Sunday, May 18, 2008

Stage Parents: Wow, I struck a nerve with this one

Here’s another Natalie Wood picture but this time it’s because she is relevant to the post.

Getting a lot of fireworks on my recent article about stage parents. Check the comment section. Diana DeGarmo’s mother responded to my piece (hint: she didn’t love it), which set off a flurry of other responses.

First of all, I thank her for writing. As a humble little blogger it’s always an honor to receive first-hand reactions from people mentioned in my pieces. And if they spark debate, that’s even better.

I’ll let you decide where you stand on this issue. But I must offer my strong opinion that stage parents do exist and they can be very harmful to their children. Read any biography on Natalie Wood (see, I toldja it would all tie in).

Not all kids who go into show business are scarred for life. And not all supportive parents are monsters. But there are some. MANY.

I mean, for godsakes, Lindsey Lohan’s mother used her daughter’s success to get her own reality show.

Fortunately, I can't see Diana DeGarmo ever appearing in the tabloids or her mom hosting KID NATION anytime soon.


Anonymous said...

Ya know, I was ready to give her the benefit of the doubt until I actually read her comments. Now I have no doubt, Ken, that you called that one correctly.

- Nikki

April said...

I am a former child actor and didn't respond to the first post, but now, what the heck? I'll get in the fray.

My parents and I used to joke that it was a good thing I never became a star whenever the next story broke about a former cast member of "Diff'rent Strokes."

I'm now a mom, and can understand her anger. As a mom, one hates to be judged. We all fail in some respects, and some of our kids make it and some don't. She makes a very valid point about the dads and sports that has gotten some attention, but not nearly as much about moms and Britney, for example.

From reading your blog on a regular basis, I know that you are involved with sports as well. Without taking back anything you said, maybe it can balance out a little with a post on the dads at those games. It may not make headline news, but it's lasting effects can be just as devastating to those kids, I'd bet.

Just my 2 cents, anyway.

By Ken Levine said...

Sports dad are in many cases much WORSE. Best (or worst) example is the book (and then bad movie) FEAR STRIKES OUT about Jimmy Piersal and his psycho dad.

Anonymous said...

Ken, I think I speak for most of us when I say please use a Natalie Wood picture for every post from now on.

Lev said...

The worst job I ever had was as a soccer ref at the tender age of 15. I couldn't get a "real" job, so I basically had to stare down people three times my age and four (plus) times my size. Actually, it was a pretty good experience overall--I developed a lot more confidence--but sports dads are pretty fucking awful.

It's funny because this ties into my family's main claim to fame: one of my uncles was one of those guys back in the late 90s who choked a referee at a hockey game. Same last name as me and everything. It was all over the news.

Anonymous said...

"please use a Natalie Wood picture for every post from now on."

Yes, but could you at least use a recent picture? And maybe join it to an audio track of Marni Nixon singing, to get the whole Wood package? (Oh dear, Now I'll get attacked by Natalie's mother. Please tell me Moma's dead.)

I saw Natalie and Robert Wagner in person at a LAUGH-IN taping many, many years ago. She was stunning in person. (And so was Wagner, for that matter.) It was like she had her own magic diffusion filter floating about her. Later on, when I left to go home, I stopped at a red light a couple blocks from NBC, and there were Natalie and Robert in the car stopped next to me, like earthly humans.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go sire some children to ruin. It's my homework assignment from Mom DeGarmo.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

I remember coaching my son's little league baseball game and taking extraordinary crap from the dads who wanted our team to WIN. Imagine that. These kids were 8-9.

I gave every kid equal time at all positions, regardless of the score. Hey, that's why they call it a game...

Where else are they going to learn to play (...and direct)


Anonymous said...

Um, a "recent" picture of Natalie Wood? Necrophilia's beyond my comfort zone. Any photos from BRAINSTORM would be OK, though - I saw it in the theater, although I guess few did.

Anonymous said...

"Um, a "recent" picture of Natalie Wood? Necrophilia's beyond my comfort zone."

You see, Gottacook, this is what we in the trade call "A Joke". In this case a self-evidentally absurd idea that provokes a laugh or at least a grin from it's out-and-out absurdity.

Obviously you never had "Comedy Parents," who during dinner banter (Never "Conversation," always "Banter") would scream at you: "FUNNIER GOD DAMN IT, FUNNIER!!! NOW A DOUBLE-TAKE! YOU CALL THAT A SPIT-TAKE? PUT SOME FLUIDS INTO IT. HALF YOUR SISTER'S FACE IS STILL DRY!"

And frankly, as I age, and move ever closer to the grave, necrophilia becomes my only hope for sex after death.

This Space Left Intentionally _________. said...

