In the summer of 1995, Dana Plato came to our professional theater company to appear in Neil Simon’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers. She played three very different roles in a two-person show—not an easy task for any actor, let alone one who hadn’t performed onstage in more than 20 years. But she pulled it off wonderfully. She was funny, her timing was great, and the audiences loved her. What seems to be missing in all the media coverage since her death is the fact that she was a talented and funny actress. Despite some obvious personal problems, she had a real zest for life and a positive energy that came across both in person and onscreen.
Charles Rhindress, co-artistic director, Live Bait Theatre, Sackville, N.B.
I read the article about Dana Plato with sadness; I knew her growing up. But a particular passage struck a wrong chord with me—Danny Bonaduce’s quote that “former child stars have got a billboard that says failure.” I too am a former child star; I played Samantha on the NBC sitcom Gimme a Break for six seasons. But I am not a failure. After the show, I went on to graduate from college (Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude) and law school, then passed the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania bars. I have never done drugs and never got into any trouble during the show or after it, when I “stumbled from cute kid star into adulthood,” as you put it when describing Dana. Maybe the next time all those former child stars go on the talk show circuit blaming their perils on “the business,” they should refocus on their own morals and values.
Lara Jill Miller, Studio City, Calif.
After reading your story on Dana Plato, I was struck that most of it detailed her failures following Diff’rent Strokes. As director of the first feature in which she had a lead role, Blade Boxer, made in 1994, I am compelled to offer information that paints a more comprehensive picture. When Dana arrived in Los Angeles for the shoot, she was healthy, beautiful and sober. Although the project wasn’t Shakespeare, Dana approached it as if it were. She was early on the set, had her lines down perfectly and displayed the kind of professionalism I wish I could experience with all actors. On weekends she would cook for members of the cast and never, ever took a drink. On the third day of shooting, our casting director suffered a massive coronary. Dana was at his side constantly when we weren’t shooting. I believe she played a part in his survival. Dana Plato needs to be remembered not for her addictions and problems but for her generosity, her talent and her survival instincts. When I think of Dana, I think of the smile she brought to work each day, for she really believed that her life was turning around. Obviously your article needed to contain what it did, but I am disappointed that no one dug deeper to contact the people who knew her when life was good. Unfortunately, after we wrapped shooting, the “pickers” came, promising her fame and glamor. As vulnerable as she was, the demons won—the ones inside Dana and the ones who latched on to take as much as they could from her.
Bruce Reisman, Encino, Calif.
My husband and I grew up watching Diff’rent Strokes, and he was the one who told me of Dana’s death. But when he grabbed PEOPLE out of the mailbox, he said, “Who is this on the cover?” She may have had a hard life, but did you have to pick that awful picture to remember her by? It doesn’t do her justice.
Toni Ward, Delano, Minn.
Although her life has ended on a tragic note, Dana Plato’s role as Kimberly Drummond has a place in TV history.
Rupert Burton, Greensboro, N.C.
Finally, Camryn Manheim is getting the kudos she deserves. It is amazing to see how one woman can become the voice for a cause so many of us support. She has not only succeeded in changing Hollywood’s perception of fat people but society’s as well. I feel her message couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. In this day and age when so many young people are destroying their bodies simply to be thin, she has proven that fat people deserve respect, and that true beauty doesn’t just come in a size 6.
Charlotte Fraze, Bakersfield, Calif.
I am a 16-year-old girl who is also overweight, and I look up to Camryn because she didn’t let her weight get in the way of her dreams. I wish I could tell her how much I admire her! I really love to hear about “fat” people who don’t care what others think!
M. Stevens, Brunswick, Ohio
At last, a story about a woman that looks just like me! Big, bold and beautiful! I am, however, upset that the advertisement opposite her story is for Bali bras, with a skinny model. It is like a slap-hug thing—feel good on one page, then take it away on the next. Shame on you!
Diane Newmaker, Perris, Calif.
Good body image is important, and people should be encouraged to feel comfortable and happy with themselves anywhere within the normal weight range. But when the issue is really obesity, “fighting for acceptance” is self-serving denial. Anyone who is 20 to 30 percent over their medically accepted ideal weight is technically obese and at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and other health problems. Camryn Manheim should do the math and get off her soapbox.
Christie DeWitt, San Diego
Thank you so much for your tribute to the world’s greatest children’s poet, Shel Silverstein. I grew up with his wacky poems. I adored him as a child and admired him as an adult.
Amy DeLuna, San Diego
When I was in the third grade, my teacher read a book called The Giving Tree to our class. It was the first time I ever cried over a book. Shel Silverstein may not be with us anymore, but I feel very confident that his way with words and pictures will continue to affect people of all ages for years to come.
Jennifer Myers, via e-mail
It’s refreshing to see a rock star who truly has his act together. It’s great to see someone who loves his family and appreciates his fans.
Kay Clower, Manchester, Tenn.
Rick Springfield, I’m so glad you’re back. You’ve still got it, babe!
Judy Edghill, Washington, D.C.
While I sympathize with the parents who lost children in the Paducah, Ky., shooting spree, why are they suing the entertainment industry? Is it because the industry has the money and the actual guilty parties don’t? Why don’t we place the blame where it lies: with 14-year-old Michael Carneal and his parents. The movie The Basketball Diaries is rated R. Who allowed him to watch it? Who gave him money for violent video games and provided him with access to the Internet, apparently unsupervised? This is clearly a society that looks to place blame elsewhere than where it belongs.
Rose Baird, Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
I was one of those “middle-aged moms” who stood outside the Martin Beck Theater on April 30 to get a glimpse of my idol. And glimpse I did! We waited 30 minutes, and although he refused to sign autographs (his costar Laura Benanti gladly did), he stopped and chatted for a few minutes and shook my hand. Richard, you say in the article that we fans would like to have you over for dinner. How’s next Sunday at 6? You bring the wine.
Robin Kaphan, New Rochelle, N.Y.