Fountain of Money

43 years ago today we started production on the groundbreaking television show Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. I played Heather, Mary’s angsty tween-aged daughter – a role that forever changed my life in many wonderful and tragic ways.

I was incredibly fortunate to be on a cult hit with whip-smart, hilarious actors who expected me to work as hard as they did. I was beyond lucky to have an extraordinary tutor who actually educated me and broadened my intellectual horizons, while protecting me to the best of her abilities. There were many adults in the crew who allowed me moments of pure childhood fun on a super-adult show whose mission was to violate the entire Code of Practices for Television Broadcasters.

Even with all of these well-meaning adults looking out for me, my parents exploited me, as is the case with SO MANY child performers.

 

 

Imaginings 2

I was the face of ‘Lively Lines’ – it was part of Mattel’s first art-educational toy line, called Imaginings.

 

In 1975 I was an 11-year-old Fountain of Money, and my parents had been stealing my paychecks since I was 3. I had done so much work that I was able to get my Screen Actor’s Guild union card when I was 5, and my AFTRA card at age 7. In 8 years I’d done nearly 60 commercials and a few television feature spots. I’d booked dozens of print jobs and voice over gigs, I was on a candy bar wrapper, and I was the face of a Mattel toy – not a very popular toy, but, still…

I came to be part of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman at the last possible minute before production got underway. I went on the interview Wednesday November 5th after school. I got the call back and was offered the job on the evening of Thursday the 6th. On the morning of Friday the 7th I was sitting dazedly at the first table read on the lot at KTLA, on Sunset Blvd.

In 43 hours my life had turned on a dime.

 

Origninal Cast Call & Photo Shoot

Our first Call Sheet

 

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was the brainchild of television legend Norman Lear. Presented as a soap opera, MH2 was Lear’s grand statement on American Consumerism, and how marketing isolates us by targeting our fear of inadequacy. It was his poke in the eye to conventions, censors, and Pearl Clutchers.

In 2 seasons we shot 325 episodes of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. It was a half-hour show that aired 5 days a week, and had a cult following that goes on to this day. When Louise Lasser left the show left we continued on for one more season, filming another 130 episodes under the name Forever Fernwood – the name of the fictional town where the series took place. In total we filmed 455 episodes in 28 months.

MH2 was the first television show that proved you didn’t need a network to succeed or a laugh-track to be funny. It challenged sexism, racism and prevailing morals. It also introduced multiple positive LGBTQ characters to television at a time when Harvey Milk had not yet been elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. It is not overstating to call MH2 and unprecedented and revolutionary television show.

The list of exceptional performers who appeared on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and Forever Fernwood is a who’s who of funny and talented people from the 1970s: Louise Lasser, Mary Kay Place, Martin Mull, Fred Willard, Dabney Coleman, Doris Roberts, Dody Goodman, Graham Jarvis, Greg Mullavey, Salome Jens, Ed Begley, Jr., Howard Hessman, Shelly Fabres, Shelley Berman, Richard Hatch, Tab Hunter, Sparky Marcus, Marian Mercer, Gloria Dehaven, Orson Bean, David Suskind, Gore Vidal – just to name a few. It was just that cool at the height of its popularity that a cameo or a brief story arc was sought after by the biggest names in the business.

At one point Steven Ford, President Gerald Ford’s son, wanted to just come to visit Stage 5 to watch us film. Everyone was atwitter about such an important visit, until we found out not enough of the cast or crew could pass an FBI background check to allow Ford to visit the set for even one day.

 

Mary Hartman 1

 

The only reason I ended up in such rarefied air on the set of MH2 was because my mom had blown up at my agent, Iris Burton, for not getting me any good interviews.

Mind you: I had just landed five commercials in six months – including a Nestle’s $100,00 Bar spot that was a gusher of residuals (and would be for the next 6 years). But my mother demanded more from my agent.  She wanted better interviews and she demanded more readings for movies and television series. There were shouted threats of moving the fountain-of-money-that-I-was to different representation.

A few days after their angry conversation I got the interview for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman – and it was nothing less than a grudge interview. My agent had submitted me for the role of a 13-year-old who was overweight and busty, a frizzy haired girl with bad skin. I was 11, skinny as a rail, with no figure at all. I had long braids and glasses and silky smooth skin. Iris had secured an interview for a role I was simply unsuited for as a way to show my mother not to question her judgment.

Two grown women were using pre-pubescent me as the badminton birdie of their avarice and rage.

 

$100,000 Bar

 

The interview for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was not-quite a Cattle Call, but there were dozens of young women ahead of me – not a one of whom looked like me. I was given a ‘side’ to study after I signed in, and glanced at it. (A side is a mini-scene for audition purposes, usually 2 or 3 pages long. These days it can also refer to the pages of a movie script that will be shot on any given day.) This side was a piece where the mother (Mary) is trying to talk to an unwilling daughter (Heather) about sex, and the daughter manipulates her mother by redirecting the conversation to make it seem like she doesn’t even understand what sex is, which relieves the clueless mother to no end.

I completely understood the piece the first time I looked at it. I got the joke.

Unfortunately there was a long wait, and my mother was determined to coach me death, as she did with every audition. She would drill me again and again on how I should say my lines and move my hands, and I every time I went through that door to an audition I ignored all of her terrible advice and did it my way.

There was nothing special at all about this interview, it was just another long afternoon with my mother, and I had no idea how it was going to change my life. It was simply one more of the fifteen or twenty auditions I went on every month. My time was never my own – it was more an all-consuming continuum of school, cars, auditions and work.

When I was finally called in to the interview, after at least an hour’s wait, I turned ‘on’ like a light switch. I was a pro. I knew how to look the casting director in the eye as I was crossing the room and saying hello with a smile and a slight nod, and to keep eye contact as I handed my litho forward, right-side-up with my name at the bottom. I had literally done this 1,000 times before.

 

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The casting director introduced herself as Jane, and the Director as Joan. There were other people to whom I was not introduced, and who watched silently as I read the scene with Joan. Joan nodded when we got to the end of the scene, and asked me to do it again – this time miming the orange juice I was supposed to be getting out of the refrigerator. We did the scene a second time, and I a saw the a ghost of a smile from Joan.

Jane asked if I had any other auditions that afternoon, or if I could stay to watch the two pilot episodes of the show. Hearing that I was free the rest of the afternoon, Jane sent me to get my mother from the waiting room. Mary Margaret Lamb took a long moment to fold her knitting project and stow it in her bag before doing a positively graceless ‘My Kid Is Better Than Yours’ sashay through a sea of angry parents and dejected children.

We were led to a cold office, and we sat on a couch looking up at a monitor on a large metal rolling stand. The screen flickered to life and the episode began as a nearly sepia-toned video of kick-knacks on a table came into focus, and with it the swelling of over-dramatic music saturated with high-pitched violins. Out of nowhere a voice that could cut glass screeches, “Mary Hartman! Mary Hartman!!” so shrilly and gratingly I physically winced. Then came a gush of overwrought music heavy on the strings, parodying the soundtrack of really bad soap operas.

It is a distinctive open. Oh, so distinctive. I was tormented in High School with people shrieking it at me as I passed them in the hall. I’ve had grown-ups shout it in my face at parties as if I’ve never heard it before. I’ll bet you I’ve heard, “Mary Hartman! Mary Hartman!!” ten thousand times if I’ve heard it once.

Torture yourself, if you’ve never heard it.

 

Mary Hartman Opening

 

 

As I watched the pilots I clearly remember thinking, “This is weird.” My mother didn’t know what to make of it, either. The lack of a laugh track threw her off, and I remember her saying later she didn’t know if she was supposed to be laughing at things or not – especially the inappropriate subjects.

It was late when I read for the folks in the room a third time, and they thanked me as I left, asking if I had any bookings in the next week. We drove home in the dark, and – exhausted – I didn’t get my homework done again.

The next day after school I was crying in my bedroom, sitting on my bed unsuccessfully trying to figure out what my algebra book was saying. It had been a bad day. 10-Week Grades had come out and my algebra marks were poor from never having time to do my homework. I was struggling mightily in math and had gotten a D, and my mother’s answer was to verbally and physically abuse me. I was grounded (as if I ever had time to go anywhere), and sent to my room to magically figure out integers and angles I couldn’t decipher before.

Suddenly, my mother burst into my room without knocking, making the door crash against the wall. Privacy didn’t exist in my home as a child – and at that point I was not allowed to even fully close my door, lest my mother not be able to keep an eye on me at all times – and crashing doors usually meant more verbal abuse or hitting. I cringed, throwing my hands up around my head to protect myself from the expected blows. Instead of being wild eyed mad, she was wild eyed excited. She didn’t get angry at me for protecting my head like she usually did, and ignoring my cowering she said manically, “Get dressed! You’re late for a callback! They want to see you back from yesterday, but they forgot to call Iris to set it up. Hurry!! We should have been there at 5 pm. Where are your clothes?”

She was no longer hurling invectives at me, saying how stupid and worthless I was. She seemed to have forgotten the blows she had delivered to my head and back just minutes before, and was eagerly telling me to get ready.

My clothes from the interview the day before had been stuffed into the red laundry bag my mother had crocheted, and they were wrinkled. Frantically she snatched them from my hands and threw them in the drier to tumble out the wrinkles. She brushed and braided my hair, while having me hold a cold washcloth to my face to erase the swelling and redness from my sobbing.

“C’mon – you’re not really going to go in there looking like that!” she admonished, catching my eye in the giant round mirror above her sink, “Where’s your apple pie smile? Smile like you mean it – smile with your EYES!!” she encouraged/threatened me, as she pulled my braid too tight.

She was so focused on getting me to look exactly as I had the day before that she didn’t run a comb through her own hair, and she rushed out the door without changing out of her dirty black slacks and grubby sweater. For a woman so defined by façades my mother’s slovenly appearance that evening when she first met Norman Lear and Louise Lasser would torment her for the rest of her days.

Before I knew it we were out in the middle of rush hour traffic, heading over the hill on the Hollywood Freeway. It would take at least an hour to get there, and I was trapped in the car with a woman who was vibrating from excitement, drilling me over and over on how to do the scene her way.

Such was the Emotional Roller Coaster of my youth: Half an hour before she was screaming at me and hitting me about a bad math grade that might keep me from renewing the all-important California Work Permit, and now I was running lines her way and being told not to blow it because this could be The Big Break.

But beyond all that detritus and noise, there was euphoria about getting a callback for a Norman Lear series.

 

 

heatherhartman09

 

 

When we finally arrived we were waved on to the lot to park and I was rushed into Norman Lear’s office where he, Louise Lasser, Director Joan Darling, producer Al Burton, and writer Gail Parent were waiting. I made eye contact and gave them my apple pie smile, pretending my head didn’t hurt where my mother had been punching it 90 minutes ago.

I read the same side as I’d read the day before, only this time instead of reading with the Director I was reading it with Louise Lasser. Suddenly the scene was done, and they told me ‘Thank you, you can go’.

Thank you, you can go? But – we’d only read it once. How could it be ‘Thank you, you can go’?!

In less than 5 minutes I was in and out, and I found myself heading toward the elevator in dismayed shock, not understanding how I had failed so completely and astoundingly fast when it felt like a good read. I knew it was going to be a long, ugly ride home.

