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.




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.






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?





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.




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.





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.

Forever and Ever, Amen

“You have to ask yourself,” the hospital priest said to me, “what you did to bring this upon yourself.”

His words shamed me, and immediately I felt the crushing weight of responsibility on my chest. The color rose in my cheeks, and I was tearing up.

“But, they arrested him…” I began, lamely trying to defend myself from a second attack I was not prepared for, one I had not expected in the least.

“God will deal with him as he sees fit. Just as God knows what you did to bring this on yourself, and only He can judge your actions. If you do not forgive him God will hold it against you on Judgement Day. What you hold on Earth will be held against you in Heaven.”

I could not believe what I was hearing, propped up in a hospital bed at Saint Joseph’s Medical Center in Burbank, California, in May of 1980, just days after an emergency operation to remove my appendix, which burst as the surgeon removed it.

The night before an orderly had raped me, incorrectly assuming I was sedated. When he realized I wasn’t tranquilized he panicked, and shoved my head face-down into a pillow. When I stopped struggling he left the room, assuming the worst, and continued his duties.

I did nothing – paralyzed in fear, playing dead. I laid in that bed at the age of 16, certain he would come back and finish the job.

Finally, I could hear heels clacking on the tile floor, and knew it wasn’t him. It was the mother of my roommate – another 16-year-old girl, but one who had gotten her sleeping shot – who came back from dinner to check on her zonked-out daughter one final time for the night.

I lifted my face out of the pillow, gasping in cool delicious air, daring to hope.

“Hello?”  I called out to the woman on the other side of the divider, “I… I think I was molested by the orderly…”

“My god…” the woman gasped as she came over, “Then Cheryl was telling the truth about him last night?”




St Joes

Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Burbank, CA


Can we please stop pretending that the Catholic Church hasn’t known about the multitude of sexual predators in their midst going back to forever? Can we stop acting surprised?

Pope Francis’ statement about the *latest* revelation that the Catholic Church is rife with sexual predators who prey on and abuse minors is standard Catholic bullshit:

“I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics”.

Blah, blah, blah.

You know what will Change? Dick all.

Absolutely nothing will happen, except a few old transphobic men wearing dresses will pretend to be shocked and outraged – and I guaran-fucking-tee you that as I put these words to long overdue paper that someone, somewhere within the church is at this very moment abusing a child – and NOTHING will be done.

Forever and Ever, Amen.









I grew up in the Catholic Church, and our parish was Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Sun Valley, California, in the eastern San Fernando Valley. My brothers attended school there until the nuns who were teaching primary school voted to stop wearing a full habit, and were disappeared by the church one weekend.

The Church had no concerns that the full habit the nuns were forced to wear in non-airconditioned classrooms in Southern California were causing them to pass out from heat exhaustion. It did not matter that the priests could dress in clothes appropriate to the climate or the activity. The Church demanded these women continue to wear voluminous clothing indistinguishable from the chadors that ‘Good Christians’ despised Muslim women wearing. They came to school one week wearing modest dresses, and faced the fury of parishioners rabid at the notion their children had been exposed to the arms and calves of a woman who has sworn herself to celibacy.

People openly made jokes about rapist priests and not being alone with Father Pick, a man who was first accused of raping a child in 1947, and whose last assignment was Holy Rosary when he ‘retired’ in 1969. Father Pick left in ignominy, a sloppy drunk who groped the alter boys, including one of my brothers.


Father Pick


The entire parish tut-tutted about Father Pick before he was forced to leave, but those things were just to be accepted. Use the buddy system around Father Grab-Ass.

But, a nun speaking up for their human rights or refusing to put Church over health? Well, now, THAT was something people could whip themselves into frenzies of outrage about.

How DARE these women married to Jesus give a thought to their own health or comfort!!

The congregation of hypocrites came to a critical mass on the weekend of the annual school fund-raiser Fiesta when one of the nuns wearing a dress that brushed her knees, and short-short sleeves on a hot June Saturday night, was caught swaying to the music, and even moved her arms a bit.

The Scandal!!

After mass the next morning there were knots of indignant parishioners clucking their tongues, and demanding *something* be done about these shameless hussies.

By Monday morning they were gone. Disappeared in the middle of the night. Replaced by various parents who did their best to hold the classroom down until someone acceptable – someone who wouldn’t dance or show their arms – could be secured. Their replacements were humorless nuns with varying grasps of the English language. The important thing was they would keep wearing medieval garb and take orders unquestionably from men they knew to be drunkards and pedophiles.

My brothers were moved to public school shortly after that, and the school never recovered its reputation or the quality of teachers they had before reinforcing the Catholic truth that nuns are chattel.

