Wednesday, May 29, 2013

'Having to live up to your fan base is a little like having to deal with a million strict parents who don't actually love you'

Mara Wilson of all people has emerged as the Dalai Lama of the former child star world

Move over

Because this girl's back in town:

Smart, savvy, and often just downright hysterical, little Matilda's all-grown-up blog has been a fascinating read for over a year now. Last year, Wilson blogged about all the pitfalls of childhood fame, talking candidly about creepy, demanding fans, tedious days on the set, and her "relief" to be out of that lifestyle. Her spot-on, well-written essay (or warning) suddenly went viral a couple months after she wrote it, and, of the almost 900 posts we have done here since the inception of almost four years ago, according to our stats, our post on Mara's musings last year remains the fifth most popular blog post here of all time. (Whoa!)

This week, former child star Amanda Bynes was arrested again. Her bizarre and frightening post-arrest Twitter tirade (Amanda said the cops slapped her "vagina") may be due more to her alleged mental illness than anything else, but she's still yet another sad story of a washed up child star who can't hack it in the adult world. The latest incident prompted Mara to take to the subject of child stars again, this time penning another visionary essay called 7 reasons Child Stars Go Crazy (An Insider's Perspective). It's worth your time to read the entire thing, but here are a few important excerpts.

On parents forcing their kids into the spotlight: I chose to start acting when I was 5. It was my decision, and my parents tried their hardest to discourage me. When I insisted, they allowed me to act, but were always very protective of me. I saw many child actors who did not have that, and they were all miserable. Kids whose parents pushed them into acting often grow up to resent them. They never had a choice, and worse, they never had the chance to be a kid... The next time a former child star is in the news, look at the age at which he or she started performing. Then imagine making a life-changing decision at that age. Chances are good he or she wasn't the one who made it.

Mara (center) in Mrs.Doubtfire
On transitioning from the cutest thing in the world to discarded yesterday's news: The first week of my first movie, Mrs. Doubtfire, I got gifts from every cast member. When an interviewer asked me what I loved most about acting, I forgot all about the joy of becoming someone else on camera and said, "You get a lot of presents, sometimes!" Combine the regular amount of free stuff celebrities get with all the presents people give kids just for being cute, and you've got a recipe for one spoiled-ass child....This tends to happen: It's called the hedonic treadmill, which sounds like something 1950s sci-fi writers imagined we'd all have in our pod-houses by now, but actually means that even people who have the best of everything quickly become used to it. The thrill of new things and new experiences always wears off. Adults know that infatuation is fleeting, but kids don't understand this. A year in a kid's life seems like an eternity, and they think anything happening now will happen forever. Years of adulation and money and things quickly become normal, and then, just as they get used to it all, they hit puberty -- which is a serious job hazard when your job is being cute ... A child actor who is no longer cute is no longer monetarily viable and is discarded. He or she is then replaced by someone younger and cuter, and fan bases accordingly forget that the previous object of affection ever existed... Imagine that people you once relied on and trusted -- as well as millions of people you'd never met, who had previously liked you -- had told you then, "Yeah, it's true. You are exactly as ugly and worthless as you feel."

On sexual exploitation: When I was 12 years old, I made the mistake of looking myself up on the Internet. (I know not to do that now, unless I want to stay up all night imagining the kind of person who would replace my Wikipedia article with nothing but the word "poo.") One of the things I found was a foot fetish website dedicated to child actresses. There was worse, both for me and for others. Like the Coogan Law, there are too many loopholes. If you ever need to convince someone not to get their kid into show business, inform them that it's still legal in several places to Photoshop a child's head onto a nude adult body. Sexual exploitation is just part of the package.

On fans' expectations: Having to live up to your fan base is a little like having to deal with a million strict parents who don't actually love you. They reward you for your cuteness and cleverness, but are quick to judge and punish. And they do not want you ever to grow up. How do you react? The way any sullen teenager does: You get resentful, and as soon as you have the freedom, you act out....But even here [in New York] I still get recognized. It's flattering, but it can be uncomfortable. Maybe because it only seems to happen when I'm looking and feeling crappy, and while I'm glad what I did meant something to someone, I can't take much pride in my childhood acting. It feels like it happened in another lifetime, and even then, it felt like a hobby. People making a big deal out of me just embarrasses me, and I'm also very camera shy. It's not something I'm ever going to escape. And while I'm glad for all the advantages it's given me -- I got to meet the queen of England! -- it does give me something I have to not only live up to, but surpass. A lot of child stars feel like they'll never get past what they did as a kid, that their character has taken over their life.