We were getting on the elevator in silence when Al Burton called my name down the hall. I heard the smile in his voice and I knew I had the job. My heart hit my feet as I stuck my hand out to stop the heavy elevator doors.

Al caught up to us and said they all really liked the way I read the part, and then he asked if I wanted to join the cast. “The job yours if you want it,” he said, smiling and looking me in the eyes like I mattered.

I remember gasping and jumping up and down. I remember saying, “Yes!!” and bear hugging Al, and then hugging my mom as she beamed and rocked me back and forth in that elevator.

I remember being happy – happy in a way you can only be when you’re too young to be wary and you don’t have the adult filter that stops you from showing what you really feel. In that moment I was validated for all the times I wasn’t chosen, and I felt special because this time I was the best. I was going to be on a Norman Lear TV show – and it felt like winning.

I don’t think that there was ever a time in my life that my mother was more proud of me than that evening in the hallway outside of Norman Lear’s office.

 

Mary Hartman Letterhead 2

 

Being cast on MH2 changed my life completely. One day I was attending Junior High school in the most polluted part of the San Fernando Valley, and the next I was sitting at a long table in a conference room at KTLA, meeting my cast mates and production people. We were given our scripts for episodes 3, 4 and 5 and did the first, last, and only table read we ever did for the show. There was never time after that initial day for the luxury of such a thing.

There was a lady there who took care of timing out the scenes and continuity named Susan Harris who had the patience of Job with me. I was absolutely fascinated by the cigar box full of gum and mints (Wow! Tic Tacs!) that she kept with her at all times. I must have looked like a chipmunk with all the gum I shoved in my mouth that morning. She was kind to an antsy, nervous kid.

We started in on the table read, and I was bored stiff by the time we were done reading the 3 scripts several hours later. It was an excruciatingly long exercise, and somehow something as simple as reading words printed on paper turned into a thing. Everyone was making a WAY bigger deal out of it than they needed to, and many hairs were split. I know now that everyone was staking out their territory, and planting flags for their characters, but it was painfully long and ego driven. That table read became the template for the rehearsal and taping of nearly every episode of the show.

After the water-torture of the table read we all went down to Stage 5, where a luncheon was held for the cast and the production people. It was catered by Chasen’s of Beverly Hills, a perennial favorite of Norman Lear. There were place cards, and I was seated up at one of the front tables next to Debralee Scott and Dody Goodman, while my mother was seated far in the back where I (thankfully) could not see her.

All of us had individual goody bags which were filled with kitschy things. My bag had a draw string and was sewn to look like a pineapple. It had a plastic charm, 4 tickets to the cancelled children’s show Sheriff John, a pack of stale gum, some ribbons, an Oscar Meier Wiener whistle and some other junk. Everyone else had similar stuff. Although I didn’t fully grasp it at the time, it seemed to signify the budget we were working under.

The adults all seemed to know each other, and as they laughed too loud at inside jokes I tried too hard to be part of group. I saw Louise again, and spoke for a while with Greg Mullavey, the man who would play my ever-adolescent father. Dody was charming and welcoming, and she and Phil Bruns (a grumpy man who had the sour smell of an alcoholic) played my meddling grandparents. Debra Lee, who played my oversexed Aunt Cathy, was a social butterfly who swore like a sailor. I spoke very little that day with the Victor Killian, a quiet man cast as my great-grandfather, who I would come to know and love as the grandfather I never had. Mary Kay Place and Graham Jarvis were delightful, down-to-earth people who played the neighbors: an unlikely crazy-in-love couple, where she was a smoking hot aspiring country-singer and he was a balding middle-aged man who would give you the shirt off his back.

After lunch we were prodded by a strange doctor so that insurance could be taken out on the production. As each of our physicals were completed we got into our wardrobe, and headed off to hair and make-up. My wardrobe consisted of the same pants, shirt, belt, bracelet, braids, barrettes and glasses I sported on the audition and callback – I can actually say I created Heather from the ground up.

We gathered for the cast publicity shot in the Shumway kitchen set, and as each new person arrived in character there was laughter and camaraderie. At that point in the afternoon we were giddy from it all and the slightest thing would set us off in gales of laughter.

The photo we took that afternoon is iconic, and a giant blow-up of it sits behind Norman’s desk, a profound tribute to our show, given the sheer number of them Lear has produced.

That afternoon all of the adults were as kind as they were capable of being to the young stranger they’d just met who had been hired to play a smart-assed, cynical tween. I may have been carrying the weight of being my family’s Fountain of Cash, but my cast and crew mates couldn’t see that. I was a child they’d just met, and they were more focused on how to make this show work when it was so different than anything else on television. They knew we only had 10 days to get mentally ready for the start of production, and the grind of memorizing, rehearsing, blocking and filming 125-150 pages of dialogue PER WEEK.

As for me? It never occurred to me that Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was going to be anything other than a smash hit.

 

Cast Picture

 

My new-found station in life brought with it a well deserved bonus. Some frosting on the cake. A little something something for signing a contract on a daily AFTRA television series.

As an atta-girl for being cast on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman my parents saw their way to granting me a one-time bonus of the princely sum of $5 and dinner at Diamond Jim’s.

My break down was: $1 for a print job, $2 per commercial plus $1 extra if they make 2 spots out if it, and $5 (American!) for a series.

$5 for a series!

I didn’t get a regular allowance until I was 12-years-old, and even then it was only $2 on a $750 weekly paycheck. I’ll do the math for you: In 2018 dollars that’s me getting $9 a week allowance for a paycheck of $3,350.

I was truly a Bellagio Fountain of Cash.

 

Diamond Jims 2

 

I remember feeling so grown up the night we went to Diamond Jim’s, a past its prime cocktails-and-red-meat establishment on Hollywood Boulevard. Proud of my accomplishment, I boasted to the server as he led us to a high backed red leather booth that I’d ‘gotten’ a television series. He kept the celebration going with an endless stream of Shirley Temple’s (extra maraschino cherries, please!), while I’m sure my parents thought “Great! Now we have to tip appropriately.”

I imagined this would be a grand evening, like a supper club out of a 1940s musical. But the place was filled with smoke, there was no floor show, and they didn’t have any food for children. Diamond Jim’s was a stuffy disappointment after all the build up. My whole family should have gone to Shakey’s Pizza, followed by a trip to Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor for a Zoo. Instead, my parents isolated me from all of my brothers and created resentment where none ever needed to exist.

The truth is that this was a restaurant for my parents, and I was just tagging along on their celebratory dinner because I was footing the bill.

I ask you – Which was more insulting? A $5 payoff for landing a union gig, (Oh, irony! Thy name is Unionized Child Labor!) or the 3 of us celebrating the impending plunder of my hard-earned money?

Assholes.

 

heatherhartman10

 

That night I felt like I was a successful grown up, and in a way I was. I may have only been 11, but I had a 26 week guaranteed Union contract as a regular on a series. With that contract and my commercial residuals I would earn more than double in 6 months than what my father would make in the single highest earning year in his whole life – and that wouldn’t happen for another decade, when he topped out at $33,500.

You bet your ass I was grown up.

My parents stole almost every penny I ever made as a child. Had it not been for the paper-tiger Coogan Law, I’d have lost everything that I would earn over the next 2 ½ years of working for Norman Lear. This larceny was unchecked by the State. Hell, it was APPROVED of by the court, who left me with the paltry sum of $20,000 when I turned 18. An amount that was further chipped away by the $2,000 delinquent tax bill my parents hadn’t bothered to deal with that I received as an Eighteenth birthday present.

There is no way to estimate the true figure of how much money my parents stole from me because they claimed I made different amounts to the IRS, the Courts, SAG, AFTRA, and to me.

How comforting to know that my parents were equal opportunity thieves who ran a racket and a half, and managed to get away with it.

Something that abetted their theft was that commercials were not covered by the Coogan Law at that time. So the parents of someone like me, who made a ton of money, weren’t required to do anything with the money but spend it on whatever they wanted.

My parents were more inclined to lie to the IRS than they were to lie to the Unions. They were more afraid of running afoul of SAG and AFTRA than they were of an audit, but not too afraid to have me do an appalling number of non-Union jobs that were never declared to anyone but my mother’s secret bank account and my father’s bookie.

My parents were bold about their lies to the IRS. In fact they lied about my earnings to the IRS from my very first job. They never claimed to the IRS any of of the multiple calendars, print ads or voice-over work I did before I had to join Screen Actors Guild in 1968, when I made $156 on my first union commercial – a long lost spot for Alpha Beta Supermarkets. It was only then they finally, reluctantly, filed taxes for me.

But here is my first ad from 1967:

 

 

Aero Jet 1

My first job, 1967

 

 

My parents pretended I did no work and earned not one dollar in 1969, despite the continuing print work, and me having been the face of Ford’s Tot Guard (their first child safety seat) during its test run, and doing a non-union Gain Detergent commercial that played so much during the daily soaps I was recognized for the first time while in the grocery store when I was 5 years old.

They continued to lie to the IRS, and were so far on the take they never reported my first 5 years of AFTRA earnings.

I will never know how much I really earned by the time I’d gotten on to Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. A conservative guess would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000 of today’s dollars, if they had simply put it in a savings account and given it to me at age 18.

 

Mary Hartman Shirt

 

 

By 1976 my folks were in full swing, and had theft down to a science. Penn and Teller couldn’t make greenbacks disappear as well as Herb and Margaret could.

In 1976 I spent the full year employed under an AFTRA contract at a $750 weekly guarantee, there were summer residuals, as well as voice over promos for the show, which netted me upwards of $50,000. My parents declared to AFTRA I’d made $22,775.

My folks told Screen Actors Guild I’d made $32,500 in 1976. I was getting residuals for the 5 commercials I’d shot in 1975, with the Nestle’s $100,000 Bar spot itself bringing in a tidy $22,000.

Yet, it was declared to the IRS that in 1976 the grand total of my earnings was only $15,300.

They’d declared more than $55,000 in earnings to the Unions on who-knows-what actual earnings, and somehow I wasn’t audited for my parents asking the IRS to believe I’d made less than $300 per week as a main cast member on a screaming hot television show.

This mind boggling shell game continued until the show ended in 1978.

Using my tax returns I can see that my parents admitted to stealing $750,000 from me. Remember, this what they admitted stealing, and is only the earned income that I would have received at age 18. I would have had so much more had it been invested with a reputable money manager starting with my first job at age 3, in 1967.

What about the money my folks stole over and above what they declared to the IRS? Your guess is as good as mine. They consistently under-reported my income by 50%, sometimes by 100%. It would be reasonable to say I earned 2 to 4 times the amount they declared for me. Somewhere between $1.5M and $3M 2018 dollars, and not a dollar of it invested.

By rights I should have been a wealthy young woman when I tuned 18. It seems that for a lifetime of work and foregoing my childhood I should have had more to show for it than $1,000 a year. I can only imagine what my fortune would have been had they done the right thing.

All that was left of my meager My Coogan account allowed me to pay for 3 years of college tuition, while I worked to pay rent on my apartment. It also allowed me to move to Colorado in 1984 at the ripe old age of 20, and set out towards a place with mountains and skiing, far away from my parents.

Picture this – It’s 7 am on the first Saturday in June, 1984. *Knock Knock* “Mom, Dad – don’t get out of bed. I’m leaving for Colorado. No – really. Don’t get out of bed. My car is packed and I’m on my way. Buh-bye.” I was out the door like my ass was on fire.

