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Do Stars Make Good Parents?

I’m haunted by the haunted eyes of some of our movie stars’ kids. And I believe it will come as a shock to their glamour mamas and papas to read here that many tots have been and are being neglected. Some, completely abandoned. I don’t only mean Ingrid Bergman and Jenny Ann—that was a public desertion, and Ingrid was punished when her daughter condemned her in court. It was a high price to pay for love, and Ingrid was heartbroken about leaving her daughter when she dashed off to Rossellini in Rome. But to a child, it’s only a difference in degree whether you run off to a man, or run off for a film—or for fun. The kid left behind feels just as lonely and insecure.

I was reminded of several movie star mothers in Hollywood when I saw Bette Davis in “The Star.” Remember how, in the picture, Bette forgot everything—including her child, when a good film role came along? It happens here all the time. Stars accept roles that take them away from their children for weeks and months.

But Bette Davis, for all her storms and tempers, takes her children wherever she goes—to the beach, to England, to New York. The only time she was away from them was during the brief pre-Broadway tour with her stage show, “Two’s Company.” Little Bee Dee talks like her mother, walks like her mother. And when she grows up, she can never say her mother neglected her or deserted her.

Hedy Lamarr explained to me why she sends her small children to a faraway school in San Francisco while she lives at the Beverly Hills Hotel. “I’m busy and they have better care there.” But remember two things. A. Hedy hasn’t worked in more than a year; so how can she be so busy? B. There can be no substitute for your own home and mother—unless the mother is a monster or physically ill. Hedy is neither. She’s a warm human being. I’ve heard her blame her own mother for the lack of loving care in her childhood. Isn’t she repeating the same sad mistake?

No one can be more devoted to a child than Olivia de Havilland is to her little Benjy. But you can make a child as lonely as a cloud if you make him different. Benjy is different because he has a chauffeur-bodyguard taking him to nursery school and the chauffeur waits outside for the little feller until school is over. Don’t be so anxious, Olivia—heaven protects the working girl’s son.


When Judy Garland finished at the Palace in New York, she went to Florida with the telephoned understanding that she would return to Hollywood in time for daughter Liza’s fifth birthday party. But Judy was tired, the sunshine seductive, and she lingered with Sid Luft in Palm Beach while Liza had her party without Judy. She loves her daughter, but actually Judy has spent more time away from Liza than with her. And after the birth of her second daughter, Judy announced she would leave for a vacation in Florida again. If it’s a rest she wants, why not somewhere nearer to Liza?

Rita Hayworth recently returned from several months she’d spent in Europe minus her children. Though she was back in the States for Rebecca’s eighth birthday, Rita was held up in New York, and the disappointed child had to celebrate without her mother’s help. I never can understand why stars choose to have their fun away from their kids. It’s tiring perhaps, but so rewarding to have your children around when you’re relaxing on vacation instead of having them see you always working and tense.

I believe if Rita had taken her children with her when she went to Aly in Paris, the reconciliation might have worked. Because Aly adores the little girls, the Aga Khan had specifically wanted to see them, and the family atmosphere might have kept the dashing Prince at home instead of in night clubs. Rita complained she wanted a family life. Then why in heck didn’t she take the family instead of leaving them here with a nurse?

During Cornel Wilde’s marriage to Pat Knight, his wife came first, daughter Wendy a poor second. Cornel had such a fixation on Pat that I’m told he actually resented a child in the house to share her affections with him. And it is true that Wendy was shunted from relative to relative back east. Even when she was in Hollywood, you’d see her dining out with a governess.


It’s different today. Jean Wallace loves children in general, her two boys by Franchot, her young sister and Cornel’s Wendy in particular. Now Cornel realizes that having a child can be fun—and not just a responsibility. He took the entire family along when he went off to French Morocco to work in “Saadia.”

I always shudder when Van Johnson refers to Evie’s boys by Keenan Wynn as “The Monsters.” Sure it’s in fun, but is this funny?

Doris Day was singing with Les Petersen’s band on tour, so she used to leave son Terry with her mother in Cincinnati. Do you know of many grandmothers who don’t spoil their children’s children? Terry’s grandma was no exception. She came with the boy, who idolized her, to live in Hollywood when Doris clicked in pictures. There could have been family trouble when Terry insisted he would only take orders from Grandma. But Mrs. Kapplehoff is as intelligent as Doris and she took Terry aside—I believe he was over her knee, face down, at the time, and told him—“There’s only one boss in this house and that’s your mother.”

There are two bosses now in Terry’s life—maybe pals is a better word—Doris and her husband Marty Melcher.