That episode is what saved me from having to be brainwashed in a school setting by a misogynistic cult that approves of child predation.

Make no mistake, the ‘modern’ Church is no different.

Pope Frankie is no friend of the children – not by a long shot. Never forget he allowed Cardinal Bernard Law to die in Rome, unscathed by the sex abuse scandal over which he presided, and unable to be extradited to face the consequences of his actions.

I mean – the whole reason Pope Benedict stepped down (itself an unprecedented scandal) and Frankie became Pope was because Ol’ Benny just simply didn’t want to deal with the Boston scandal. Which is different from the Los Angeles scandal, which is different from the Philippine Scandal, and the Irish Scandal and the Canadian scandal…

Forever and Ever, Amen.




I don’t know why this iteration of the Catholic Church pretending to be shocked about the child rape they encourage is the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. But, it is, and I’m speaking out now, and I’m speaking out Loud.

I realized that my silence about what happened to me is a sort of complicity.

I was threatened into silence by being told I would go to hell if I didn’t keep my mouth shut about what I brought upon myself.

They did SUCH a good job at shaming me into silence that it was only last night that I told my 30-year-old son what had happened to me.

30 years and he never knew that before I had a driver’s license a man raped and tried to kill me – in a hospital bed.

How does that happen?




Father Rick


Father Rick was a sensation at Holy Rosary. He arrived in 1973, a young man of 28, full of ideas to engage the young people in the parish. He started a Youth Group, and a Folk Mass on Sunday afternoons that quickly became more popular than Father O’Donohue’s still-drunk-from-the-night-before rambling sermons during morning mass.

Father Rick was dynamic, and engaging. He knew how to work a crowd. One blistering summer afternoon shortly after he arrived, as the congregation was turning into puddles, he got up for the sermon. Surveying the crowd he said, “It’s too hot for you to listen to me pontificate. The moral of my sermon is ‘A House Divided Against Itself Will Not Stand’. Let Us Pray.” With that, we moved on to Communion, and finished mass 20 minutes early.

Another time he regaled the parishioners with a story from his college days. About the time before he’d dedicated his life in full to God and the Church. He was at a county fair with a few friends and he saw a lithe, young, blond woman, and pursued her down the Midway. When he finally got close enough to talk to her she turned around, only for him to find it was a young, bearded man with very long hair. Moral of the story: Things aren’t always as they seem.

Father Rick visited me in St Joe’s when I had my tonsils out, and brought a half gallon of Rocky Road ice cream (my favorite) for my recovery at home. He loaned me The Chronicles of Narnia, and let me hang all over him.

He took my brothers to the batting cage, and I remember the afternoon my mother and I came home from an interview for a commercial to find all of my brothers gone with Father Rick to the driving range. His black cassock hung up in the doorway between the living room and the hall. Something about seeing his clothes in my home set off alarm bells in 10-year-old Me. But, my mother laughed heartily as she pinned a note to the garment that said, “Who left this lovely black dress for me?” When we got home from the store he had written an answer on the note, which he’d left on the kitchen counter: “It goes well with pearls.”

Father Rick was disappeared like the nuns were. One Sunday he was just gone, and a strange priest with a strained smile was there to conduct the service.

The Youth Group swore it was jealousy that caused Father O’Donohue to banish him from the parish. Other people claimed he’d had an affair with a married female congregant. What ever the case, my appeals to the priests to tell me where he’d been sent were fruitless. I needed to return The Chronicles of Narnia – they didn’t belong to me.

One day I called the Rectory and asked the woman who answered the phone if she knew where Father Rick was. I was still searching for my hero.

She put the phone down, and I could hear a conversation between the lay-woman who had answered and a male voice. She asked if he knew where Father Rick had been sent, and he told her Gardena, but that she was not to pass that information along to any of the congregants. She gave me the brush-off, but I had the information I needed.

I used the giant Los Angeles phone book, and searched for Catholic churches in Gardena. I could scarcely believe my luck when I called the Rectory at St Anthony’s, asked for Father Rick, and was told to hold on while he was told he had a call.


“Father Rick?” I asked breathlessly. “It’s ME. Claudia.”


“Claudia Lamb, from Holy Rosary,” I gushed. “You loaned me The Chronicles of Narnia and I need to return them! You left without saying goodbye!”

As I caught my breath to continue he hung up on me.

I heard the Bakelite receiver clatter in the cradle for a moment before the line went dead. There was no question in my young mind that he’d intentionally stuffed the phone in my ear – I could hear it. I was crestfallen that my hero had deemed me unworthy and had banished me from his world.


