crooner and movie star Tex Ritter, once penned a tune called ‘Take Him Fishing (If You Want Your Son for a Friend)’. Tex never took his own advice—he was too busy touring the country singing his songs. Recalls John, “Right before he died, Dad said to me, ‘One thing I always regret is I never took you fishing.’ ”
To John, now star of TV’s Three’s Company, that sad confession symbolized all that was wrong with growing up in Hollywood. He vowed to take his own children fishing (Jason, 2, has already caught several bluegills) and to keep them at arm’s length from what Ritter calls “false values.” He is not alone in those sentiments. Today many younger celebrity parents are trying to raise their children apart from the classic Hollywood style of hype and conspicuous consumption. Some stars have established homes in other places—Clint Eastwood on the Monterey peninsula, Gene Hackman in Santa Barbara, Robert Redford in Utah and Carol Burnett in Hawaii.
Other parents stay in town but try for a more normal way of family life. Ritter plans to enroll his son in an inexpensive cooperative preschool where parent volunteers pitch in. Rory Calhoun, who raised his three eldest daughters in Beverly Hills “with nannies and all the trappings,” now lives in the more plebeian San Fernando Valley and sends his youngest daughter to a parochial school. Says Rocky star Talia Shire, mother of two sons and stepmother of two teenagers, “I think the era of the big, elaborate Hollywood way of life for kids is over.”
Well, maybe not quite over. Success can still mean excess in Lotusland. Porsches and Ferraris have not totally disappeared from the student parking lot at Beverly Hills High School. When Henry Winkler’s stepson Jed finished fifth grade, the Fonz threw a party for his entire class, feeding them a cake baked in the shape of a medieval castle complete with horses, flags, a moat and knights in armor. When independent film producer Arnold Kopelson’s daughter, Stephanie, was bas mitzvahed, the producer staged a fullblown Tarzan-theme extravaganza, turning his huge lawn into a mock safari. While waiters dressed as great white hunters stood by, “animal” eyes peeked out of the trees and jungle cries punctuated the Beverly Hills evening.
Hollywood parents who say they are opting for a simpler style mean simpler by Hollywood standards. When Sally Struthers turned her fish pond into a sandbox for daughter Samantha’s third-birthday party and invited 50 friends, it was considered, by comparison, a simple affair. Conscientious Hollywood parents are trying for a hands-on relationship with their children, in spite of all that cash. “People with money,” worries Struthers, “tend to spend less time with their kids.”
Dr. Irving Lehroff, a Beverly Hills child psychologist, believes “children of celebrities have a unique set of problems. When both parents are always on location, the children tend to feel rejected. Sometimes they become adult much too quickly as a result.” Money itself can be a problem. “Children wonder if they are acquiring friends who really care about them for themselves, not for who they are or what they have.” Further, he says, “It can be difficult for some parents to control their natural tendency to shower their children with gifts like Cadillacs and Mercedeses just because they can afford to.” Finally, he adds, “There are parents who are superachievers. They expect their children to be high achievers too. If they’re not, some parents are hypercritical.”
By their teenage years, most Hollywood offspring have pretty much checked out the situation for themselves. “All the kids in this town have too much,” says Peter Bill, the 18-year-old son of writer-producer Tony Bill (The Sting). Peter has just spent nearly six months in a hospital curing his cocaine habit. “I know you don’t have to take drugs to be social, but it took me a long, hard time to find out,” he said. “I have better parents than most, but the peer pressure is unbelievable.”
Victoria Sellers, 17, who has been raised by her mother, Britt Ekland, since Britt and the late Peter Sellers were divorced 14 years ago, says, “I enjoy my life, but there are times I’d like to have had a real home life, with a mother and father and a regular house like most kids have.” “We’re really not much different from any other kids, but there’s more money around,” says Claire Kellerman, 18, adopted daughter of Sally Kellerman. “Some get into trouble and some don’t, but that’s not any different from any other teenagers anywhere else, is it?”
Well, maybe the money makes it a little harder. Suzanne Somers raised her son, Bruce, now 16, in the small, artsy Bay Area community of Sausalito until 1974, before she hit the big time with Three’s Company. Moving to Los Angeles, she was shocked by what she saw. “I remember one celebrity’s kid who would put money in a vending machine and then throw what came out on the ground for the other kids to pick up,” she says. “Kids were getting anywhere from $50 a month to $50 a week. They had Vuitton bags and BMWs for Christmas.”
Bruce went into a small private school, and earned spending money selling Popsicles at the beach. He is never photographed for publication because, she says, “it would take the normalcy away from him.” Hal and Frances Linden are also strict with their children—Amelia, 22, Jennifer, 19, Nora, 16, and Ian, 15. The oldest earn their pocket money at summer jobs. Ian and Nora get $10 a week allowance and must account for every penny, so they will “know how to handle their money when they grow up.”
Despite the stabilizing influence of parents like Somers and the Lindens, Hollywood can still be small and inbred, with few windows on the real world. “These kids are living in a ghetto and they don’t get out of it,” says one teacher. “They know nothing of life outside Beverly Hills.”
If Hollywood is a ghetto, it is surely a gilded one. For teenagers, it frequently means special screenings for dates, backstage passes and good summer jobs in “the industry.” Points out a teacher, “They are accustomed to having their way, and some of them look at a teacher as another servant.” Suzanne Somers agrees. “People treat celebrities’ kids in a special way,” she says. “They get more attention, and they’re not asked to do certain chores. They can get very arrogant. You have to keep on top of them.”
Still, despite the disadvantages of having too much too soon, growing up in Hollywood is more pleasure than pain, as even Somers will admit. “I feel our kids have a better life than had this [stardom] not happened to me,” she says. “But you have to take charge of it, you have to pay attention and not let them get messed up.”
