To my mind, the most underrated variety of person in the world is the stage mother, or, I should say, stage parent. I have to tell you, the genus made a great impression on me from the time, back in the late nineteen seventies, that I first saw Gypsy as a Sunday afternoon movie. I failed to understand why child entertainers Louise Hovick (the future Gypsy Rose Lee), and her sister, ‘Dainty June’, the kid with the ringlets, were so anti their poor old mother.
When I was a child, I was mad keen to be treading the boards. This wasn’t because I had any talent whatsoever for anything in the entertainment line; I was just desperate not to be at school, and had read about the truckloads of presents that Shirley Temple used to get for Christmas. I would lie in bed of a morning unable to tear myself away from Drina Dances in Switzerland or The Swish of the Curtain. All I wanted was a parent whose craving to appropriate my earnings would guarantee me an existence of tap-dancing classes and minimalist home tutoring. Or, even better, I would have been being educated at an institution along the lines of the MGM ‘school’, where, for example, Elizabeth Taylor and Judy Garland studied for tiny increments of time between their appearances on set.
Now that I am grown, I still wish that I’d had a stage parent. If I had had someone to propel me into child stardom, I would have either the prospect of Mickey Rooney-style sprightly long livingness or, if I were a has-been, would, at least, one day be the subject of a newspaper feature, probably called ‘The Carnival is Over’, about how, while I live in a Housing Commission flat, I am cared for by a kindly neighbour, who is as poor as I am but in better physical condition.
There are many reasons why I would like to have the gift of second sight, but perhaps the foremost of these is that I would be able to see if having had children would have improved my prospects of a comfortable dotage. Ideally, I would have produced a famous homosexual who was slavishly devoted to me, as was the case with Rock Hudson and his mother. However, I would still willingly have settled for a celebrated daughter who hated me but was nonetheless prepared to support me, even while I whined and complained and found fault with everything, as was the unfortunate Joan Crawford’s cross to bear.
On the subject of famous entertainers’ parents, Joe Jackson is not a highly regarded man, due to his reputation for abusiveness, and spruiking of his latest business enterprise extremely soon after his son Michael’s death. Another who has, justly, become a villain in the annals of music history is Murray Wilson, who was, of course, the father of Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys. Murray, too, while someone who could, at least, be characterised as proactive, was not inclined to spare the rod. What I find the most remarkable thing about these men is the fact that they were determined that their children would succeed in the music industry and managed to produce offspring who were actually capable of doing so.
I admit that La Toya, say, hasn’t given us much except for an excellent autobiography, and that Dennis Wilson really just spent his time having sex and, in the manner of those in the nineteen sixties, getting a little too close to Charles Manson. In the cases of Michael Jackson and Brian Wilson, though, their fathers managed to produce two sons who would, correctly or not, be labelled geniuses. What I want to know is, is it possible to do this through force of will?
I have read that Joe now wants to put two of Michael’s three children into some kind of entertainment troupe. According to one Internet account, ‘Paris has showed an interest in performing and Blanket has been praised for his dance skills. Apparently the elder Prince Michael has no talents worthy of mention.’ Will Joe be able to do it? If only we knew the exact genetic material with which he was working. Is Paris really the daughter of the man who played the lead in the film adaptation of Oliver and, if so, will this be a help or a hindrance?
Unfortunately, the creation of a bona fide entertainment dynasty may prove to be beyond even Joe Jackson; these stage fathers’ labours seem to have a way of dwindling. Even before Michael died, none of Joe’s children were as active as they had once been, and, to my knowledge, there’s no sign of anything top-drawer from the collective grandchildren as yet, although, as discussed, Joe is on the case. When it comes to the Wilsons, Brian has, of course, had a celebrated comeback with his Pet Sounds and Smile tours, but this is the only bright spot. With Brian otherwise occupied, and Carl and Dennis having died, The Beach Boys have been reduced to such outfits as the riotously named ‘The Beach Boys’ Family and Friends’, which, for ‘legal reasons’, became ‘Alan Jardine’s Family and Friends Beach Band’, then ‘Al Jardine’s Endless Summer Band’. In 1990, there was a lot of excitement at the appearance of singing group Wilson Phillips, two of whom were Brian Wilson’s daughters, but the excitement was short lived once people got a load of their album.
Perhaps one day, a stage parent, through being able to pass on the correct mix of genes, and due to good luck and massive determination, will pull off the longevity trick, with their children and their children’s children performing to great acclaim for longer than a single generation. If they do, let’s please examine this individual scientifically and find out exactly how it was done. That’s how to make parenting more attractive, right there.