Father Rick 2



In writing this piece I accessed a database of priests in Los Angeles accused of sexual abuse between 1930 and 2003. I was curious what I would find about the church in which I was raised.

Besides Holy Rosary hosting a rapist priest in the late 1950s, and letting Father Grab Ass Pick run the place for 6 years, I found that Father Rick was a horrible, terrible predator whose acts were SO egregious the Catholic church defrocked him after he spent 8 years in prison for only ONE of his crimes. Do you know how AWFUL you have to be to get defrocked from the Catholic Church?

He was defrocked, but not before the Church did their damnedest to protect that monster in human form.

Father Rick Henry lasted 13 months at his first assignment, and 15 months at his next, which was Holy Rosary. The Catholic church simply bounced him to a new parish when he was caught raping little boys. He worked in 6 parishes in his first 14 years as a priest, and by 1980 he had a little boy living in his home on the weekends, with the okay of the boy’s parents.

He’d been grooming my brothers when he was shipped of to Gardena to attack a fresh crop of unsuspecting boys.

Henry went to prison for 8 years in 1993, after the church shielded him multiple times at ‘treatment’ centers and retreats. It’s a pity those treatment centers aren’t available for the people whose lives he ruined.

Even though Rick Henry was defrocked and the Mother Church turned her back on him, he only went to prison for ONE crime. All of the people whose lives were shattered and he faced just the one charge. It took 25 years and a prison term for the Catholic Church to FINALLY say Henry was not fit to minister to the public. Even then, when they forced him into the laity, the Archbishop offered prayers of support to the erstwhile Father Rick.



St. Joseph Hospital


You can imagine my complete lack of surprise when I found out that the predecessor to the priest at St Joe’s who sat and coolly told me I’d go to hell if I didn’t forgive the man who raped and tried to kill me, had himself been a sexual predator.

Of course he was.

Of course he was.

I wonder how many other people were raped in Saint Joseph’s in Burbank? I wonder how many of my friends in the neighboring parish of Saint Genevieve were molested by the multiple priests and Monseigneurs (7, I think) who were sued and arrested for molesting boys there in the 1970s and 80s?

I wonder how many people will read this and say, “That’s terrible, but not MY priest.”

Here’s the thing: Yes, your priest.

They’re ALL in on it – all of them.

The priests all know who the abusers are, and they choose to stay silent, close ranks and deal with it ‘in house’. They’ve been doing it for centuries.

These reports about sexual abuse that pop up every few years that involve thousands of children and hundreds of priests? They’re not scandals.

Let me repeat: They are NOT scandals.

The rape and violence, and threats and shaming to keep quiet about them go back centuries in the Church. They are not anomalies or scandals: This behavior is part of the very fabric of the institution. They are what make the Church what it is.

You know what? Shame and threats from a person in a position of power work.

Why else would it take 30 years to tell my son about something terrible that happened to me when I was a child?

Why else would it take nearly 40 years for me to stand up and say, “I was raped in a Catholic hospital when I was 16, and the girl next to me was, too. The man who raped me tried to kill me – and the Catholic church hushed it up. He was sentenced to less than 7 months in jail on a non-rape related charge only because the prosecutor refused to let it go, and everyone from the priests to my parents told me never to tell a soul – not even to testify against the man who tried to take my life.”

Well, screw that. No more silent complicity.

My name is Claudia Lamb, and I survived the Catholic Church.

Forever and Ever, Amen.


Holy Rosary Church

Our Lady of the Holy Rosary church, Sun valley, CA

It Has Electrolytes!!

Reading 45*s staggeringly ignorant tweet about ‘bad environmental laws’ being the cause of California’s devastating fires made my nose bleed.

California water and Western Water Law were things I specialized in when I was an employed journalist, and I’ve done more stories than I can count on established law, the drought and its effects, farming in CA, and the contaminated aquifers.

The drought is real in California, and all over the west. The need for water exceeds the supply not for lack of reservoirs, but due to lack of rainfall, corporate agriculture’s wasteful irrigation practices and irresponsible crop choice, and Los Angeles’ drinking water aquifer being contaminated with heavy metals, Volatile Organic Compounds, and nuclear waste.


Reservoir 3


Here is why Trump is so very, very wrong – and not just because he seems to think if there was just more water we could put the fires out:

When the water in the Colorado River was divvied up in the last century it was based on an astronomical water flow projection that had never happened in the history of ever. Everyone knew it at the time, and ignored the impossibility of the figures, kicking the can of how to deal with the eventual water crisis down a few generations.