Happiness was Los Angeles in my rear view mirror.

Within 2 weeks of leaving LA I had a job that covered all my bills – I was teaching acting in Denver.

I also used the money from my Coogan Account to buy my first Subaru – a Brat that I adored and that defined the new Claudia I’d become when I left Los Angeles.

Finally, I used the remainder to put a down payment on my first home.

I remember my mother wistfully opining in the waning years of her life, as she lived like the Merry Widow and denied the single request for help I’d made as an adult at Christmas in 1999, “It’s a shame you wasted your money from Mary Hartman.

 

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My parents stole an unconscionable amount of money from me without batting an eye – and stole my childhood as well, and there is no way to forgive that. None. The healthiest thing a child performer who has been cheated can do is come to terms with it through therapy, or it will eat you up.

Every generation has child performers whose parents treat them like nothing more than a Fountain of Money. No matter what the law intends, every generation of greedy Stage Parents will find a way to steal from their children by exploiting loopholes and the lack of laws. My heart goes out to current child performers whose every move is being documented for Youtube fame, in hopes they will become the next Fountain of Cash, and their actual childhood is being monetized with absolutely NO oversight.

There are times when I think back to that night at Diamond Jim’s. That dinner really meant something really special to my parents. It was the validation of all of their hard work at marketing their children and what they’d been working toward: One of their kids was good enough to land a national television series.

It meant a spigot of cash. like nothing they’d ever seen had just been turned on. As far as they were concerned their income had nearly quadrupled in one fortuitous afternoon. What was not to celebrate? They were positively kicking up their heels

At least that night I didn’t know my parents were stealing from me, and I thought the celebration was for *my* accomplishment. That was one small mercy the universe extended to me.

 

 

November 18th, 1975, Joan Darling handed us all a small blue box before rehearsal. The gasps from the folks around me let me know it was something special. I untied the thick white ribbon, and greedily opened the tiny box to find a felt bag emblazoned ‘Tiffany & Co.’ Inside was a key fob with a charm that said ‘MH, MH’ on the front and ’11-18-75′ on the back, the date when we all set to work to make the best goddamn television show in the history of ever.

I will be forever grateful that I was part of that amazing company of actors, and that I had the privilege of learning comedy from them, and performing with them. Fortune was on my side when I think of the kind members of the crew like Susan who shared her gum, and Billy and Rick who taught me to operate a boom, and Harold who used to hide treats in the prop room for me to find.

I am thankful my teacher Joan indulged my love of reading, and made me actually learn and think about my future, and she took me to museums and to Star Wars and decided that watching Bob Hope rehearse with Donny and Marie one afternoon was a fine education.

Most of all I know that the time I was on Mary Hartman was where I began to write, and that writing was instrumental in every job in my adult life. The IBM Selectric typewriter Norman Lear had delivered to my schoolroom was a magical beast that allowed me to put my thoughts down faster than I could write by hand, and it opened up a whole new world for me. The classes I was able to take with writer Oliver Hayley when I was 16 convinced me that I could tell a story.

It has been a long and interesting path since then, and all of these people and their kindness helped me lay a foundation to build a path to get out and away from my toxic parents. I remember selling my first joke, opening the mic on my first full-time Talk Radio show, publishing my first article, anchoring my first newscast, and winning my First Mark Twain Award for excellence in news.

It’s wonderful to think that the path away from the biggest abusers in my life began 43 years ago with the people who would forever change how I laughed and cried and looked at life.

Love is marvelous that way.

 

 

 

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Milking The Cash Cow

42 years ago today we started production on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and I began playing a character named Heather – a job that changed my life in wonderful and tragic ways.

People are finally accepting that too many child performers are exploited. I hope my story can shed some light into just a few of the many ways we are taken advantage of.

By 1975 I was a cash cow for my folks – I was eleven, and had been in the business since I was three. I held my SAG & AFTRA Union cards from the age of five and seven, respectively. I’d done nearly 60 commercials and a few television feature spots, I’d booked dozens of print jobs and voice over gigs, and was the face of a Mattel toy – not a very popular toy, but, still…

I came to be part of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman at the last possible minute. I went on the interview Wednesday after school, got the call back and job the next evening, and on Friday morning I was sitting dazedly at the first table read. In 43 hours my life turned on a dime.

 

Origninal Cast Call & Photo Shoot

 

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was the brainchild of television legend Norman Lear, his grand statement on how American Consumerism isolates and leaves us unfulfilled, presented as a satire of a soap opera. Sort of. It was his poke in the eye to censors, conventions and Pearl Clutchers.

In a year and a half we shot 325 episodes. MH2 was a 5-day-a-week affair that had a cult following that goes on today. It was the first television show that proved you didn’t need a network to succeed or a laugh-track to be funny. It also introduced multiple positive LGBTQ characters to television at a time when Harvey Milk had not yet been elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. It is not overstating to call it ground breaking.

The list of exceptional performers who appeared on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a who’s who of funny and talented people from the 70s: Louise Lasser, Mary Kay Place, Martin Mull, Fred Willard, Dabney Coleman, Doris Roberts, Dody Goodman, Graham Jarvis, Greg Mullavey, Salome Jens, Norm Alden, Reva Rose, Sparky Marcus, Marian Mercer, Gloria Dehaven, Orson Bean, Ed Begley, Jr., Howard Hessman, David Suskind and Gore Vidal, just to name a few. It was just that cool at the height of its popularity.

The reason why even I got the interview to end up in such rarefied air was because my mom had blown up at my agent, Iris Burton, for not getting me any good interviews.

Mind you: I had just landed five commercials in six months – including the fountain-of-residuals Nestle $100,000 Bar spot – but my mother demanded more from my agent.  She wanted better interviews and she demanded readings for movies and television series. There were shouted threats of moving the gusher-of-money that I was to different representation.

A few days after their angry conversation I got the interview for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman – and it was nothing less than a grudge interview. My agent had submitted me for the role of a 13-year-old, busty, frizzy haired girl with bad skin. I was 11, and skinny as a rail with no figure at all. I had long braids and glasses and silky smooth skin. Iris had secured an interview for a role I simply didn’t fit, and she was showing my mother not to mess with her or question her judgment.

 

$100,000 Bar

 

When we got there it looked like a cattle call (which is probably why I got the interview), and I was given what was called a ‘side’ to study. A side is a mini scene for audition purposes, usually 2 or 3 pages long. (These days it also refers to the pages of a movie script that will be shot on any given day of a shoot) This side was a piece where the mother (Mary) is trying to talk to the daughter (Heather) about sex, and the daughter manipulates her mother by redirecting the conversation to make it seem as if she’s virginally pure, which relieves the mother to no end.

I read the side to myself, and then read through it with my mom, ignoring her coaching. I sat on the floor in the too-warm hall waiting for my interview, as the actual waiting room was overflowing with girls who looked nothing like me.

There was nothing special at all about this interview, it was one of fifteen or twenty I went on every month. My time was never my own – it was more an all-consuming continuum of school, auditions and work.

When I was finally called in to the interview I turned ‘on’ like a light switch. I knew how to look the casting director in the eye, say hello with a smile and hand my litho forward, with my name at the bottom. I had literally done this 1,000 times before.

 

CCF08072013_00011

 

The casting director introduced herself as Jane, and the Director as Joan. There were other people to whom I was not introduced, and who watched silently as I read the scene with Joan. Joan nodded when we got to the end of the scene, and asked me to do it again – this time miming the orange juice I was supposed to be getting out of the refrigerator. We did the scene a second time, and I a saw the a ghost of a smile from Joan.

Jane asked if I had any other auditions that afternoon, or if I could stay to watch the two pilot episodes of the show. My mother was retrieved from the waiting room and taken to a writer’s office. She was the first and only parent I saw that afternoon to do the walk of ‘My Kid Is Better Than Yours’ through a sea of angry parents and dejected children. I’m sure she was graceless.

We two sat on a couch in a cold office looking up at a monitor on a large metal rolling stand. The screen flickered to life and the episode began as a nearly sepia-toned video of  kick-knacks on a table came into focus, and with it the swelling of over-dramatic music saturated with high-pitched violins. Out of nowhere a voice screeches, “Mary Hartman! Mary Hartman!!” so shrilly and gratingly I physically winced. Then came a gush of overwrought music heavy on the strings, parodying the soundtrack of really bad soap operas.

It is a distinctive open. Oh, so distinctive. I was tormented in High School with people shrieking it at me as I passed them in the hall. I’ve had grown-ups shout it in my face at parties as if I’ve never heard it before. I’ll bet you I’ve heard, “Mary Hartman! Mary Hartman!!” ten thousand times in my life if I’ve heard it once. But, I get ahead of myself.

Torture yourself here with this link, if you must.

Mary Hartman Opening

 

As I watched the pilots I clearly remember not understanding all the jokes. The episodes were strange and my mother didn’t know what to make of it, either. The lack of a laugh track threw her off, and I remember her saying later she didn’t know if she was supposed to be laughing at things or not.

It was late when I read for the folks in the room a third time, and they thanked me as I left. We drove home in the dark, and – exhausted – I didn’t get my homework done again.

The next day after school I was in my bedroom, sitting on my bed unsuccessfully trying to figure out what my algebra book was saying. It had been a bad day. 10-Week Grades had come out and mine weren’t the best from never having time to do my homework. I was struggling mightily in math and had gotten a D, and my mother’s answer was to verbally and physically abuse me. I was  grounded (as if I ever had time to go anywhere), and sent to my room to magically figure out integers and angles I couldn’t decipher before.

Suddenly, my mother burst into the room making the door crash against the wall. She never knocked once the entire time I lived in that house – and I was not allowed to ever fully close my door at that point. Crashing doors usually meant more verbal abuse or hitting, and I cringed, throwing my hands up around my head to protect myself from the expected blows. But instead of being wild eyed mad, she was wild eyed excited. Rather than getting mad at me for protecting my head, she laughed it off and said, “Get dressed! You’re late for a callback! They want to see you back from yesterday, but they forgot to call Iris. Hurry!! We should be there now. Where are your clothes?”

She was no longer hurling invectives, telling me how stupid and worthless I was. She seemed to have forgotten the head blows she had delivered minutes before, and was telling me to get ready.

My clothes from the day before had been stuffed into my laundry bag, and they were wrinkled. Manically, she threw them in the drier to tumble out the wrinkles, and brushed and braided my hair, while having me hold a cold compress to my face to erase the swelling and redness from my sobbing.

“C’mon – you’re not really going to go in there looking like that! Where’s your apple pie smile? Smile like you mean it – smile with your EYES!!” she encouraged/threatened.

She was so focused on getting me to look exactly as I had the day before and rushing out the door, that she didn’t run a comb through her hair or change out of the dirty black slacks and grubby sweater she had on – a point that would torment her to the end. Before I knew it we were out on the road in the middle of rush hour traffic, heading over the hill on the Hollywood Freeway.

We’re trapped in the car with maybe an hour until we got there, and my mom is vibrating she was so excited, drilling me on how to do it her way. It was a complete 180 from half an hour before, and as I rode in the car I was on an emotional roller coaster. I was still feeling shitty from how my mother screamed at me and hit me, plus the bad math grade I had to deal with. Add to that the need to psyche myself up for an important read  that I was very late for, and my mother was trying to force me to do her way. But beyond all that detritus and noise, there was euphoria about getting a callback for a Norman Lear series.