Joan Fontaine was accused of deserting daughter Debbie when she went to Europe and the little girl lived with her father in New York. But I know better than that. I know that one of the reasons Joan married Collier Young was that she could go to Bill Dozier and say, “Now I have a real home to offer Debbie and I’d like her back.” Joan has been a good mother to Martita, the little Mexican girl she adopted so that Debbie could have a sister. I hope she’ll be allowed to raise them together.

How could Frank Sinatra leave those three cute kids of his? For the same reason that Ingrid left hers, I suppose. The irresistible force drawing him away was stronger than his feelings as a parent. Young Frankie has all his old man’s charm, and the little girls are adorable. When Frankie is here, he sees them all the time. But he’ll have to come up with some good answers when his children are old enough to ask the questions.


It’s ironic and sad that Ava Gardner, who wants children so badly, is still without them although married three times. She’s good to Frankie’s children, but she’ll have to be very good to keep their respect and love when they know some of those answers. Because I can still hear the now-grown-up son of a producer annihilating his father verbally, when he learned for the first time that he had preferred a well-known actress to his wife and children.

It’s supposed to be cute that the James Masons make their small daughter Porty live their life, instead of the usual routine for infants and children. If they’re having a party, Porty can stay up as long as they do. Then she sleeps till noon. Pamela started a hand-picked nursery school because “Porty found the other children terribly dull.” And do you remember when Porty was tossed in the pool when she was three months old or thereabouts and learned to swim the hard way? The photos were real pretty. But there was a sequel. When the child was old enough to show what she really wanted to do, she wouldn’t come near the pool.

I’m always skeptical when I see mother and daughter in identical dresses. Who’s it for—the mother or the daughter? I get the feeling the adult is feeding her ego at the little one’s expense. You see it a lot in Hollywood. It makes a nice combo for the photographers. But one movie star’s daughter—and she’ll be nameless for her sake, not her mother’s—told me she suffered a loss of identity when her mother wore the identical dress. “She looked so beautiful in hers; I was all arms and legs in mine.” There are more ways of deserting a child than by leaving her.

Jane Wyman is smart enough to keep her daughter out of the spotlight, except on rare occasions when she takes her to a premiere of one of her own pictures. But I wonder if she knows that Maureen had a tough time when she first sent her to that fashionable boarding school in Palos Verdes. Something like Ty Power had in the Marines. “So you think you can have anything because you’re a movie star?”

And that brings me to John Barrymore, Jr.’s schooldays in a private seminary in Pomona. “The head master hated movie people, and I finally ran away when he beat me up.” “But didn’t you tell your family?” I asked John, shocked. “They were too busy doing whatever it was they were doing,” said John bitterly.

Glenn Ford’s a swell feller, but I sometimes wonder if he has to accept so many pictures out of the country, which means being away six months from son Pee Dee. Eleanor was supposed to go down to Mexico this last time. But she wouldn’t disrupt the boy’s school schedule.


Of course, to be with your kids all the time can be a little overwhelming. I know, I’ve got two. But it pays off to grow up with them as well as for them. And no one knows it better than Mel Ferrer. Just before he took off for Morocco and “Saadia,” he told me, “I feel like I’m running out on them. But with all the fighting over there I don’t think it’s safe. I’ll send for them when I make ‘King Arthur’ in England.”

I don’t believe anyone in Hollywood loves her children more than Betty Hutton. And it must have been terribly hard for her to leave them behind when she went to London to appear at the Palladium and then tour the provinces. But she was gone ten weeks—a long time for two little darlings like Lindsay and Candy to be without their mother.

Now, take Shirley Temple who gave up her career entirely to be a wife and mother. Of course, Shirley retired with a fortune which Betty can’t amass in this tax-heavy era. But my point is, she didn’t have to go to the Palladium and to Glasgow and to Dublin—unless the force that drives her is stronger than her strong love for her children. She’s given them everything she can, heaven knows—their rooms are dainty boudoirs fit for two princesses.

I guess it’s a price you pay for living today. In the good old, bad old days the kids were packed with the trunks and breathed stale, dressing-room air and caught colds in draughty trains—but somehow managed to come through to be the Betty Huttons and Judy Garlands of today.

Togetherness in families does pay off! Look at the happiness in homes like the William Holdens’ and the Roy Rogers’. In these homes, the well-being of the kids is Number One on the agenda. Roy and Dale sometimes have twenty kids—all ages—in their backyard.

The Holdens rushed back ahead of schedule from the longed-for European jaunt last summer, they were so homesick for the kids. Bill, when he isn’t working, always takes Brenda’s daughter by her previous marriage to school, drives her to dancing lessons, makes her feel a hundred per cent wanted.

And that, in my dictionary, spells the opposite of deserted.



It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MAY 1953

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