Metaphorically: Grandma bakes a pie, and 10 people have been told they can all have a quarter of the pie. They all KNOW there isn’t enough for everybody to get a quarter of a pie – but instead of taking less, and all equitably getting a tenth of a pie, everyone keeps demanding their quarter of a pie.

Right now – because of a compact made in the last century, fields in Colorado are dry to water almond orchards in the deserts of California, so that Corporate Ag can corner 80% of the world’s almond supply.

Remember: agriculture and business use 90% of the water in California – not its citizens.


Central Valley Billboard 3


Now – as to this ‘made up drought’? You can build all the reservoirs you want, but there’s nothing to put in them. They already can’t fill Lake Shasta, Lake Mead or Lake Powell, and building more places to hold non-existent water won’t do a damned thing.

Buying a half dozen dressers doesn’t mean you will magically get the clothes with which to fill them.

Even before the extreme drought that California has faced for the last decade-plus, water boards were unable to fill their reservoirs. There is neither the rain, nor the snow melt in the snowfields of the Sierra Nevada to fill them, and the glaciers of Rocky Mountains have melted. Glaciers that once gave water in July and August have melted forever.

The Sacramento Delta is salinating because there is not enough fresh water to push the delta water to the Pacific Ocean, where it belongs. At the same time Lake Tahoe is rapidly lowering and becoming cloudy. Damning up the few remaining rivers kills the entire ecosystem downstream – look at what a disaster the Colorado River is where it enters the Pacific Ocean as a mere trickle.


CO River Reaches Sea


The farmers who have those moronic billboards along I-5 have been bitching since the last century that they can’t flood-irrigate their crops – IN THE DESERT!! They have refused to modernize and use underground drip systems because they’ve ALWAYS been allowed to waste water – why not now?

They grow almonds, alfalfa and hay – IN THE DESERT!! Together these crops use 30% of all agricultural water in the state. Alfalfa uses more water than any other thing grown in California, yet makes up only 4% of the state’s crop.

Trust me on this: we don’t need to waste 20% of California’s total water supply to grow cow feed in the sand. I drove past 800 miles of richly producing alfalfa fields in Montana last month, we don’t need to grow cattle fodder IN THE DESERT!!


Central Valley Billboard 2


The farmers who pretend a finite resource is being withheld from them as some kind of libby-lib-lib plot, are willfully ignorant and propagating the lie that there is some secret water stash somewhere being that’s being withheld from them because they voted for Reagan, or some other such crap (those stupid billboards were up when I was a teen in the late 1970s). They would rather believe a conspiracy, than the rainfall totals, environmental damage from the drought – or their own damned eyes.


SFV Superfund Map


As for Southern California’s drinking water problems? That’s a whole different issue.

To quote Woody from Toy Story: Somebody’s poisoned the waterhole!

In 1980 the aquifer in the east San Fernando Valley was declared too dangerous for human consumption, and the wells providing more than 50% of the drinking water for the Valley were shut down permanently. Cities were forced to provide alternate sources of drinking water. The California Aqueduct and the Colorado River were forced to pick up the slack.

The San Fernando Valley aquifer is contaminated with industrial chemicals from WW2 airplane and weapons production, post-War auto manufacturing, the electronics industry, the aerospace and defense industries, oil wells, and military bases.

The area where I grew up (near the Burbank Airport) is Superfund Area 1 – a 7-square-mile toxic plume of cancerous pollution. The most polluted well in the SFV is behind my old (still operating) high school, adjacent to a dump that I grew up smelling. In my High School’s zip code alone there were 32 poorly regulated, unlined dumps that allowed unbelievable pollutants to be dumped directly into the soil, which leached into the aquifer. Some of those dumps have been redeveloped into parks.

This is one of 4 of Superfund Sites in the SFV polluting the groundwater. All 4 have been a National Priority Listing since 1986, but dick-all has been done about it. The action plan consists of partially treating the contaminated ground water (never to human consumption level), and allow it to percolate back through to the polluted part of the aquifer. There is no plan to clean up the original contaminants. That’s like trying to fix a leak by putting a bucket under the drip.

The only plan at this point is to monitor the pollution contaminating the drinking water of Los Angeles County, and shut down wells as they become unfit for human consumption.

So, what’s in the water I (and millions of others) grew up drinking, showering, swimming in, and eating food from our garden? What’s silently spreading to all of the wells in the San Fernando Valley?

Hexavalent chromium (Remember Erin Brokavitch’s suit?)
Trichloroethylene (TCE)
Perchloroethylene or Tetrachloroethylene (PCE)
1,4 –Dioxane
1,2, 3-Trichloropropane (TCP)
Carbon Tetrachloride
Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE)
Vinyl Chloride

And…. Drum roll please:

Low Grade Nuclear Waste.