When we finally arrived we were waved on to the lot to park and I was rushed into Norman Lear’s office where he, Louise Lasser, Director Joan Darling, producer Al Burton, and writer Gail Parent were waiting. I made eye contact and gave them my apple pie smile, pretending my head didn’t hurt where my mother had been punching it 90 minutes ago.

I read the same side as I’d read the day before, only this time instead of reading with the Director I was reading it with Louise Lasser. Suddenly the scene was done, and they told me ‘Thank you, you can go’.

Thank you, you can go? But – we’d only read it once. How could it be ‘Thank you, you can go’?!

In less than 5 minutes I was in and out, and I found myself heading toward the elevator in dismayed shock, not understanding how I had failed so completely and astoundingly fast when it felt like a good read. I knew it was going to be a long, ugly ride home.

We were getting on the elevator in silence when Al Burton called my name down the hall. When I heard the smile in his voice I knew I had the job. My heart hit my feet as I stuck my hand out to stop the heavy elevator doors.

Al caught up to us and said they all really liked the way I read the part, and then he asked if I wanted to join the cast. “The job yours if you want it,” he said, smiling and looking me in the eyes like I mattered.

That moment was awesome in the truest definition of the word. I was validated for all the times I wasn’t chosen, and felt special because this time I was the best. It felt like winning. It was a very long time before I had another feeling that good.

I remember gasping and jumping up and down. I remember saying, “Yes!!” and bear hugging Al, and then hugging my mom as she beamed and rocked me back and forth in that elevator.

I remember being happy – happy in a way you can only be when you’re too young to have the filter that adults have, the filter that stops you from showing what you really think.

I don’t think that there was ever a time my mother was more proud of me than that evening in the hallway outside Norman Lear’s office.

 

Mary Hartman Letterhead 2

 

That moment in the elevator outside Norman Lear’s office changed my life completely. One day I was attending Junior High school in the most polluted part of the San Fernando Valley, and the next I was at a long table on Stage 5 at KTLA studio meeting my cast mates and production people.

We were given our scripts for episodes 3, 4 and 5 and did the first, last, and only table read we ever did for the show. There was never time after that initial day for the luxury of such a thing. There was a lady there who took care of timing out the scenes and continuity named Susan Harris who had the patience of Job with me. I was absolutely fascinated by the cigar box full of gum and mints (wow! Tic Tacs!) that she kept with her at all times. I must have looked like a chipmunk with all the gum I shoved in my mouth that morning. She was kind to an antsy, nervous kid.

I was bored stiff by the time we were done reading the 3 scripts. Somehow something as simple as reading words printed on paper turned into a thing. It felt like everyone was making a bigger deal out of it than it needed to be. I know now that everyone was staking out their territory, planting flags and trying to establish a pecking order. It was grueling, and finally it ended.

We all went down to Stage 5 where a luncheon was held for the cast and the production people. It was catered by Chasen’s – a perennial favorite of Norman Lear. There were place cards, and all of us had goody bags on our plates. They were a bunch of kitschy things. My bag had a draw string and was sewn to look like a pineapple. It had a plastic charm, 4 tickets to the children’s show Sheriff John which were 5 years old, a pack of stale gum, some ribbons, an Oscar Meier Wiener whistle and some other junk. Everyone else had similar stuff. Although I didn’t fully grasp it at the time, it seemed to signify the budget we were working under.

I watched as the adults who seemed familiar with each other laugh too loud at inside jokes, and I tried too hard to be part of group. I saw Louise again, and spoke for a while with Greg Mullavey, the man who would play my ever-adolescent father. I met my meddling grandparents, Dody Goodman who was charming and welcoming, and Phil Bruns who was grumpy and had the sour smell of an alcoholic. Debra Lee Scott played my oversexed Aunt and seemed to be the social butterfly. I barely spoke with a quiet Victor Killian, who played my great-grandfather, the infamous Fernwood Flasher. I was delighted by Mary Kay Place and Graham Jarvis who played the neighbors – an unlikely crazy-in-love couple where she was a smoking hot aspiring country-singer and him a balding middle-aged man who would give you the shirt off his back – they were both down to earth people. In fact, they were all as kind as they were capable of being to the stranger they’d just met, a child hired play a smart-assed, angst ridden teen who was wiser than her years and called out the adults for inconsistencies and hypocrisies. I may have been my family’s Cash Cow and had a giant weight on my shoulders, but I was still just a kid they’d just met – and I’m sure they were more focused on how to make this show that was so different than anything else on television work. They knew we only had 10 days to get ready for the grind of memorizing, rehearsing, blocking and filming 125-150 pages of dialogue PER WEEK.

It never occurred to me that Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was going to be anything other than a smash hit.

After lunch we were prodded by a strange doctor so that insurance could be taken out on the production. We all got into our wardrobe, and went to hair and make-up for our cast publicity shots. My wardrobe consisted of the same pants, shirt, belt, bracelet, braids, barrettes and glasses I sported on the audition and callback. (I can actually say I created Heather from the ground up) The photo we took that afternoon is iconic – and a giant blow-up of it sits behind Norman’s desk, a profound tribute given the sheer number of shows he has produced.

 

Cast Picture

 

 

My new-found station in life brought with it a well deserved bonus -a little something something – some frosting on the cake, if you will.

For signing a contract on a daily AFTRA television series my parents saw their way to giving me the princely sum $5 and dinner at Diamond Jim’s.

That’s right. I got a Fin and a Steak for landing a Whale.

Moo

The break down was $1 for a print job, $2 per commercial ($1 extra if they make 2 spots out if it), and $5 (American!) for a series. A series. I didn’t get a regular $2 a week allowance until I was 12-years-old and I was making $750 a week. I’ll do the math for you: that’s me getting just under $9 allowance in today’s dollars on a weekly paycheck of $3,350.

The Cash Cow was getting milked raw.

Double Moo

I remember feeling so grown up and proud the night we went to Diamond Jim’s, a past its prime cocktails-and-red-meat establishment on Hollywood Boulevard. As we were led to a high-backed leather booth, I boasted to the server that I’d gotten a series, and he kindly kept my Shirley Temple filled all night (extra maraschino cherries, please!). I’m sure my parents thought “Great! Now we have to tip.”

I wanted this to be a grand evening, but, the place was stuffy and filled with smoke, and didn’t have any food for children – it was a disappointment after the build up. The truth was that this was a restaurant for my parents, not a place for me. I was just tagging along on their celebratory dinner because I was footing the bill.

My whole family should have gone to Shakey’s or Piece O’ Pizza, followed by a trip to Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor for a Zoo. Instead, my parents isolated me from my brothers and created resentment where none ever needed to exist.

Beyond the Politics of Envy, I ask you – Which was more insulting? A $5 payoff for landing a union gig, (Oh, irony! Thy name is Unionized Child Labor!) or the 3 of us celebrating the impending plunder of my hard-earned money?

Assholes.

That night I felt like I was a successful grown up, and in a way I was. I may have only been 11, but I had a 26 week guaranteed Union contract as a regular on a series. With that contract and my commercial residuals I would earn more than double in 6 months than my father would ever make in a single year in his whole life. He topped out in 1985 at $33,500. You bet your ass I was grown up.

My parents stole almost every penny I ever made as a child. Had it not been for the paper-tiger Coogan Law, I’d have lost everything that I would earn over the next 2 ½ years of working for Norman Lear. This larceny was unchecked by the State. Hell, it was APPROVED of by the court, who left me with the paltry sum of $20,000 when I turned 18. A sum that was further chipped away by the $2,000 delinquent tax bill I received as an Eighteenth birthday present.

How much did they steal? There is no way to estimate the true figure, because they claimed I made different sums to the IRS, the Courts, both Unions and ME.

Also? (And this is VERY important) Commercials were not covered by the Coogan Law. Parents of someone like me, who made between $175-$200K (today’s dollars) between the ages of 3 and 11, weren’t required to ensure that the money went to the person who earned it.

How comforting to know that my parents were equal opportunity thieves who ran a racket and a half, and managed to get away with it.

Funny thing was, they lied to the Unions less than they lied to the IRS. I guess they were more afraid of running afoul of SAG and AFTRA, but not too afraid to have me do an appalling number of non-Union jobs that were never declared to anyone but my mother’s secret bank account and my father’s bookie.

Let’s look at some of the numbers, and I’ll run the abacus. Have some Pepto Bismol and a barf bag ready.

Here’s what my parents told the IRS I’d made by age 11:

 

IRS Earnings to 1975

 

That’s $28,324 they claimed I’d earned by the age of 11.

Indexed, I’d earned $159,966.31 in today’s dollars by 1975. (I used handy this inflation calculator provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

By 7th grade, and before getting booked on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, I’d made more than a sixth-of-a-million dollars in cold hard cash. According to the IRS.

Let that sink in for a moment. $160K Cash. Not invested, nor saved and earning interest.

This is a snapshot of my SAG earnings up to 1975 – note how it matches to the dollar with my IRS earnings report.

 

SAG Earnings to 1975

 

Looks good. A $2.92 discrepancy over eight years is absolutely acceptable.

But, wait! What’s this? Looks Like Ma and Pa Lamb were lying about my earnings to the IRS from my very first job. They claimed I’d done no work until 1968 – but here are my first ads from 1967, and my photo and credits from 1968 listing 2 big shoots here I don’t have the proofs for. I wonder where that money went?

 

 

 

They never claimed to the IRS any of of the multiple calendars, print ads or voice-over work I did before I had to join Screen Actors Guild in 1968, when I made $156 on my first union commercial – a long lost spot for Alpha Beta Supermarkets.

My parents pretended I did no work and earned not one dollar in 1969, despite the continuing print work, and me having been the face of Ford’s Tot Guard (their first child safety seat) and doing a non-union Gain Detergent commercial that played so much during the daily soaps I was recognized for the first time while in the grocery store.

Under-declaring my earnings? It’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off for them.

Looky there – it did. Because, in 1970, when I had to join the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists at the age of six, they were so far on the take they never reported any of my AFTRA earning to the IRS through 1975:

 

AFTRA Earnings to 1975

 

That’s $2,368 worth of work they didn’t declare to the IRS – that they claimed and paid dues on with AFTRA – is worth 11,404.74 in today’s cash.

I will never know how much I really earned by the time I’d gotten on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. A conservative guess would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000 of today’s dollars. That was a metric shitload of cash and my parents did their very best to make it disappear.

By the time I started MH2 in November of 1975 my folks were in full swing, and had theft down to a science. Penn and Teller couldn’t make greenbacks disappear as well as Herb and Margaret could.

Everybody got a different story.

 

 

In 1976 my parents declared to the IRS that I made $15,300. Asking the IRS to believe I’d made less than $300 per week as a main cast member on a screaming hot television show was ballsy – and they were up to the challenge.

In 1976 I spent the full year employed under an AFTRA contract at a $750 weekly guarantee, and there were summer residuals and voice over promos for the show. The parents declared to this union I’d made $22, 775.

I was getting SAG residuals for the 5 commercials I’d shot the year before – including the aforementioned $100,00 Bar (Link) spot that was gushering $1,500 dollars a month, as Nestle wrapped Type-2 Diabetes in a pull of melted caramel and a catchy jingle a dozen times an afternoon on every cartoon show. My parents told Screen Actors Guild I made $32,442.36.