Anytime a parent lives vicariously through though their children (sports, the arts, music, whatever), instead of being a real parent, the kid's going to end up being fucked up. We've all seen them: he's the dad at little-league screaming his head off and belting the the kid for missing a pop fly; she's the mom forcing her kid to take tap, ballet, and jazz dance classes even though the kid can't put two feat side by side to walk straight; they're parent's who obsesses over kid who can't quite master chop sticks on the family's $500,000 Steinway--which they had to go into hock to buy. To deny that as a fact is to be delusional.

Wanting the best for your kid is one thing, but destroying them to achieve it is psychotic...And fame and fortune by whatever means necessary doesn't seem to bother some parents--the ends justify the means, the kid is just the vehicle.

Sure there are good stage parents, but they're not the ones being talked about: bad press is still press, aka the means are justified.

Diana DeGarmo's mother no doubt likes the press, but doesn't want the world to think she's just a screaming fit away from being just another maniac stage mom.

Anonymous said...

I just read her comments. The fact that she doesn't know or care about an Emmy-winning writer who wrote for some of the best shows in the history of television says quite a bit.

Cap'n Bob said...

I never met Natalie Wood, but on my honeymoon in Hawaii I saw her clone on a sunset catamaran ride. Stunning, and every unattached male on the boat was sucking up to her like hogs at a golden trough. I like to think I'm better than that, but if she'd spat into the ocean that evening I might have dived overboard just to let the drool bless my flesh. I can't imagine what the real Natalie would have done to me.

Anonymous said...

d. mcewan: Of course it was self-evidently absurd - and please believe that I enjoy self-evident absurdity as much as anyone. But for me the joke was spoiled by joining it to Marni Nixon, who's become a highly regarded voice teacher in recent years (a stage actor friend of mine studied with her in the '90s in NYC).

Anonymous said...

Yeh, it's a lot more fun thinking of somebody in the abstract as an archetype than being confronted by the realization there’s an actual person behind it. When viewed through a vent it becomes realer still. A measured apology of sorts and it's acceptace of sorts humanizes everone.

It’s a fine line, and admittedly I haven’t been on the receiving end, but I have one former child actor cousin who appreciated his mom’s willingness to make herself slightly less popular by running interference through the Vicissitudes of Hollywood (yes, it’s a gated community just off Sunset). I am however of the opinion that a better thing to pass along might be a nice 8 oz. jar of skin thickener. In LA make that 16 oz.

I've known many people who can take a better punch than this, and it's like nothing happened. These people are called politicians. I once congratulated a sitting governor on his extremely high approval rating. He just advised "Wait awhile, it doesn't last.” And his wife concurred knowingly. The older I get the more centering that attitude seems to become.

Would have chimed in sooner but I was totally exhausted just reading through all of the laudable DeGarmo kids' activities. How they were able to spare the time for all that, a show business and military career and still invent post-it notes is just mystifying.
I thought my daughter was stretched thin just with French Club, band and cheerleading. From the refrain, sounds like a pretty good family who just really need to meet Spike Lee – there could be a sequel in it. But there is one word the kids’ might ponder for their own sake, "Rushmore."

Victor said...

Won't anyone think of the children???

I can see both sides of this argument. Clearly not ALL parents of child actors or singers (or athletes) are Stage Parents. Jeff Archuleta certainly seems to fit the bill, as do all the parents on that horrible VH1 (I think) reality show about Stage Parents. But I have to give Diana Degarmo's mother the benefit of the doubt that she's doing what she can to help her child turn out well, because by all accounts, Diana IS turning out to be a well-adjusted young adult. Time will certainly tell (such as when she's in her 40's or 50's and writes her tell-all book about being a child star).

I have a fourteen year-old son, and while he displays flashes of maturity or adult-level thought processes, for the other 99% of his waking life he's as clueless and naive and incapable of making wise long-term decisions as every other teenager. For any of us to judge any teenager's actions based on the wisdom or experience of adulthood is doing a serious disservice to these kids, no matter how "wise to the world" they may seem.

Ken, while I certainly don't fault you for the impression you got from meeting Diana and other child performers, I DO fault you (and the rest of us) for expressing those opinions about those kids (at least those that still ARE kids as of this writing.) If you or me or any of us who post our opinions on forums such as these REALLY care about the welfare of children, we wouldn't make such negative (and to be honest, purely assumptive) judgments in a place where these kids might actually read them. As was shown with Diana's mother, SOMEone out there is likely to stumble across it and it will eventually get back to those involved. Most adults aren't able to handle random, unsolicited criticism; I can't imagine children or teenagers are any better at tuning out or accurately evaluating harsh opinions about themselves.

Ultimately, I think it's one thing to judge their performance or talent level. That's fair game if you're going to go on a nationally televised talent show. It's another to make judgment calls on these kids day-today actions and intentions or those of their families without knowing with certainty what's going on behind the scenes.

