July 08, 1996 12:00 PM

ONSTAGE AT NBC’S ROCKEFELLER CENTER STUDIOS IN New York City, Rosie O’Donnell and her last guest of the morning, Carol Channing, are belting out a farewell chorus of “Hello, Dolly!” but down the hall another performer is taking center stage. “Ahhh, ahh-me, ah-AHH!” crows Parker Jaren O’Donnell, the 13-month-old son of the comedian turned talk show host, as he teeters outside Mom’s office. Moments later, a familiar voice catches his ear. “Hello, zee Boo Boo!” squeals O’Donnell in best Yogi Bear fashion, and the sturdy toddler stretches his arms toward her, like an Olympic swimmer going for gold.

But it is O’Donnell who says she has hit the jackpot. Now in the fourth week of her nationally syndicated Rosie O’Donnell Show, the Commack, N.Y., native is enjoying not only rave reviews and great ratings, but also quality time as a hands-on single parent to the chubby-cheeked little boy she adopted when he was 2 days old. “It changed my priorities in a moment without even trying to,” says O’Donnell, 34. “But I never got to see him when I did that movie, Harriet the Spy [out July 12], and I thought, ‘This isn’t the kind of parent that I need to be.’ So I tried to find a job that would accommodate him. It was almost like you get to climb to another branch on the tree, and from your new perch you have a clearer perspective on the whole world.”

Parenthood seems to have been no less eye-opening for Babewatch’s—er, Baywatch‘s—Pamela Lee. “It was the most awesome experience of my whole life,” says Lee, 29, of the birth of 7-lb. 7-oz. Brandon Thomas Lee on June 5. “I just love getting up with him in the middle of the night to feed him or soothe him.” Husband Tommy Lee, 33, the mega-tattooed Mötley Crüe drummer, is equally goo-goo over the new arrival. Says his lawyer of 15 years, David Rudich: “Tommy told me he’s so thrilled, he wants to spend all his time now with people who have children, so he can talk about his son with them.”

In today’s Hollywood, that shouldn’t present a problem. Right now there’s a celebrity baby boom of such proportions that on Burbank back lots, Perego’s $335 Milano strollers seem as plentiful as Range Rovers. And this bassinet brigade appears open to all, regardless of marital status, fertility or lack thereof, age, even sexual orientation. Celebrity single parents and parents-to-be include all three members of the female rap group Salt-N-Pepa, not to mention that most celebrated mama-in-waiting, the aptly named Madonna. Pierce Brosnan and Unsolved Mysteries correspondent Keely Shaye Smith bonded sufficiently to be expecting early next year, and Sly Stallone and model-fiancée Jennifer Flavin will have to hurry if they’re to tie the knot before the umbilical cord; their baby is due in August. All in all, it’s a far cry from those days when, as Janet Leigh delicately puts it, “It would not have been a good thing to have a child out of wedlock—your career would have been over.”

Moreover, state-of-the-art medicine is facilitating star pregnancies that wouldn’t have been possible just a few years ago. Roseanne delivered her test-tube bundle of joy, Buck, last August. (Dad is third husband Ben Thomas, her former bodyguard.) Jane Seymour and James Keach greeted twin sons, also conceived in vitro, in November. And that same month restaurateur Toukie Smith and Robert De Niro, whose long-playing romance ended years ago, announced the arrival of their twins via surrogate mother.

Of course, stars electing the Pampered lifestyle even include such old-fashioned (read married) couples as Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin, who welcomed daughter Ireland Eliesse in October; Wynonna Judd and Arch B. Kelley III, who brought home their second child, 9-lb. 4-oz. Pauline Grace, last week; or Growing Pains alumna Tracey Gold and husband Roby Marshall, who expect labor pains in February. Even First Mother Hillary Rodham Clinton recently mused—to TIME, not Eleanor Roosevelt—about wanting another child.

“It’s amazing how many babies are being born,” says Susan Salzman, a Santa Monica furniture designer whose hand-painted, $1,400 changing tables grace the homes of such celebrities as Vanna White and Lionel Ritchie. “It’s like a baby factory!”