The mind boggling shell game went on until the show ended in 1978.

I made a few useful charts to outline the thievery. ‘Index’ indicates what that money would be worth in 2017 dollars. Remember, this is earned income – not what it could have been had it been invested with a reputable money manager.

 

Table 1 68-75

 

You have to admit they had game when it came to stealing money from innocent children. By the time the real money was rolling in they had more hiding places than a pack-rat.

Table 2 76-79 (2)

We were living large in the poor part of the San Fernando Valley in a house built in 1947 inherited from my father’s maiden Aunts, rolling The 101 in my mom’s 1974 Chevy Monza. Step back, bitches!

I can only imagine what that fortune would have been had they done the right thing – but that wasn’t an issue and what ever figures you see here are fake. There are no records for the dozens and dozens of non-union, off-the-books jobs that disappeared into my mother’s pocket  without my father ever seeing a penny he could piss away at the poker table.

 

Table 3 Totals

 

By rights I should have been a wealthy young woman when I tuned 18. It seems that for a lifetime of work and foregoing my childhood I should have had more to show for it than $1,000 a year.

Perhaps I’d have blown it had I gotten all of my money, but I doubt it very much. I never even tried cocaine, even as it sucked in so many of my contemporaries I was horrified. I SAW what coke did for loved-ones, co-stars, and roommates. If ANYONE says they’ve EVER seen me do a line of coke they’re lying, and I’ll take a polygraph test to prove it.

Among other things, that remaining $18,000 from my childhood paid for tuition for 3 years of college. Although I did have a full-time job at The Palace in Hollywood to pay rent. Yes – I moved out at 18 – what did you expect?

My Coogan account – such as it was – also allowed me to move to Colorado in 1984, at the ripe old age of 20. For so many reasons I needed to leave. I took $1,000 (just under $2,400 today), and set out towards a place with mountains and skiing where my parents couldn’t visit me unless they called first. I brought the idea of moving up to them, but I distinctly remember my mother losing her shit over me ‘moving to a jerkwater town with no future.’ God she was supportive. What did I expect? I was offered a full ride for 2 years at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado and she acted like I wanted to join a cannibal cult.

Picture this – It’s 7 am on the first Saturday in June, 1984. *Knock Knock* “Mom, Dad – don’t get out of bed. I’m moving to Colorado. No – really. Don’t get out of bed. My car is packed and I’m leaving. I’ll call when I get there.” I was out the door like my ass was on fire. Within 2 weeks of leaving LA I had a job that covered all my bills – I was teaching acting in Denver.

I also used the money to buy my first Subaru – a Brat that I adored and defined the new person I’d become when I left Los Angeles.

Finally, I used the remainder to put a down payment on my first home.

I remember my mother wistfully opining in the waning years of her life, as she lived like the Merry Widow and denied the single request for help I’d made as an adult at Christmas in 1999, “It’s a shame you wasted your money from Mary Hartman.”

There are times when I think back to that night at Diamond Jim’s… That night, THAT dinner meant something really special to my parents. It was the validation of all of their hard work at marketing their children and what they’d been working toward: One of their kids was good enough to land a national television series.

It meant a spigot of money like nothing they’d ever seen had just turned on. The family income tripled in one fortuitous afternoon. What’s not to celebrate? They were kicking up their heels.

At least that night I didn’t know my parents were stealing from me, and I thought the celebration was for *my* accomplishment. That was one small mercy the universe extended to me.

 

 

On November 18th, 1975, Joan Darling handed us all a small blue box before rehearsal. From the gasps of the folks around me I knew it was something special. I untied the thick white ribbon. Greedily I opened the tiny box to find a felt bag emblazoned ‘Tiffany & Co.’ Inside was a key fob with a charm that said ‘MH, MH’ on the front and ’11-18-75′ on the back, the date when we all set to work to make the best goddamn television show in the history of ever.

My parents stole an unconscionable seven-figures from me without the bat of an eye – and stole my childhood as well, and there is no way to forgive that. None. People keep cheering on children in show business with no oversight.

I will always be grateful that I was so terrifically lucky that my bondage was in the company of greats – I know not every child actor gets that. I learned comedy at their feet. I know that the IBM Selectric typewriter Norman Lear made sure arrived in my schoolroom has meant all the difference in the world to me.

In the end, all I was paid for 15 years of hard labor amounted to a Venti Latte a day – no extra pulls.

In Flanders Fields

100 years ago today my great-grandfather Joseph Ford was on the Western Front when Armistice was declared in World War I. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, fighting was finally suspended in man’s most inhumane act toward man.

Joseph Ford’s service, and that of all Allied soldiers, was solemnly honoured at ceremonies across France this weekend, which were timed to coincide with the Centenary of Armistice. The somber memorials to the declaration of truce in the most savage act of butchery in history (at that point) were attended by the most powerful, influential leaders of the world – which is to say that Donald Trump either skipped the proceedings he specifically traveled to France to take part in, or showed up so insultingly late he missed the convocations.

Instead of honouring the fallen and wounded American soldiers of the Great War at a Saturday ceremony planned months in advance, Trump decided at the last minute to stay in his hotel room like a sulky tween. The President of the United States spent the day Rage Tweeting, ordering room service and watching television – ostensibly because it was *raining*.

Trump chose not to pay his respects to the American soldiers interred at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, and his propaganda people offered up the excuse that he didn’t want to be driven 50 miles to spend an hour under an umbrella in a cashmere overcoat. He followed up that stunning display of disrespect with snubbing the entire U.S. Marine Corps by not even acknowledging their 242nd birthday, and their tireless commitment to keeping America safe.

I do not yet know if there is any truth to the rumors that Trump met with Putin in secret when he was supposed to be honoring fallen American soldiers from WWI. But I DO know that the very best spin you can put on this ugly brush-off of our Armed Forces is that Trump just couldn’t be bothered to pretend he gave a damn about the sacrifices made by the troops he commands.

As a dual citizen, I have never been so PROUD to be a Canadian as I am today – and so ASHAMED of how Donald Trump has disrespected America and our soldiers who gave the last full measure of devotion for their country.

 

Trump Smiles At Vlad

Get yourself a lover who looks at you the way Trump looks at Putin on Veterans Day

 

Beyond the raging vanity about his hair not getting wet, and the seeming inability to operate an umbrella, the entire world knows Trump lives in a bubble of hubris and only cares for the adoration of the ever-smaller crowds at his vanity-driven rallies. The international community is fully aware that Trump is so insecure he becomes enraged at the lack of deference from world leaders who are more capable, powerful, self assured and respected than him. But even they were astounded that Trump blew off the Centenary Memorial of The War To End All Wars, and after spending the entire day holed up in his hotel room he showed up 2 hours late for a State Dinner. His follow-up act was to refuse to meet with other world leaders for breakfast on Armistice Day itself, and then to arrive after 11 am for the 11-11-11 Armistice Commemoration.

Trump did all of these things without an ounce of self-awareness, ignoring that the world was stopping to remember – and say out loud – that a malignant ego serving only itself destroys international relations, causes untold suffering, and sparks needless global conflagrations.

 

 

Boer War Pulling Gun

British Royal Artillery troops hauling a gun up a railway line during the Second Boer War, 1899

 

My Great-Grandfather Joseph Ford was born in County Cork, Ireland, in the mid-1870s. His mother died when he was a small child. When his father remarried a few years later his new stepmother immediately shipped young Joe off to a military boarding school. During those years at ‘school’ he was likely little more than a servant to the upper-class Irish second-sons who would not inherit, but whose families could afford to buy them a commission in the British Army. Joe’s first assignment was to be a drummer boy for the officers-in-training.

Joseph’s education came to an end when he was about 15 (circa 1890), when his father signed him to a commission with the British Army – legally binding Joe to the Royal Artillery for the next 12 years.

My great-grandfather served his time in the British Army honorably, and spent the last 4 years of his commission in South Africa fighting in the Second Boer War, from 1889-1902. When the war ended Joe returned to Ireland, and married my great-grandmother Lillian. In 1908 Joe accepted his Volunteer Bounty Act land grant in Canada for serving in the Boer Wars, and moved his growing family to Ontario.

My grandmother Honora Bridgette was the youngest of Joseph and Lillian Ford’s 7 children. She was born in a large white farmhouse in Sarnia, Ontario, in early 1914 – just months before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and the start of World War I.

Joseph Ford didn’t need to answer Brittan’s call for soldiers for the Great War – the white farmhouse was proof enough of his bravery, and his service to Crown and Country. But he felt it his duty to protect Europe against German aggression and their declaration of war, and so he answered the call and served his King and countrymen, yet again.

 

Vimy Ridge 1

Canadian forces at The Battle of Vimy Ridge, 1917

 

Joe left his family and his adopted homeland to go to war once more, and for nearly five years he faced the greatest of all inhumanities – The War To End All Wars.

My great-grandfather left parts of himself and his soul on the battlefields of Flanders, Somme, Passchendaele and Vimy so that those who came after him would know freedom and peace.

Canadian brigade-surgeon Major John McCrae immortalized the sacrifice of my great-grandfather’s fallen brothers-in-arms with his immortal poem In Flanders Fields. Devastated by the death of a close friend and fellow Canadian Army Officer during the Second Battle of Ypres, McCrae’s heartbreaking verses forever cemented the red poppy as the international symbol of Remembrance.

 

Flanders fields 2

Flanders Field, Waregem, Belgium

 

In 1919 Joseph Ford was lucky enough to return to his wife and adoring family in the big white farmhouse in Sarnia. But he did not come back a whole man. A hale-and-well-met-fellow of many friends, Joe was jovial by day but would forever suffer the night terrors of PTSD – what was then called Shell Shock. Joe’s lungs and eyes were scarred, and he was partially paralyzed from the chemical weapons that were the hallmark of WWI.

As a member of the Canadian Forces he was exposed to Chlorine gas in 1915, phosgene in 1916, and in 1917 they were hit dozens of times with mustard gas during the 5-month-long Third Battle of Ypres. His left arm was permanently shriveled and atrophied, and he limped in pain. For the rest of his life Joe’s body was weak, and he was never able to take a full breath.

My great-grandfather sacrificed for the good of the world. He gave of himself when he could have rightfully said, “Let someone else do the heavy lifting this time. I did my part for the war.” Instead, he left all that he’d worked for and held dear, and quite literally fought for the things he believed in.

 

Vimy Ridge 3 German Machine Gun Nest Taken By Canadian Forces

Canadian Forces in German Machine Gun Nest They Have Taken On Vimy Ridge, 1917

 

The only thing Donald Trump fights for is the right to abuse and threaten the Press, consolidate Nationalist power, and keep his comb-over-weave from getting wet in the rain. That’s because he doesn’t value anything my great-grandfather fought for – and 16 million people died for – in WWI. Trump can’t stop himself from showing how much contempt he has for Equality, Fairness and Peace, any more than he can hide his naked aggression, thirst for power, and craven need to always be the center of attention.

I would be devastated that Trump chose not to honor the Veterans of WWI, as well as the service of my son, my father, 2 of my brothers, my father-in-law, and my uncle – if he were anything but the Pretender President, who is PROUD of being incapable of feeling empathy.