I believe Diana's mom when she says she's doing the best she can for her children. I totally understand her fury at her intentions being questioned by those with no long-term, first-hand knowledge of the situation.

In the end, how is what we are doing here any different than what the Myspace Mom did?(the one just got charged for that girl's suicide when she wrote all those nasty things about her online) Is it any better because David Archuleta and Diana Degarmo and all the other child performers had the audacity to do something that put them on TV? Does that make it fair to stop treating them like the children they still are?

Won't anyone think of the children??????

Anonymous said...

You're a excellent father, Daddy.

Though you probably could have done more to help my football career

You daughter

Anonymous said...

I don't think I'd be waiting by the mailbox in December for your "Happy Holidays" card from Mrs. D. (unless they make exploding ones).

I've had a fair amount of exposure to the Idol contestants over the years. I remember Diana DeGarmo being really sweet and in Mrs. D's defense I doubt very much she would have told Diana to chase you down. I think that was probably just Diana being thoughtful and appreciative.

David Archuleta's father not withstanding, "stage" parents haven't been a huge issue on Idol as far as I know. (And I would hear if they were particularly vile). The vast majority of the singers are over 18 to begin with, so their parents generally aren't around (this past week was the first time David Cook's father was in attendance) and a most of them have not grown up in show biz towns with stage parents relentlessly trotting them off to auditions.

Much more interesting will be seeing "where are they now" in 10 years to see how they turned out.

I will say some of the more successful contestants adapted surprisingly fast to the "star" treatment and can be a real pain in the ass to deal with.

Anonymous said...

"But for me the joke was spoiled by joining it to Marni Nixon"

Well no disrespect to Marni Nixon was implied or intended, just referencing her dubbing Natalie's singing back in WEST SIDE SORY. And it's not easy for me to respect someone named Nixon. It takes effort. When I was growing up, my Christian Science mother used to hold up Marni, who is also a Christian Scientist, as an example of what I should be like as a person. Mom was always clubbing me with famous Christian Scientists, from Marni Nixon to Alan Young. Hard as it is for me to respect any Christian Scientist (It's a really toxic nutcase religion. I was raised in it; I know.), nonetheless, I retain respect and even some affection for both Ms Nixon and Mr. Young, who are fine talents.

Dana King said...

I was busy this weekend, and had to go back to read Mom D's comments.

Looks like someone got up on the wrong side of the broom that day.

Anonymous said...

I've read the comments. It was sure quite an entertaining read. It was a long one, especially Mom D's ramblings. But the reactions were satisfying.

On another note, I would like to know what the titles of Mr. McEwan's books are, because no doubt I will enjoy his writing.

Anonymous said...

I suppose there are at least 3 types of "stage parent," whose philosophies can be summed up thusly:

1) My child has a gift from God that I want to share with the world.
2) My child has a gift from God that can make me rich.
3) My child has a gift from God that I want to share with the world while, incidentally, getting rich.

All stage parents will claim that number one describes them. The twos and threes either truly believe they are ones, or they know better than to admit they're not.

The rest of us assume they're all number twos (no pun intended), so I can understand the defensiveness. Still, it's such a part of the territory now, I'm surprised Mom D deigned to jump into the fray.

FWIW, I saw a few episodes of that reality show "Gone Country," in which Diana was featured. She came off as fairly normal, at least in comparison to Bobby Brown and Dee Snider.

Courtney Suzanne said...

I've read a lot of interviews with former child stars, and it seems to me that the common denominator amongst the ones who grow up "normal" is that their parents forced them to live like "normal" kids: doing homework, chores, saving up for their own cars and clothes and things, etc. In other words, they weren't raised as spoiled brats who felt "entitled" to have whatever they want and to do whatever they want, including clubbing until 3 or 4 in the morning. It's not just kid actors that are affected by this, but they're the one's that make the news.

Anonymous said...

The fact that she doesn't know or care about an Emmy-winning writer who wrote for some of the best shows in the history of television says quite a bit.

In other words, "How dare she not know about the people in television? There's NOTHING more important than TELEVISION, I tell ya!"

You are right, it does say something about her. It says there are things in her life more important than who wrote what TV show.

Anonymous said...

dave nj: I think the point is that Mom D opened the door when she raised the point of "who are you to have opinions about the entertainment world?"

She implied that she'd looked into it and still seemed to think the credentials were negligible. I guess unless you do something really high profile like host that screaming-at-suitcases game show, you're nobody.

Given Ken's pretty impressive background, that struck some of us as shallow.

Anonymous said...


My books are titled MY LUSH LIFE, which is a comic novel about life as a movie star, albeit an alcoholic, bisexual nymphomaniacal goddess of the silent screen (and former child star who despises her mother), and THE Q GUIDE TO CLASSIC MONSTER MOVIES, which is a light-hearted look at the monster movies of the 30s,40s and 50s. Both are available from I'm in the midst of writing the next one now.