Thank you once again Mara for more valuable insight, and warnings, about a scary world.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Amy's Baking Company re-opens

Last week's Kitchen Nightmare's featured some of the most-hated instant villains in reality T.V. history. Amy and Samy Bouzaglo of Scottsdale, Arizona, stole their staffs' tips, fired people on the spot for minor transgressions, and refused to consider any of Gordon Ramsey's suggestions to improve. The pair was so insufferable, Ramsey finally walked out and stopped production, the first time he's ever done so. And the drama didn't stop there. A few days later, a string of nasty Facebook posts, reportedly from the restaurant (they claim they were "hacked"), set off a social media firestorm.

The couple have been bellyaching for years about their "bullies" and "haters," to little sympathy from the rest of the world. Many bloggers and entertainment writers out there have summed this couple up quite nicely, but perhaps ABC's Alex Alvarez did it best. Wrote Alvarez this week: "The reality is that most people do not know or care enough about you to hate you. The internet will always be populated with trolls, but those people are entirely distinct from people who disagree with or criticize you. People are able to not enjoy your service, product, or performance while having no opinion of you as a person. People are capable of not enjoying a pizza dish while also not actively plotting to bring on your demise and that of your restaurant. And those are the people worth listening to. They can potentially make you and what you do better." 

This whole saga set off an interesting discussion of what haters and bullies really are and what role social media plays in one's interactions with their clientele, fans, and non-fans. It highlighted the simple fact that many times, "hate" is just constructive criticism that the recipient just could not handle. 

Tuesday, Amy's Baking Company will re-open for dinner service. With boobyguards in place and a sold out house, this ridiculous saga is probably not over yet. The drama has already started, with Kitchen Nightmares reportedly sending what sounds like some kind of cease and desist to the couple, which caused them to cancel a planned press conference tomorrow. Darn, that press conference could have been good!

You can watch the Kitchen Nightmare's episode in full on Youtube.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Baby Jessica's dad: 'I’m very glad that I don’t have to look at my daughter and say “Sorry, your money is gone!”'

In an exclusive interview with, Chip McClure talks about fame, the tragic suicide of one of the rescuers, his unquenchable faith, and how he made sure his daughter, and her money, were protected.

Chip says he was a teenager "shy to the point of being incapacitated"
when he had to give a national press conference during Jessica's ordeal.
Last week we were pleasantly surprised to find an e-mail from Chip McClure in our inbox. Chip is the father of the famous baby who fell down a Midland, Texas well in 1987 and was miraculously pulled out alive three days later. He was only 18 years old when the accident happened. Today he continues to live in Texas and sells airplanes. Chip reached out to us to thank us for an article we wrote a few years ago talking about what a good job he and Jessica's mom, 17-year-old Cissy, did protecting Jessica from fame and safeguarding her money. On a whim, we asked if Chip would be willing to be interviewed about his experience in the spotlight and raising a famous child, especially now that he has the benefit of 25 years of hindsight. Much to our delight, he agreed. Thank you, Chip, and thank you for being a shining example of what a good parent really is under incredible circumstances.

Everybody's Baby: The Rescue of Jessica McClure can be found on Netflix streaming, Amazon and Youtube. The coverage of baby Jessica was one of America's first pseudo "reality" shows. At what point did you become aware of how big the story was and how famous your daughter was, and what was that realization like? 
Chip: I was standing in Jessica’s hospital room the night we got her out. It was a surreal moment, it had been so intense. We were so focused on getting her back alive that we didn’t really give any thought to what it would be like when it was over. So, here the three of us are, Jessica is lying in her bed, Cissy lying beside her. I’m standing there with my hands in my pocket. Relief setting in and the adrenaline wearing off. I did what anyone would do, I turned on the T.V. There just happened to be a story about Jessica. Well, that’s cool, I remember thinking. This is on T.V! So, I changed the channel. Much to my surprise she was on that channel too. Fifty-seven channels and there’s nothing on except Jessica’s rescue. That’s when I first knew how big the story was.