Those who aren’t making babies are adopting them. Some trace the trend to Michelle Pfeiffer, who welcomed infant Claudia Rose as a single mother in 1993, the year before giving birth to John, her son with producer-husband David Kelley. The proudly gay Amanda Bearse (Married…with Children) adopted daughter Zoe three years ago; movie-of-the-week queen Donna Mills, now 55, adopted 4-day-old Chloe in 1994. This winter 50-year-old Diane Keaton brought home infant daughter Dexter, and last August, Kate Jackson, 46, with advice from her pal O’Donnell, adopted baby son Charles Taylor. Younger unmarrieds-with-children include actress Robin Givens, who adopted baby Buddy in July ’94, and Grammy-winning singer Sheena Easton, who adopted both Jake, 21 months, and Skylar, 5 months. As recently as five years ago, says Mills, adoption “wasn’t the thing to do. It’s sort of become that.”

Celebrity adoptions, particularly of two children—by Kirstie Alley and husband Parker Stevenson, Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, and Jamie Lee Curtis and Christopher Guest—have fueled a perception that stars get the inside track. But experts say that placements go no faster for household names than for anyone else able to pay the $25,000 it may cost for an independent adoption—and in some instances go even slower. “I have a much harder time helping a public figure,” says Los Angeles attorney David Radis, who handled adoptions for Jamie Lee Curtis, among others. “If a birth mother says to me, ‘Oh, I want to place my baby with that person because I loved him in that movie,’ that’s not the right placement.”

The current Hollywood baby swell reflects such mainstream phenomena as rising adoption rates among affluent single women, an increasing number of births to boomers anxious to beat the biological clock, and a more family-friendly culture than in the acquisitive ’80s. But there may also be other factors influencing celebrities, especially now that stars like $12.5 million-woman Demi Moore have shown that you can have your kids, your figure and your career too. (Just look at Seymour, who after delivering her twins had peeled off her entire 38 pounds of baby fat in 10 days and was back on the set of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman six weeks later.) “I think that people have children once they’ve arrived and they feel they have something to offer,” says Dr. Don Lombardi, a psychology professor at New Jersey’s Seton Hall University. “Maybe it’s also saying that their fame, their success, hasn’t given them true fulfillment.”

That certainly seems to be the case with Donna Mills, who says that for a long time she didn’t want children. “I needed to achieve a certain amount of things myself,” says Mills, whose little girl Chloe is in the same play group as Connie Sellecca’s daughter Prima, 2, and Vanna White’s son Nicholas, also 2. “Once I felt I achieved a lot of that, then I started to think I’d like to be able to pass along knowledge, love, all kinds of things I’ve accumulated.”

Other celebs, including O’Donnell and her bosom buddy Madonna, 37, confess to longstanding baby lust. “I always knew I’d have children in my life,” says O’Donnell. “It was a given for me.” Although O’Donnell says that familiarity with her brothers’ and sister’s four kids eliminated any “fairy-tale image of bringing home a little Cabbage Patch doll,” she admits to one rude awakening. “I was surprised that a human being can function on as little sleep as I did for the first three months,” she says with mock exasperation. “I was surprised to wake up every two hours, ’cause that is how they torture people in other countries!”

Unlike O’Donnell, who has no help at her Manhattan apartment, a number of celebrity moms have the option of sleeping through some of those 2 a.m. feedings even if, like self-described “Dairy Queen” Jane Seymour, they’re nursing (the trick: pre-pumping breast milk). Many call on a live-in nanny—or, in the case of Demi Moore, nannies—Mary Poppinses who for fees ranging upwards of $800 a week shepherd the offspring of the rich and famous wherever the fast lane leads them.

But in a subculture in which pampered poodles may sport designer duds, who would begrudge a newborn his or her $5,000 hand-turned Little Miss Liberty birch crib—especially when its unique round design is touted as being the ultimate in safety? Or a $60,000 christening party like the one for 300 guests staged by Barry Colman’s Los Angeles catering company More Than a Mouthful, which included seals for the pool, pony rides and game booths?

It’s not all sacrifice, however. Even deep-pocket celebrities can expect a bit of bounty before the blessed event, at showers like those recently thrown for mothers-to-be Madonna and Melanie Griffith. “They hired me before the baby was born so I could deal with all the presents they were getting,” says a 25-year-old Swedish import, one of a pair of nannies caring for the child of a Hollywood star.