Thanks for asking.

Canzler Tree Services said...

Stunning looks run in the Wood family, no doubt about it, as this mind-boggling picture of sister Lana proves.

And I hope you appreciate the self control it took to not say something like "her even more prominently talented sister..."

Anonymous said...

Lana Wood's also a sweetie. She's a friend of my brother, who was kind enough to introduce me to her just a couple months ago. Sure she looks older than she did in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, but it was made almost 40 years ago, and she looks like it's been 15 years at the most. Anyway, she's very sweet, and has a swell sense of humor.

And she still fills out a sweater quite impressively.

Anonymous said...

Yep, those Wood sisters sure lived up to their name.

Anonymous said...

Forgive me for this one, but Natalie did not live up to her name. Wood floats.

I'll go sit in the corner with my head down now. Please shun me.

Anonymous said...

I'll spot Mom D. these two points:
1) You probably could have made your point without mentioning Diana (and her mom) specifically;
2) If her original point was to simply say, "You don't know me or my daughter, and making up that conversation between us, no matter what sort of impression you got of me, was rude", then saying just that would have been pretty much on target.

Unfortunately for her, she's in complete denial about how much her ego is wrapped up in her kids' accomplishments, and the crazyometer ticked up with every ranting paragraph--heck, it almost redlined with "I worked for 25 years, 20 hours a day, and slept 3 hours a day", although that would explain a lot if it were even remotely true; insomnia's a bear.

gwangung said...

In other words, "How dare she not know about the people in television? There's NOTHING more important than TELEVISION, I tell ya!"

You are right, it does say something about her. It says there are things in her life more important than who wrote what TV show.

Well, no. It says that she's a very shallow, very stupid person who can't conceive that someone with that much experience in the entertainment world could have much real world experience with actual child actors with actual stage parents and could be speaking from, you know, personal experiences.

She struck me as one of those parent types who pooh pooh biologists for supporting the "obviously outdated" theory of evolution.

Anonymous said...

No, if you had read it correctly, it said that she couldn't have been kissing his rear because she didn't know who he was. Plain and simple. Why should she? And if she defends herself, she's even worse? Oh, pleasssssssssssse! Get a life! While she's living in the real world, you're writing fantasy!

Anonymous said...

Brenda DeGarmo may have been very angry when she wrote her replies but Ken took a cheap shot with his original blog comments because he assumed the worst about a 16 year old girl and her mother.

I've met both Diana and her mom because I'm a fan of Diana's. Before Diana turned 18 her mom would be her chaperone at all of her events. Brenda was always very kind to the fans and would make sure anybody who wanted a picture or autograph was able to get one. She did it because she was Diana's manager but also because she was just a nice person. Once Diana turned 18 her mom stepped away and allowed the professionals to guide her daughter, thus just enjoying a mom/daughter relationship from that point forward without any business entanglements.

She may have lost her temper in the blog but it is probably very hurtful to have first Ken and then other perfect strangers judging your parenting, your motives and everything else about your relationship with your child.

Diana is almost 21 years old now. She's never been arrested, she hasn't been in rehab, and she is the true antithesis of the spoiled child star. It is entirely possible to help your child navigate the entertainment industry, while sacrificing along the way, and be doing it for the right reasons: because your child wants to pursue singing as a career.

So while I'm sure it is fun to be snarky and snipe at a woman who was clearly feeling frustrated and misunderstood, the reality is she's a nice woman and her daughter is a very nice, well adjusted young woman. I'm glad Ken has at least attempted to acknowledge that he may have been wrong.

Anonymous said...

Ms. DeGarmo may have benefitted from allowing her anger to subside before posting a response to both Ken and others on this blog but her basic point seemed to be that she supported her teenage daughter in showbiz just like she supported her son in his non-showbiz endeavors. That was a valid point and one I hope Ken keeps in mind should he ever decide to talk about stage parents again.

I see no evidence that Brenda DeGarmo is or ever has been a stage parent pushing her child against her will into an entertainment career for her own gain.

Unlike Dina Lohan it appears she worked in regular jobs while raising her children in Georgia. Being a "momager" does not make one a stage parent. After Idol she and Diana remained in Snellville, GA. A real stage parent would have moved her child to L.A. and had her making the rounds of clubs and auditions. Diana finished out her teen years with normalcy before going to NYC on her own in 2006 to star in a Broadway show.

Did Ms. DeGarmo get too defensive in this blog? Yep but I'll bet this wasn't the first time she's been portrayed as a pushy stage parent by somebody who doesn't know her.

In the future I hope if she chooses to address it at all she simply says "My daughter is a talented performer but more importantly a well adjusted young adult. I supported her interest in showbiz and kept an eye on her career when she was a minor. Right now I'm just a proud mother of a great kid." Really, Ms. D that's all that matters in the end. :)