It's well known that donations poured in for Jessica, some reports estimating about a million dollars all together. What did you do with the money?
The money was set up in a trust fund for Jessica, it provided for her necessities and education as she grew up. When she turned 25 years old the money was released to her control. We did use a portion of the funds to buy a modest home in the Midland, but these were funds that were either cash or sent directly to Cissy and I. For example, there would be numerous checks that were made out to us and the memo line would be “Dinner on us!” Because these funds were not sent to Jessica directly, they could not be deposited into the trust. It was a typical trust that was managed by a bank in Midland. We received monthly documentation of how it was managed and invested but the bank handled the details.

Did you ever feel temptations to dip into Jessica's money?
There really weren’t temptations, the intent from the beginning was that it be for Jessica. There were times when it would have been tempting to use the money to fund a project or a business venture, but a trust does not have provisions for that. The best thing you can do with money in a situation is to leave it alone, let it grow to a substantial amount so that it can truly provide for the beneficiary.

You only allowed the media to update the public on Jessica two times as she grew up. Why did you decide to limit her access to the public so severely? 
We kept her out of the spotlight so that she would have the opportunity for a normal life. Once she was old enough to decide what she wanted to do she decided to keep it to a minimum. She really likes just being a normal girl. She likes knowing that people like her as a person and not just because she is a notable figure.

You and Jessica's mom were just 18 and 17 years old when this happened. Do you think being so young helped you or hurt you in being able to handle your lives becoming such an enormous public spectacle?
The truth is that it was an extreme disadvantage. Not only were we so very young, but I was shy to the point of being incapacitated. I had just accepted a job with a retail sporting goods store and the owner wasn’t sure it was going to work out because I was too shy to deal with the public. What did help, what saved us from certain embarrassment, was the fact that we were surrounded by very good people that protected us and helped us handle the situation and publicity. It still amazes me the people that God had placed in my life, in advance, who would be there for us at a time when we needed them most. The most notable is a man that is a life-long friend, in fact he has known me my whole life. He was involved in politics with my father. My family doesn’t have “god parents” but if they did Darrell Smith would be my godfather. Darrell came in and handled everything, he became our attorney and mentor. He called in a favor from Texas State Senator Pete Snelson, to handle public relations for us. Darrell assisted with the trust that was set up and the subsequent movie deal. I truly do not know what we would have done without him.

When did you explain to Jessica what happened to her and the large amount of money waiting in trust for her? One report says she actually found out not through you but by watching Rescue 911.

That report is actually false. Jessica grew up knowing about her trust and being invol
Jessica and her family in 2012.

ved in the media decisions. Statements like that make good T.V. and help to promote other shows. I’m sure it originated with a comment, but was taken out of context. It’s like saying when did you set the kids down and tell them daddy is the president. The kids don’t have to be told, they just grow up with it. It’s all about how it is lived, the attitude of the parents. With Jessica we never made it a big deal, so it wasn’t a big deal. This allowed her to have a good attitude about life and her position in it.

All reports suggest Jessica and your family has dealt with what happened to her very well. Why in your opinion has your family not become another casualty of fame? 
The short answer is the grace of God. Any time you are thrust into the spotlight things can go very poorly. It really depends on your heart and your attitude. If you feel thankful for the love and attention, people will see that. If you thrive on the fame and attention, they’ll see that too. I am very thankful that all went well, the glory goes to God though. We were too young and na├»ve to make it through this good.

Fireman Robert O'Donell helped pull Jessica
from the well. He later committed suicide.
For Robert, fame was "like a drug," Chip says.
Unfortunately, one of Jessica's rescuers was not able to handle the publicity very well and in 1995, just days after the Oklahoma City bombing, he committed suicide. What are your thoughts on that? 
Robert was a friend, and I was deeply disturbed by how the media spotlight affected him. One night we were at a party and he told a young lady that he was "the guy who rescued Baby Jessica.” Her response was; “Yeah, you and 400 other people!” Let’s just say that Robert didn’t shy from the attention, he lived for it. It was like a drug that he would have been better off not being introduced to. A few years after the incident, the media attention abruptly stopped. I was relieved; Robert was despondent. He had many other issues that are private matters that I won’t go into. These things were a more relevant and current concern at his time of death, and in my opinion were much greater factors in his fatal decisions that day. Though, we will never really know what was going through his mind at the time.

Do you regret any decisions you made in regards to all of this? Is there anything you would have done differently or better? 
I’m sure we would all do things different giving the opportunity and retaining our current knowledge and maturity, but again considering our age and circumstances I think we were very blessed to have everything go the way that it did.