Frankly, I’m overjoyed my great-grandfather was Canadian, so that his sacrifice will NEVER be sullied by Donald Trump’s ugly soul, deliberate cruelty and malignant desire to start another war.

I will be forever grateful that my Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, humbly honored how much of himself Joseph Ford left in the trenches of France and the Fields of Flanders.

My great-grandfather was subject to unimaginable deprivations in the muddy trenches of the Western Front, and he suffered half-a-decade of unthinkable depredations for the cause of Liberty and Freedom. Joseph Ford spent the rest of his life replaying the horrors of war in his dreams, his body wrecked and wracked by pain, so that Justice could survive during a few decades of grudging truce.

May his sacrifice – and the sacrifice of all who served – never be forgotten.

 

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

In Flanders fields.

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

–John McCrae 1915

 

Flanders Fiels 1

 

 

 

 

Doesn’t Play Well With Others

I was recently messaging with a friend about the fool’s errand of saying, ‘I want to keep everyone happy’.

It has NEVER been possible in the best of times to make everyone happy. These days? Pffft. 40% of the country identifies with Nazis and White Nationalists (but I repeat myself), and another good 20% just can’t be arsed to get involved with the suffering of others. These ‘Keep Everyone Happy’ folks spend great quantities of energy NOT THINKING about kidnapped brown children in cages, or that their friend’s sexuality is being legislated out of existence, or that the Press isn’t just being threatened anymore – they’re being murdered and jailed.

The most disappointing thing about Trump is not his poor behavior, but the poor behavior of our family and friends. Their Nazism or lack of will to stand up to it has translated to ruptured relationships and hurt feelings. In the last few years I’ve parted company with a good number of people I had been very close with for a long time – some of them I’d known since childhood. But, I draw the line at Fascism and Nazis.

Not one person with a moral compass is immune from this culling.

Sometimes you cull people who have become openly, virulently White Nationalists. Take my neighbor, for instance, who believes Muslims should be registered and Syrians should be put in concentration camps. Or my husband’s college friend who believes Human Rights are no longer universal because not everyone is a human being.

Sometimes people who can’t bother giving up an inch of their White Privilege, and just want you to STOP TALKING about things that make them sad or uncomfortable cull you. They ghost you because you’re Debbie Downer with all your talk about children in cages and The Geneva Convention and the UN Convention on Genocide. Can’t you just go back to posting hilarious and disgusting vintage ads featuring Spam or mayonnaise?

No. No, I can’t pretend that Trump isn’t gaslighting us every time he opens his mouth. Nor am I going to be silent about Trump delivering on the promise of state sponsored murder and the torture of children. I refuse to ignore his abusive threats to the Press that the violence will continue until the coverage improves. I will not keep my opinions to myself about this Fascist almost-Dictator who promises to violate the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 14th Amendments, and to end abortion, civil rights, voting rights, marriage equality and the EPA.

“Not gonna happen,” to quote George Bush the Senior.

 

Spam & Peaches

 

 

This culling of our friends and family list didn’t start on January 21, 2017. It began loooong before that, and congealed when Trump declared his candidacy, in June of 2015. Too many people have still not figured out that the radicalization of the American Alt-White movement began decades ago with the Southern Strategy, and solidified in earnest in 2010 when Mitch McConnell vowed to make Obama a one-term president by opposing ANYTHING he supported, and by silently allowing birth certificate rumors to flourish unchecked.

McConnell and Lift-Bro Ryan should have taken every opportunity to stamp out the pernicious racist rumor that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, his birth certificate was fake, and therefore he was an illegitimate president. But they, and every other member of the GOP leadership, hadn’t even the barest scrap of integrity to say, “So what? Even if Obama was born in Kenya he can still be POTUS because he’s AMERICAN citizen, being that his mother was born in Kansas. It’s in The Constitution.”

This well known fact went unspoken by the GOP, and the Alt-White pretended it didn’t exist by continually shrieking about the birf certificate!!

But, it was never about Kenya or Kansas for these folks. A black man was elected President and gave them health care against their will, and the Alt-White lost it’s collective fucking mind.

When a WOMAN had the temerity to try to use 45 years of advocacy for the disenfranchised and hard work within her own party to run for President, the Alt-White lost its collective fucking mind again. This time they were joined by a motley assortment of Brogressives who were simply FURIOUS they couldn’t have their pony, so Fuck It!! I’ll have viper, instead, and we might as well burn this bitch down, while we’re at it.

These things were all quite clear in the fall of 2016. Trump had been gaslighting and saying terrible things unabated for 16 months. Instead of people taking him seriously they were amused by him.

The more I raised my voice about how THIS IS NOT NORMAL!! The more I was either avoided or assured I was making a mountain out of a molehill.

He’s NOT going to win, and even if – by some fluke – he did, he’s not going to be able to do the things he promised. There are laws.”

Unfortunately NOBODY paid attention to what I kept harping about: If Trump wins the election the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches would all be held by one party. There was a SCOTUS seat at stake, and thus the ENTIRE make-up of the court for the next 20 years was hanging in the balance. Not only that, McConnell had blocked nearly 1,000 of Obama’s rightful picks to open judgeship positions at all levels of the federal circuit and appeals courts.

Couldn’t ANYONE see the consequences of the GOP having unfettered control of EVERYTHING?!

I felt like Cassandra whose warnings went unheeded: The balance of power would shift too far if Trump was elected. Trump is an Abuser, and you believe an Abuser when they promise to hurt you.

 

But Her Emails Handmaids Tale

 

 

It was at that time (September of 2016) that I finally broke up with my creepy psychiatrist, and I’ve been carrying some unresolved and seriously unnecessary baggage about it ever since.

I say ‘break up’ because you have to put an immense amount of trust in someone to be able to tell them your hopes and fears. He violated my trust, though, and it became an abusive relationship in August of 2016, when he ‘jokingly’ threatened to sell my records to the paparazzi.

Yes. My psychiatrist actually threatened to sell my records to the paparazzi to make a quick buck – and then called it a joke.

I knew what he did was wrong at the time. But I ignored the fucked up dynamic of the middle-aged white male abusing his power because he was a Doctor.

It took me writing about him and what he did to me to see that he was trying to mold me and ‘fix’ me through intimidation, not help me navigate an increasingly hostile world. He abused his power by threatening to expose my deepest fears and secrets (for profit) to strangers who would ridicule me, and have undeserved access to my inner-most thoughts – and then called it a joke.

He had an idea of what I should be, and he expected me to kowtow to his notions and respond positively to the flex of his power, and capitulate to his emotional blackmail.

While it makes me feel like I need a Silkwood Shower just to write about what Dr. Blackmail did to me, it has to be given a voice. I realize I’m lucky I didn’t have a massive backslide.

The truth is that I grew up amongst a pack of abusive, rabid wolves, and it’s hard not to subconsciously pick abusive, rabid wolves with whom to associate. Even doctors.

I initially saw Dr. Blackmail in late 2014 to have medical supervision in getting off of short-term PTSD drugs another Psychiatrist had forgotten to stop, and I’d been on 18 months longer than recommended. (Whoops! Sorry about that. We good?) He was one of the only doctors who was taking patients at the time, and I jumped at the chance of getting off of the meds. It only occurs to me as I write this that every other patient I saw in Dr. Blackmail’s office was female, or with a man – presumably doing some kind of couple’s therapy. You do the math.

I got off the unnecessary PTSD drugs in just a few months, and things were SO much better. My anxiety attacks decreased by 90%, as did the visual vertigo, and the crippling panic attacks when I wanted to leave the house. My head was clearer, and my thoughts were, too. I began writing again, and resumed work on my memoirs. I even started this blog. This will be my 84th entry, and I have 11 drafts I’m still tinkering with, and I have more than 10,000 reads.

 

This about That First Post

First ever blog post, Nov 28, 2014

 

I continued seeing Dr. Blackmail because it was increasingly difficult to deal with my Mystery Illness. I needed emotional support to navigate the crushing disappointment of seeing dozens of doctors over several years, none of whom were able to diagnose the disease nor halt it symptoms. I was also grappling with the new reality that I couldn’t work, and I felt utterly useless to the world.

Dr. Blackmail REALLY WANTED to treat my appropriate grief and sadness with anti-depressants. I mean REALLY. WANTED.

No matter how many times I explained to him that I wanted nothing further to do with psych meds at that point – and ultimately *I* was the one making decisions about my health care – he would bring it up at EVERY damned appointment.

Finally I snapped at him, “Stop it. Stop asking me to take medication to change the way I think. I *LIKE* me. What you’re asking me to do is take happy pills to conform. Do you think I’m a danger to myself or others? No? Do you think I am incapable of caring for myself? No? THEN WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO CHANGE ME?!!”

His answer was always, “‘I think you’d do better if you were on something to stabilize your mood.”

Stabilize my mood.

Stabilize. My. Mood.

Stabilize.

My.

Mood.

Not to keep me safe. Not to keep others safe. Not because I was bi-polar, and in some kind of manic-depressive episode. Not because I was incapable of ascertaining reality, was hallucinating, or was hearing voices. But, because he thought it would be a great idea and best practices if I would kindly stop making such a fuss and please melt into society a bit more, and not be SO MUCH like me.

He claimed to be worried about my losing friends when I disconnected (willingly and unwillingly) from the users and abusers in my life, those uncomfortable with my illness, those who were revealing their dormant White Supremacy, and those unwilling to make a choice about the rising Nationalism. To Dr. Blackmail the most important thing wasn’t moral boundaries, but how many ‘friends’ I had.

Dr. Blackmail planted a bullshit seed that is at the heart of a continuing problem: I think I am a social misfit for having a highly developed sense of morality – and acting on it.

Sometimes when I block someone or (even bigger) let go of a hurtful person I’ve been close to in real life, I hear that asshole’s nagging voice about how when disappointing people leave my life it’s bad and entirely on my shoulders, and can be treated with medication.

That fucker made me question myself until today. No more. Today I let go of what I started when I walked away.

The proverbial Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back that caused me to leave his practice happened one day in September of 2016, probably a month after Dr. Blackmail threatened to sell my medical records. I was trying to explain how I felt like Cassandra, and this terrible thing was coming with Trump’s election. His response was to laugh at me good and hard and say through his gales, “Claudia, stop! Don’t be ridiculous. Trump’s NOT going to win!!”

Super professional behavior, no?

I blew my top, yelled at him for about 15 minutes and left, never to return. I’m certain my file is a shit show, and I regret not turning him into the state for his egregious behavior.

 

I think about Dr. Blackmail occasionally, and the thoughts that keep bubbling up are:

1) Why did you keep trying to medicate me if my only problem is ‘Doesn’t play well with others’?

2) WHY is it imperative everyone like me?

3) Who fucking threatens their patient’s privacy as a ‘joke’?

The inescapable truth was that more I pointed out the rising misogyny and institutionalized sexism that’s impossible to escape in America, the more I was told BY MY PSYCHIATRIST that I needed try to fit in harder. Complaining about online bullying and abuse by men led to being told I needed to stop arguing so much. When I became incensed about people who had been using me for years I was made to feel guilty for abandoning ‘my friends’.

The answer to my increasing distress at society treating me as inconsequential wasn’t to work on my fears through mindfulness and meditation – but, rather, to medicate me into compliance like a Stepford Wife.