At the Manhattan bash hosted by art dealer Darlene Lutz on June 1, goodies for Madonna and child—whose gender O’Donnell insists, despite rumors of pink, is still unknown—included a red satin Chinese baby blanket with hood from actress-pal Debi Mazar and a 100-year-old wicker bassinet from la Ciccone’s lawyers. Several days ago in Los Angeles, Griffith was having too much fun with guests Jamie Lee Curtis, Anjelica Huston and Annette Bening to open the lode of presents for the girl she and husband Antonio Banderas plan to name Stella when she arrives in September. (“Melanie was beaming and adorable—she’s so in love,” says friend Heidi von Beltz. “Antonio came back about 9-ish with a group of macho guys. He immediately ran to Melanie’s arms.”)

Not surprisingly, celebs have sources of booty unavailable to the average new parent. Your baby pictures may get oohs and aahs from coworkers, but 1-week-old Brandon Lee’s first photos, shot for the British magazine OK!, are expected to bring in more than half a million dollars—enough to keep him in leather diapers for as long as he would like. (It may have helped that in the snaps Mama was wearing skin-tight black vinyl.) Photo shoots by old pro Jack Paris Brinkley Taubman, now 13 months, may be defraying some of the costs of what his cover girl mom, Christie Brinkley, told Ladies’ Home Journal was “the most expensive relationship I have ever had”—her brief marriage to his dad, real-estate developer Rick Taubman.

And then there are the studios, which lately have taken to footing the bills for staggering amenities to cosset their big-ticket talents. “Modern Hollywood has become very family friendly,” says Joan Hyler, a former agent at William Morris and ICM who now runs her own management firm. “If you’re the star of a $75 million movie, the care and feeding of your spouse and children becomes very important to a studio.”

Contractually mandated star perks typically include first-class air travel for the entire entourage; a separate trailer for the kiddies and a 24-hour limousine on standby to ferry them wherever they want to go; paid hotel accommodations for the nanny; even a nanny allowance. “Now, basically, if they want you to do a job, you say, ‘Well, my baby comes with me,’ ” says actress Gigi Rice (The John Larroquette Show), whose 2-year-old son, Beau Martin, and babysitter can usually be found on the set with her or her husband, Ted McGinley (Married…with Children). “What are they going to say—no?”

Certainly not to a star like Michelle Pfeiffer. After adopting Claudia Rose—a decision she told Vanity Fair was “the smartest thing I’ve ever done for myself”—Pfeiffer decided she wouldn’t leave home for more than three weeks on any shoot and would work no more than 12 hours in a day, so she could be home either when her daughter woke up or went to bed. “She’s very determined to be a mother,” says a crew member on One Fine Day, the film Pfeiffer recently completed with George Clooney. “I’ve heard Michelle say that if she cannot make this work, she has no desire to be an actress.”

Most employers try to accommodate the high-priced help. Witness the two producers who were mulling putting their movies on hold until Natasha Richardson gives birth to her and husband Liam Neeson’s second child at the end of August. But there are exceptions. Connie Sellecca claims producers pulled the plug on her nighttime CBS soap Second Chances after she and another actress on the show, Megan Follows, disclosed they were pregnant. (Sellecca was expecting Prima, her second child and first with former Entertainment Tonight anchor John Tesh.)

In May, Hunter Tylo (The Bold and the Beautiful) filed a lawsuit contending that Spelling Television Inc. discriminated against her when they tore up her Melrose Place contract after she told them she was expecting. (Spelling executives deny the charge.) “I have no doubt in my mind that this sort of thing has forced other actresses to feel the pressure to not have a family and forfeit their pregnancy,” says Tylo, wife of soap actor Michael Tylo, who already has two kids. “A woman shouldn’t have to choose between her family and her job.”

But sometimes she does. Sellecca says she hasn’t worked as an actress in seven months largely because of the need to spend time with Gib, 14, her son with first husband Gil Gerard. When Sellecca was offered a role in a TV movie to be shot in South Carolina last November, “He very clearly said, ‘Mom, I need you home,’ ” she recalls. “I was very moved, and it was not difficult at all to say no.”

However, despite the headaches, the heartaches and the high-wire juggling act familiar to parents everywhere, celebrity baby boomers say they wouldn’t have it any other way. “Beforehand I was much more of a pessimist,” muses Rosie O’Donnell, “about my life and maybe my longevity. You know, my mom died when she was young, and I always thought that might be my fate.

“Since having my son, I don’t think that anymore. I think I’m going to live to see him grow up. It’s like you grow another heart, like someone kicks down a door that was sealed shut, and then the whole world—sunshine, flowers—falls through. I have such joy that I didn’t think was possible.”



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