You and Jessica's mom eventually divorced. Did anything about being in the public eye contribute to that break-up?
It didn’t contribute to the break-up, it probably extended the marriage. The fact is we were both children when we met. We were not in love. I wish this had been a storybook in that sense, but it wasn’t. The good news is God’s grace is sufficient, and as bad as we mess things up He has a way of making the best out of it. As far as co-parenting, you have to place the child(ren) above your own feelings. You have to make them the priority and not pawns in a war between ex-spouses.

What are your thoughts on parents who put their children in the public eye? What is your advice to them? 
It’s a scary way to make a life for yourself and your children. I do believe that if your intentions are good and you keep God at the center of everything that you do it can be great. If you are selfish, greedy and looking for fame, it’s going to be a tough life. For you and your children.

Do you have any words of caution to parents who are choosing to spend their children's money now instead of protecting it? 
Resentment from your children is a painful thing. I’m very glad that I don’t have to look at my daughter and say; “Sorry, your money is gone!”

Reality shows weren't very popular in 1987, but had you been offered a reality show would you have signed on? 
No. The idea has been bantered around over the last few years, it’s not something Jessica wants to do.

What was the worst part about the family being famous, and conversely, what did you like about it?
The worst part is that you do attract some unhealthy attention. For every thousand people that truly love and care about your family, there’ll be one who is a little off. This can be scary and dangerous. Any famous family has the opportunity to do wonderful things and touch people’s lives, they just have to want to do that.

Have you ever seen "Jon and Kate Plus 8" and what are you thoughts about the pervasive invasion of the children's privacy on such an on-going basis? 
I haven’t watched the show more than a few minutes, so I probably don’t have enough information to comment. It’s probably not healthy and the sad part is the kids didn’t get to choose.

Any thoughts on parents who "over share" about their children on sites like Facebook and Twitter?
I have both a Twitter account and a Facebook page, I started both fairly recently as I begin to consider writing a book. The Facebook page has really been a source for excellent feedback and encouragement. I do say very little about Jessica or her family on Facebook. The page is

Amy and Chip today.

Could you give us an update on how the family is doing now?
Our entire family is blessed. Jessica, Danny and the kids are doing great. I am now finally married to the love of my life. My wife Amy is an amazing woman. We have six kids between us, a regular Brady Bunch. I sell airplanes for a living at and as I mentioned before have been kicking around the idea of writing a book about the inspiring story of Jessica’s rescue.

My main purpose is to encourage people to pray and get involved. Jessica was rescued because 400 people showed up and worked with all of their ability. Her rescue was successful because the whole nation prayed together for her. Imagine what we could accomplish today if we all prayed, and became involved. Thanks for the opportunity to share.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mediocre hero does fame right

Charles Ramsey is everything an overnight celebrity can be

An unexpected hero emerged yesterday out of the shocking story of three girls kidnapped in Ohio a decade ago who are now free. Neighbor Charles Ramsey, with his backwards baseball cap, missing teeth and colorful storytelling skills, helped kick down a door (half eaten Big Mac in hand) to save the girls from their horror.

In these days of internet and social media, people can become instantly famous, and possibly rich. Many of them screw it up, greedy for more fame and money. However Ramsey has handled his overnight success with amazing fortitude. Here's where he went right:

1. He's humble. He doesn't see himself as a hero. He was just being a Christian neighbor.
2. He's not greedy. He doesn't want any reward money because as he tells it, whipping out his paycheck, he has a job. Besides, he knows the girls need it more.
3. He's not trying to hide who he really is. Ramsey speaks his mind, from the postal system to 9-1-1 operators, to realities about race relations, he calls it like he sees it, even if it takes a curse word or two to get the point across. Ramsey's not polished, doesn't have the best grammar, and at times meanders through a story, but at least he's honest (and often hysterical). Something we see so little of these days on T.V.
4. Anderson Cooper treated him with such dignity it was like he was interviewing the president. Because respect when earned should be freely given, Bro.

As for McDonald's? Stand by, they told Ramsey, we'll be knocking.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Kate went to the Kentucky Derby and the media didn't care

So she finally had to post the pap photos herself.

Courtesy of Kate. 

And here's a flashback to 2011's outfit and the inspired graphic:

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

'Diary of a Stage Mother's Daughter': "You just need to keep Mom happy. It's the only way to survive."