We’re stuck in the 50s, and I was getting the modern-day treatment for Hysteria. This year’s pills aren’t Thorazine, but the aim is the same:

 

Sexist Thorazine

 

Medicate the FUCK out of the Little Lady and she won’t complain when she realizes society is stacked against her!!

“Holy shit, John. I just realized I wasted the best years of my life wiping noses and asses, and having your slippers ready when you walked in the door. Of course, I was useful during WWII when I worked in the factories and literally made and brought home the bacon. But THAT went down the memory hole, and I’m supposed to pretend self-agency wasn’t wonderful… What do I do NOW?!!”

“Open wide, Martha – you’ll never remember a thing.”

 

Keeping everyone happy is the least of my worries these days, because I’m really okay with the label ‘Doesn’t Play Well With Others’ when it comes to Nazis taking away my rights, and the rights of those I love.

Keeping everyone happy means you have to have the moral center of a marshmallow that gives whenever pushed. The ‘push’ right now is Fascism that’s quickly devolving into a Dictatorship. Being polite about our rapid descent into a White Nationalist totalitarian state means you agree with it, plain and simple.

There is no neutral position regarding Nazis – no one gets to play Switzerland.

I may have lost friends and loved ones to the rise of Fascism, and the lack of will to fight it. But good friends and loved ones who have stood the test of time are ever so dear to me, and make life lighter.

I’ve joined forces with some incredible new friends: Wonderful people who share the same ideals, and we value all lives – not just Blue or White. Together we all keep each other sane, and reassure each other that the gaslighting is happening, and NO, this isn’t normal.

You know what? Not a one of us Plays Well – and our voices will be heard while we have each other’s backs.

 

Dan Rather Decency

 

 

 

Red Caps and Vanifestos

Let’s take stock – shall we?

The same day that 45* proudly declared himself a Nationalist in front of cheering fans, the first of 14 bombs attempting to assassinate Trump’s political adversaries arrived at the home of Holocaust survivor, liberal activist and billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

Over the next 5 days assassination attempts were made against 2 former presidents, a former Vice President, a former Senator and Secretary of state, a former First Lady, a former head of the CIA, a former Attorney General, 2 sitting Senators (a man and woman, both of color), a Congresswoman (of color), an outspoken movie star, and another Jewish billionaire philanthropist – ALL of them Democrats.

Even as the FBI assured the public that these were, indeed, very real bombs that were meant to detonate but were built poorly, Trump’s Red Caps and Russian Bots were pushing the conspiracy theory that these were hoax devices the victims were having delivered to themselves.

Fox News spent the week regurgitating the conspiracy of fake bombs, each host putting their own fetid spin on it. They made things exponentially worse by allowing Lou Dobbs to continually refer to ‘Globalists’, that oh-so-charming Nazi dog-whistle for Jews. Fox put things into overdrive when they allowed Dobbs and his guest to push the conspiracy theory of a ‘Soros-controlled State Department’ that was funding the caravan of Central Americans seeking asylum so that they would invade the United States. And why not? The President of the United States was tweeting all the same things!!

The morning after Soros received the bomb, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R – Nationalist) took a cue from Trump and pinned a tweet to the top of his Twitter feed that warned his followers not to allow 3 Jewish billionaires- Soros, Steyer and Bloomberg – to buy the election.

 

Kevin McCarthy Soros Tweet

 

Sadly lost in the frenzy and terror of the multiple assassination attempts of high level Democratic political figures was the actual assassination of 2 African Americans by 51-year-old white supremacist Gregory Bush. Minutes before he shot Maurice Stallard inside a Kroger supermarket and Vickie Jones in the parking lot, Bush unsuccessfully attempted to gain access to the First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown. After murdering Jones and Stallard – who was shopping for poster board with his grandson – Bush came across another white man holding a gun and told him, “You don’t shoot me and I won’t shoot you – white people don’t shoot white people.” Stallard and Jones’ deaths were nearly anonymous, the country numb to the story of yet another white supremacist murdering people because of the color of their skin.

 

 

Van 2

 

5 days after the first bomb was delivered the FBI arrested a 56-year-old Florida man, Cesar Sayoc, and they impounded his Vanifesto, which was plastered with Pro-Trump daddy-issue stickers, and pictures of the people he’d sent bombs to framed in red sniper cross-hairs.

The part of the nation that still has a dram of sanity breathed a sigh of relief at Sayoc’s arrest. But the relief was short lived as Trump began tweet-whining about how the “bomb thing” had slowed down momentum for the GOP at the mid-terms. As the day ground on 45* made it quite clear he saw no reason to reach out to any of the victims in solidarity. There would be no phone calls, no condemnation of the loss of civility in the Shining City On The Hill, not even a half-assed tweet.

Later, in Charlottesville, NC, at yet ANOTHER of his ego-driven, lie infested rallies, Trump reluctantly mouthed a few words from the teleprompter about unity before smoothly segueing into leading the crowd in a rousing chant of ‘Lock Her Up.’

Trump’s petulant subtext to not condemning the violence perpetrated by Sayoc was heard loud and clear at all levels of the Nationalist Party, and not one prominent member among them called for a cooling of rhetoric, a more civil election, or even condemned the attempted assassinations of:

Barack and Michelle Obama

Bill and Hillary Clinton

Joe Biden ( sent 2 bombs)

Senator Corey Booker

Senator Kamala Harris

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (sent 2 bombs)

CNN Personnel

John Brenan

Eric Holder

George Soros

Tom Steyer

Robert De Niro

 

Worse than the deafening silence about the attempted assassinations of political adversaries was the false equivalency argument that Red Cap Nationalists began circulating just minutes after Sayoc was arrested: Democrats had been uncivil, too, and being politely refused service at a restaurant or heckled by the governed in public is as bad as being mailed a bomb intended to kill you because you are a Democrat.

By Saturday morning a mentally exhausted America was ready for some Halloween fun and an afternoon of College Football. Instead, anyone with an ounce of humanity was horrified to find that yet another middle-aged white supremacist had attempted a mass assassination – only this time he was successful.

A Bris was under way in the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA. During this holy ceremony, where an 8-day-old baby boy is named, 46-year-old Robert Bowers entered the sanctuary screaming, “All Jews must die,” and opened fire on the celebrants with an AR-15.

Killed for simply being Jewish were:

Joyce Fienberg 75

Richard Gottfried 65

Rose Mallinger 97

Jerry Rabinowitz 55

David & Cecil Rosenthal, brothers 54 & 59

Sylvan & Bernice Simon, husband 86 & wife 84

Daniel Stein 72

Melvin Wax 88

Irving Younger 69

May their memories be a blessing.

 

 

Robert Bower Kike Tweet

 

It’s true: Robert Bowers was not a Trump fan. Nope. He resented Trump because the Jews hadn’t been rounded up, yet. Trump wasn’t bad because of his ceaseless bigotry, sexism, racism and Hate of Other – Trump was bad because he didn’t go far enough in his ethnic cleansing!!

Not all 3 white supremacist zealots were MAGA loving Red Hats, but we do know several things they had in common:

All were middle aged

All were convinced of their genetic superiority

All were radicalized to hate the OTHER (Blacks, Jews, Gays, Liberals)

All stated their bigotry, racism and intolerance of ‘the Left’ online

All had giant Red Flags that authorities ignored

All of them intended to kill their subjects to achieve a goal of societal purity

All of them were taken alive

And NONE of them will be charged as a domestic terrorist (Surprise, surprise)

There is one other VERY important thing all 3 of these assassins had in common: Their susceptibility to Trump’s particularly potent form of Stochastic Terrorism.

 

 

Stochastic Terrorist

 

Stochastic Terrorism uses mass communications to incite violence by the disaffected, and Twitter and cable TV happily churn Trump’s toxic messages out 24-hours-a-day, consequence free.

Trump Rage Tweets at 3 in the morning to create chaos. Not only do his Rage Tweets confuse and grind down those who resist, it energizes those on the edge to act violently.

Trump knows continual chaos is a means to control.

That’s why he he held two rallies in the hours after the massacre at the synagogue, when they still didn’t know how many had died. One was supposed to be a speech to the teens from FFA that veered off into a stump speech for the local candidate and was jammed full of his usual rally stories and lies. At the official rally later that night in Illinois – when the coroners had not yet bagged all of the bodies in the sanctuary – Trump lead his crowd of cheering knuckle-draggers in a chant to ‘Lock Him Up’ when he mentioned George Soros, the assassination attempt victim and man accused of having broken absolutely NO laws.

Let me repeat that: Trump directed a jeering mob to scream ‘Lock Him Up!!’ about a man accused of doing nothing illegal.

Understand this: Trump is a narcissist whose cruelty knows no bounds, and he will never stop ginning up the fringe element into perpetrating terror attacks that are not being called terror attacks. We’re being gaslighted about domestic terror because these terrorists are a useful mob to Trump. If they call them terrorists then Trump’s regime has to put a stop to them now. If Trump calls them very passionate people (as he called his supporters who beat up a Hispanic homeless man in Boston) then he can pretend to bear no responsibility for their actions.

But Trump knows exactly what he’s doing, in the same instinctive, merciless way a shark hunts. He knows, and it delights him on a cellular level, like a shark with a full belly.

 

Remember that Trump does not see anyone but himself as human, and he will accept no appeal to logic or goodness. He breaks things for fun – and then breaks the pieces. His decisions are made solely on what fills his pockets, pleases them in the moment, or how best he can punish during one of his many rages.

Expect Trump to relentlessly rally his rabid Red Caps with their Vanifestos. Expect more acts of violence from domestic terrorists against The Other. They’ve all been emboldened by his continued attacks on any perceived enemy.

Trump was given a chance to put the brakes on things a bit after this insane week, but instead of leading the nation in even the most perfunctory mourning he doubled down and went after Tom Steyer less than 24 hours after Bower tried to finish what Trump started, and 48 hours after he received a bomb

When the internet reacted negatively to his unseemly attack-tweet, and suggested his behavior was promoting discord and violence, Trump furiously doubled down yet again, attacking the press.

Trump will not stop until he has his Reichstag Fire, and then the real fury begins.

 

Lone White Gunman

This afternoon I heard one of my husband’s colleagues talking with a co-worker about different places they had worked. He remarked jovially that he taught for 39 years at Platte Valley High School, in Bailey, Colorado.

A female customer who was not part of the conversation said eagerly, “I go to church with Fred Wegener – were you there then?”

His face became serious and he said soberly, “I certainly was.”

“Did you see the shooting?” she asked breathlessly.

“I was in the classroom across from it,” he said quietly.

“You were?!” she thrilled, ignoring his distress, “What happened?”

He paused, having difficulty speaking, “I was the last person they took out of the building after I identified the bodies.”

At this point I disconnected from the woman’s grisly voyeurism and began to vainly wrack my brain, trying to remember the details of the Platte Valley High School shooting. Plate Valley. Platte Valley. Platte Valley…

But, all I could recall were Eric Harris, Dylan Kleebold and Columbine – James Holmes and The Aurora Theater Shooting – and The Youth With A Mission massacre just 3 blocks from my home.

Platte Valley… I simply couldn’t muster the details in my head, and waited hours before looking them up, just to see if they would finally come to me.