The good life of a Hollywood child, from push-cars to Porsches
You’ve just made the most dramatic entrance of your life—out of the womb and into the maternity ward of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Daddy is a celebrated star of TV and screen; Mommy is an actress-model. Soon you are officially home in Mom and Dad’s $1.5 million mansion in Beverly Hills. You are quickly introduced to your full-time nanny, arranged by Renee’s of Beverly Hills, a domestic employment agency decorated with pictures of stars, including Daddy. Renee’s fee is $1,000. Nanny makes $250 a week plus room and board and gets her own Sony Trinitron. Like Nanny, you have your own room. It was designed by Ron Wilson, who created nurseries for Cher’s kids. Chastity’s has real sand on the walls and a tent for TV.
For your first haircut, Mommy takes you to Tipperary, the kiddy hair salon in Beverly Hills. Owner Jack King has done everyone—Benjamin Redgrave, Lisa Marie Presley, James Voight, even Moon Unit Zappa. Later you’ll want one of his lemon “sunstreaks” ($20), but this time you sit on Mommy’s lap while King cuts your hair and then presents you with a Polaroid picture of this memorable milestone. You collect another Polaroid when you get your first pair of shoes at Harry Harris, where you’ll be shod as a toddler. For clothes, Mommy takes you to This Little Piggy, a kiddy boutique. For some reason, you don’t get a Polaroid there. Must be an oversight.
Soon your room looks like a toy store or, more specifically, like Toys International in Beverly Hills. Daddy buys you a slew of electronic games that go for $25-$100 (the kind Gary Coleman collects), along with some dolls at about $50-$300 each (the kind Michael Landon’s daughter collects) and the $20 talking robot that Kristy McNichol flipped over. Daddy considers buying you a two-and-a-half-foot-long model Rolls-Royce—it’s only $2,000—but, being a thoroughly modern celeb, he decides not to spoil you.
Your education begins early. As Dr. Isabelle Buckley, founder of L.A.’s prestigious Buckley School, puts it, “College begins at 2.” Mommy finally picks the Center for Early Education because Jason Gould, Chastity Bono and Diana Ross’ daughter Tracee went there. Tuition: $1,855 a year.
Your fifth birthday is celebrated with a fete coordinated by Marcia Lehr, Hollywood’s chichi party designer. Besides you, the star is Smidget, billed as the world’s smallest horse, who arrives in a limousine. Hot dogs are served from a real New York hot dog cart (just like Grandpa pushed!). When the party’s over, Mom and Dad ponder grade school. The Beverly Hills public schools are awfully good and lots of your friends are going there, but Mom says they are too crowded to give you the individual attention you deserve. Fortunately, plenty of good private schools are available, like Oakwood, Harvard, Westlake, John Thomas Dye, Curtis and Brentwood. But Mommy selects Buckley. Uniforms are de rigueur. But if John Davidson Jr. and Frank Sinatra’s grandchildren could stand it, so can you. Upper school tuition is $5,150.
While the finest teachers mold your mind, a gaggle of other top professionals work on your body. Dr. Richard Grossman, Beverly Hills orthodontist, corrects your wayward teeth with his famed “hidden appliance,” which costs Daddy about $5,000. Meanwhile Dr. Frank Ashley, plastic surgeon, straightens your Streisand nose and pins back your Prince Charles ears ($1,000-$2,500). When this new face leaves you with an identity crisis, you begin seeing child psychologist Dr. Irwin Lehrhoff. His office is conveniently located across the street from Neiman-Marcus so Mommy can shop while your head is shrunk. Dr. Lehrhoff can also find you a good tutor (around $1,500 a month) when you go on location with Daddy. If you’re going to be bar mitzvahed, party arranger David Wittry can put up tents on Daddy’s lawn, just as he did for Jason Gould, son of Elliott Gould and Barbra Streisand.
When you reach your 16th birthday, Daddy throws a party at Jimmy’s restaurant. The big surprise is a Hansen’s cake custom-baked to resemble a driver’s license, with your picture on it—an idea Daddy stole from the party Don Rickles threw for his daughter Mindy. Cost of the shindig: $1,500.
Now you are old enough to shop for clothes without Mommy, but not without Mommy’s charge cards. You and your friends go to Auntie Barbara’s, the with-it kids’ clothing store on Beverly Drive. The boys buy Polo shirts ($26) and the girls buy cotton knits and sweats by Chelsy Blake and Merona ($30-$60). You do, of course, add a few eccentric touches to your wardrobe—the pink sleeveless sweatshirt from a store called Camp Beverly Hills and a funky second-hand white dinner jacket from Flips. On weekend nights you stroll around Westwood and scarf down some ice cream at Haagen-Dazs. You hang out in the video game arcades and then cruise off to listen to music at Dillon’s before hitting Fat Albert’s to eat a burger and watch the weirdos.
And now you come to the finale of your Hollywood childhood—graduation. You’ve been dropping a few hints. You’re hoping for a $12,500 VW Rabbit convertible, which is the new hip car. Robert Stack, Charles Bronson and Jean Simmons all bought them for their kids and you hope Daddy will buy one for you. Sure enough, before graduation Daddy brings you out to the garage. Your heart is pumping like a piston. He opens the door and your heart sinks. Oh, no, it’s not a Rabbit! It’s a $35,000 Porsche. As everybody knows (except Daddy), Porsches are passé! You hide your disappointment and take the thing out for a spin. “Gee, Daddy’s so out of it,” you think, backing out of the driveway. As you shift into fourth, a more charitable thought enters your now fully mature mind: “Man, this baby can fly!”
These stories were written by Peter Carlson and reported by Lois Armstrong, Doris Bacon, Suzanne Adelson, Suzy Kalter and Lou Robinson in Los Angeles.