Melissa Francis's brave struggle to recover from the iron jaws of her controlling stage mother provides hope to any child star ever taken advantage of by those who were supposed to love and protect them and their money.

Many viewers may not have made the connection, but financial reporter Melissa Francis, who has been seen on both CNBC and Fox News for years, was once a famous child actor who starred on Little House on the Prairie and several other well-known shows and movies, including the groundbreaking movie of the week about sexual abuse, Something About Amelia. 
Jason Bateman (pitter-patter!) and Missy with Michael Landon 
in their roles as orphans that made them household names.

In her frank memoirs, Diary of a Stage Mother's Daughter, Melissa chronicles her life to date piece by painful piece. Her older sister Tiffany was also a child actor, and Missy got her start as a baby just by good (or bad?) luck when a casting director noticed her at one of Tiffany's auditions. Missy's talent at her young age (she could cry convincing tears at the drop of a hat) quickly led to bigger and better roles, until finally landing the part of Cassandra on Little House in the show's twilight years. What followed was a brief few seasons that would make her a great deal of money, provide spectacular adventures (Michael Landon once flew her and Jason Bateman by private jet to the set) and bestow her with a fame she could never shake.

Melissa eventually decided she wanted to leave acting behind and headed for Harvard and eventually reporting. As Melissa struggles to have a normal life and relationship all while trying to make sense of her bizarre mother and unusual childhood, the story eventually leads to a horrific loss, and a cathartic estrangement.

Not only is Stage Mother a portrait of a dysfunctional childhood in the public eye, it is also one child's story of a mentally ill mother. Her story will not only resonate with famous kids, but with anyone who ever had to live among mental illness.

The following are some important highlights from Stage Mother:

"I had made the mistake of speaking up during one of Mom's stories before and learned that no one but Mom was allowed to talk. Afterward, when we'd gotten in the car, she'd pinched my arm ferociously and said, 'You are never to contradict me in front of another adult ever again. Do you understand me?' The pain shooting through my arm confirmed how serious she was."

"At first, I enjoyed the novelty of being recognized by strangers. Then the attention made me terribly self-conscious. I started to hide my face or turn away when a stranger started to recognize me. If they got up the nerve to ask, 'Are you Cassandra from Little House on the Prairie?' I liked to say no. But I felt guilty when I did this because I knew I was being rude ... all the attention was just too much even though I had recently turned nine years old. I was still a kid, and it was an invasion.

"Little House on the Prairie had been out of the primetime lineup for almost three years, but the fervor around the show had yet to die down. It still ran every day in reruns ... You could always tell when they'd gotten to my years, because more people would stop me on the street than usual." 

"'Are you asking if I spend my free time driving her to interviews and sitting on the set all day while she works and becomes a star and I'm not paid a dime? Do I deal with her agent and contracts, buy her clothes and pay for her haircuts so she can work and have a successful career? Am I the only one protecting her on the set, and looking out for her interests, all for free? Do I do these things for her while people call me names and treat me like a hanger-on while I'm on the set? And she becomes rich and famous? If that's what you mean by a Stage Mother, then yes, I am that.'" 

"I'd realized by now that Mom was controlling every dime that came in .... and doled it out as if it were hers. I'd seen her write checks out of the account that was supposed to be my trust fund."

"'You just need to keep [Mom] happy. It's the only way to survive.'"

"'Have you noticed that Mom has never had a job in your lifetime?' he cracked ....'Yes, in fact, I have noticed that. She always said she would scrub floors to take care of us if need be, but I don't think I ever saw her clean a floor, or much of anything else, the whole time I was growing up.' .... Dad laughed too, welcoming a break in the continuing flow of bad news. 'Right, well, to be fair, she drove you to all those auditions .... She's not qualified to do anything now. She didn't go to college. Who would hire her?' .... 'So she can't work as a receptionist at a doctor's office? She can't work in retail? She can't work at Nordstroms? She can't file at some office? I don't buy it.... I've worked my whole entire life .... From day one. In commercials, at restaurants. I worked in the kitchen at my dorm when she said she wouldn't give me money so I could be a summer intern for the Today show .... I have never not worked. In my whole, entire life.'"

"The endlessness of my love for my son was matched only by the enormity of the love I later felt for his little brother when he arrived. Those boys make it impossible for me to understand my mother."

Melissa's book Diary of a Stage Mother's Daughter can be found on Amazon.