On Sept 27, 2006 the proverbial ‘Lone White Gunman’ Duane Roger Morrison entered Platte Valley High School and took 7 blond female students hostage in one classroom on the second floor, ordering the teacher and the rest of the students to leave. Morrison – who had no connection to anyone in the school – sexually assaulted the girls for several hours. As the random deadline Morrison set for the police approached Sheriff Fred Wegener made the decision to storm the classroom to save the hostages. Morrison killed a fleeing 16-year-old Emily Keyes before turning the gun on himself after being shot several times by the police.

I’m not sure which bothered me more: That I had somehow sublimated the shooting among of list of a dozen gruesomely notable killings in Colorado, or that the customer felt entitled to her ghoulish curiosity.

How crazy sick is our society that it’s possible to forget a madman raping girls at gunpoint and dying in a hail of gunfire because there are just SO MANY school shootings to keep track of?

It’s a society just crazy sick enough to encourage strangers to believe it is their god-given right to hungrily demand gruesome details from grieving victims moments after meeting them.

The United States is crazy sick with its multifaceted gun fetish, and it’s getting worse. We’re like the heroin addict who twitchily assures you they’re fine as they eye your silverware.

Perhaps we aren’t thinking and praying enough.

Yeah. That’s GOT to be it – more Thoughts and Prayers

Crazytown

So. We are here at last. We have arrived at The Rubicon – the point of no return.

The choice for Trumpers – who always blame the victims when it comes to babies in cages, Muslim bans, and sick people – is whether or not they will go over the cliff after 45*, and deny the reality of 3,000+ dead Americans in Puerto Rico from the devastating one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September of 2017.

 

PR Fake Deaths Twee 2

 

Let’s ignore the self-serving ‘I’ statements, and 45*s conflating anecdotes with evidence. Let’s discard his blistering, raging, unquenchable narcissism and refusal to acknowledge a scientific, peer-reviewed study based on in-person interviews with coroners and emergency responders. Let’s be nonplussed at his spurious, utterly fabricated claim that he raised penny one for Puerto Rico, when the facts are that he withdrew FEMA aid 4 months after the disaster, while the majority of the island lacked electricity and running water, and that he reallocated FEMA funds to ICE for the specific purpose of keeping babies in cages who were kidnapped from their asylum-seeking parents.

Instead, let’s take a moment to savor the depth of malignant sociopathy and the bottomless pit of needy victimhood it requires to imagine that tens of thousands of people pretended family members died, and that government officials at every level along with researchers from the most respected institutions of higher education reinforced that lie with the help of every newspaper, radio and television station IN THE WORLD, for the sole purpose of making him look as bad as possible.

No, really. Take a moment to swirl the taste of cancerous narcissism so deep that he imagines the whole world is gaslighting HIM to make him feel bad.

The

World

Is

Gaslighting

HIM

Seven-and-a-half billion people think SO much of him that we all got together to pretend several thousand people died in Puerto Rico – and it was all spearheaded by the evil Democrats, out to make him look bad.

 

 

1984 Essential Command

 

 

Interestingly, half a dozen MAGAts – who up until yesterday blamed the deaths in Puerto Rico on corrupt local politicians – fell silent this morning when I pressed them on whether Trump is lying or crazy, or if they actually believe 3,000 people didn’t die. They ghosted the conversation when I refused to allow them to derail it with Obama and Clinton Whataboutisms. I imagine they’ll be silent until Steve Bannon gets the talking points out via Brietbart and Drudge, and they percolate to Fox and thus directly into the ears of the demented fraud who sits in the White House, and imagines himself the Supreme Ruler King.

I have great faith the MAGAts will cross this river with their eyes closed, and one step at a time they will ease into the frigid water of deliberate insanity, until they finally get used to denying the reality of thousands of dead Americans and convince themselves they thought this all along.

Tomorrow we will be able to watch people we know choose to alter what they believed yesterday to satisfy the whim of a madman today.

This is Jim Jones level shit.

We have crossed The Rubicon and officially arrived at Crazytown.

 

Frowny Face

Who The Hell Are You To Paycheck Shame?

It’s Labor Day weekend, so what better time for concern trolls to ‘out’ Geoffrey Owens for having the temerity to work a day gig at Trader Joe’s for a steady paycheck and health benefits?

I’m not fortunate enough to be friends with Mr. Owens – who has a list of credits as long as your arm – but my respect for him is immense. He is facing this situation with a grace I could only hope to muster under similar circumstances.

Most people don’t get that unless you negotiate points in advance the succor and splendor of residuals is mostly a myth. In fact, the last time I got a residual check for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was 6 years ago, and it was for 32 cents. I didn’t cash it on purpose, because I’d rather have the small pleasure of knowing Sony’s books don’t square by less than the cost of a postage stamp because of me. You talk about insulting. Hell, I returned a 38 cent tip in the mid-80s because it was insulting for half and hour’s service. You cannot imagine what I felt when I got 32 cents as my cut for the reruns of a cult classic.

Even if Mr. Owens had gotten points for The Cosby Show – a series no longer in reruns –  how predictably disappointing that people who work 9-to-5 are pointing and laughing and feeling superior without a speck of self awareness or irony, because Owens had to get a normal job!!!

So – on behalf of every performer who has been mocked for honestly paying the bills, I’d like to extend a hearty ‘Screw You’ to the Paycheck Shamers. I’m done with these people who poorly cloak their jealousy at never having had the guts to take a shot at their passion with phony concern about how a performer has fallen SO LOW they choose to get a job to keep a normal life going in between parts.

You know what? The only time I ever felt shame while looking for a ‘normal’ job, after leaving Hollywood, was when people judged me for needing work. Which was just about every ‘normal’ job I ever applied for.

The worst example was when the owner of the Tivoli Deer restaurant in Kitteridge, CO, gave me a job interview so that he could laugh in the face of the former child actor who was ‘reduced’ to waiting tables.

“I would have thought,” he chuckled, cigarette in one hand, and my resume in the other, “you’d have been smart enough to put some of that child star money away.”

I tried to redirect the interview but was stunned, and felt the color rise in my cheeks, as he continued, “I don’t have any place here for you. I just wanted to get a look at what a celebrity reduced to waiting tables looks like.”

I had enough presence of mind to snap at him as I grabbed my coat to leave, “Is that what you think of your employees? That they are reduced to working for you? Thanks for showing me up front what an immense asshole you are, and how little you think of your employees.”

I remember walking to my car, my back ramrod straight, trying not to show through body language just how humiliated I was. I made it a few blocks away before I pulled over and sobbed.

Our Celebrity Culture has given strangers permission to ridicule performers for needing – like them – a non-glamorous job to keep body and soul together, because they aren’t independently wealthy.

I won’t lie and say that being on a television show didn’t give me advantages in job interviews sometimes, but they are offset by the tonnage of demoralization you have to go through to land a regular, steady gig.

I have never had a non-performing friend get asked by an interviewer, “Aren’t you set for life with residuals?” But, I heard it nearly every time I interviewed for a job outside of the business. It would never occur to an interviewer to ask anyone else how much money they have in the bank from a previous job as a precursor to current employment, but that’s fair game for me.

Frankly, it’s appalling how many job interviewers feel like they are entitled to a Barbara Walters’ deep dive into my personal history about my time in the business, and the current state of my finances. The tough part is that you either play along, or tank the interview.

When a non-superstar professional performer (especially a former child actor) looks for a ‘normal’ job they are faced with 2 choices:

  1. Keep your past in your past, but then you have gaps in your resume you can’t explain
  2. Be up front in your resume and face being thought of as an Attention Whore stuck in the past, or so destitute you must stoop to seeking gainful employment

I eventually found that an abridged version of the truth worked best, but far too many job interviews I’ve had were basically a variant of this:

“But, you were on TV…”

“I’m not in the business anymore.”

“But the residuals…”

“Mary Hartman isn’t in reruns”

“But you did… what?”

“There were 455 episodes between the two series.”

“And you don’t… You don’t…” they would trail off and I would wait intently for them to continue, not giving away anything.

“I mean… Do you *need* this job?”

“I would very much like to work here.”

“But… I mean… What I’m trying to say is: Do you actually *need* this job, or should I consider someone else who deserves it? Because, I don’t want you quitting a couple of weeks or months in when you get bored because you miss television.”

I had bills to pay, like everyone else, and later on a son to raise. But, these people all imagined I was a dilettante to the working world, swimming in gold coins like Scrooge McDuck while the song Common People blared on a loop.

They were so fucking busy being jealous and judgmental and figuring I’d put my fortune up my nose that they couldn’t see me for me, or my potential, or even my need.

I can’t put a number on how many times I’ve felt compelled to reveal to a total stranger that my parents stole almost every penny I madejust so I could be gainfully employed – only to have them use that as yet another excuse to reject me.

It took me a few years into adulthood before I realized that these self-selecting jerks would have been an absolute nightmare to work for. But, that didn’t mean I didn’t want or need that job at the time. It hurt deeply when they turned me down, and I took the rejection personally – a charming trait I learned as a child in a business that eats adults alive.

 

At every job I’ve ever worked since I left Hollywood I have had to justify to at least ONE asshole (usually numerous) who demand to know why I was *there* – the implication being ‘I deserve to know what caused your downfall’. As if working for a living is a downfall!!

I couldn’t even escape it in my beloved Radio.

My big break in radio happened when Bruce Kamen, the man who became my mentor, called unexpectedly to interview me on the phone. While we were speaking my phone’s call waiting clicked, and I ignored it.

“You gonna get that?” Bruce barked.

“Nope. They can leave a message.”

“What if it’s Hollywood calling you back?”

“The most important call to me is the one I’m on right now.”

I got the job, and it lead to wonderful things and a whole new career. But it was only in forcefully turning my back on television that I’d ensured my place in the business I loved. Even then I was forced to pick.

 

Does it make you think less of me that I left television and became a local radio talk show host in Denver, Cincinnati and Kanas City? Or, that I did traffic reports for years so that my son could grow up in the same house and finish school with his friends? Does it disappoint you that I left radio for a few years after the Columbine massacre and became a Public Information officer for the Colorado Department of Transportation? Was I not living up to my potential when I anchored the news for a chewing gum and baling wire outfit in San Jose that I quit because they were pirating CNN news casts from the TV?

Would you be impressed if I told you my team at the ABC Radio Westcoast flagship station (KGO) won 5  Edward R Murrow awards – including the national award for breaking news –  along with 4 Mark Twain awards?

Do you judge me for working as a teen at a dry cleaners, an answering service, a hostess that opened 3 Stuart Anderson’s steak houses, a gofer at a publicist or in the box office at The Palace nightclub in Hollywood?

Are you looking down your nose because I chose to deliver pizzas and answers phones at an oil company to pay rent rather than return to Hollywood and my toxic parents?

If you REALLY want to feel superior to the former child actor let’s laugh at how I worked at Subway and waited tables for such fine dining establishments as Red Lobster and a handful of coffee shops you wouldn’t know the name of. I was the office manager for a home maintenance company, and was the receptionist for the crookedest State Farm agent in 8 counties. I lasted 2 weeks at the child care center from hell, and sold ads for a broadcast industry magazine that folded after 8 months.

You know what I didn’t do? Anything immoral or illegal to keep the the roof over our head and food on our table.

You may look down your nose at my life – I’m good with that. While you’re looking down your nose I’m holding my head high.