If you REALLY want to blow your mind look up the Santa Susana Field Laboratory and read about the largest nuclear accident on US soil that nobody knows about – that happened in foothills above the San Fernando Valley.

The nuclear waste got into in the water during mitigation efforts after the accident. The government scraped the soil from the facility, and trucked it to the unlined, poorly regulated dumps of the east San Fernando Valley – right next to the cookie cutter housing developments of the blue collar workers who kept all of those factories humming, and next to the schools of their children.

The nuclear waste, along with all the chemicals, and Volatile Organic Compounds leached into the soil we lived atop, and eventually contaminated the groundwater.

I grew up drinking that toxic brew, and I am sick – as are many people I grew up with. My old classmates, friends and neighbors have clusters of breast cancer, testicular cancer, MS, ALS, COPD, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Graves’ disease, fibromyalgia, lupus and host of other autoimmune diseases. 40 employees at Poly High School died of Hodgkin’s disease by the year 2000 – most of them in the athletic department, whose fields and offices were built atop reclaimed land from the dump behind our school. The same dump that leached methane into the girls gym, and in 1979 it caused a small explosion, taking the building out of commission. Not only is my old high school still in operation, they built a Jr. High School across the street.

Los Angeles’ poisoned aquifers are California’s dirty secret, and within a decade they will be recognized as the health disaster they are.

In the meantime? State and County Water Municipalities will continue to whistle past the graveyard, and pretend that there’s a non-peeing part to the pool, as the plume of poison continues to contaminate the drinking water for one of the largest cities – and economies – in the world.

After reading Trump’s idiocy about diverting water to the Pacific Ocean, and loosening up the laws on poisoning our water FURTHER, I longed for the wisdom of President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, and his simple demand for electrolytes.



Shit Sandwich Zeitgeist



The defining moment of the 2016 election was when America rolled its collective eyes and groaned at Trump grotesquely ridiculing New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski’s physical disability, in November of 2015.

The day before Trump got thousands of people to roar with laughter at his mimicking the effects of Kovalski’s disease I wrote the following:

I am scared of Trump’s cult of personality.

I have at least 3 friends who support this asshole, and nothing he says seems to deter them. One is a staunch abortion supporter who is now willing to negotiate on it because she thinks he tells it like it is. Another is married to a Mexican national – and doesn’t have a problem with what he says about Mexicans. The last has always been conservative, but has outright endorsed our registering and forcing Muslims to wear ID badges in public. She doesn’t have a problem with it, and says that not one Muslim anywhere can be trusted. Although Trump has declared bankruptcy 5 times she is convinced he’s a terrific businessman.

Trump is a pathological liar who released bogus crime stats from a fictitious company one day, and he defended his supporters beating a protester at the next. The day after that he fabricated a video clip of ‘thousands and thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the WTC falling’.

In the past any one of these things would have sunk his candidacy, and he would have skulked away in shame. But nothing this man says seems to affect him negatively. The loonier he gets the more his base laps it up. He’s proposing fascism, suspending the Constitution and state sponsored torture – and he’s more popular than ever!

But, I’ll tell you what really scares me: The people who are silent about this.

I’ve accepted that his supporters will agree with anything that falls out of his pie hole – but, the ones who are just ‘meh’ about the whole thing are pissing me off. When that dentist killed Cecil the lion the internet exploded. Trump says register a religious minority? It gets a collective yawn. No screaming about the Constitution, or how it’s just morally wrong. Just roaring silence.

That’s what simultaneously scares and pisses me off. All it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.

The next day Trump hit for the cycle by topping Racism, Bigotry and Xenophobia with Ableism.


Side By Side Trump Kovaleski



America’s reaction to this unthinkable indignity revealed the ugly zeitgeist of the USA, and exactly what people had already decided they would put up with.

I already knew that Trump would take the nomination the morning after he announced his candidacy because he hadn’t been drubbed out of the GOP contest overnight for calling Mexicans rapists. Friends and online acquaintances bet me money and beers that would NEVER happen. But, I knew better.

But this?

This was fucking frightening.

I could see that if the response to calculated cruelty and bullying was a chuckle or a roll of the eyes, then we as a nation were capable of truly awful things.

I was right.

We’ve banned Muslims from traveling here and Trans people from serving in the military. We have heaped scorn on our allies while starting needless trade wars. We’ve flirted with both nuclear war and Dictators. WE TEAR CHILDREN FROM THEIR FAMILIES AND LOCK THEM IN CONCENTRATION CAMPS!!!

Trump supporters have been consistent in their bobble headed agreement with his increasing vitriol, genocide, and naked ambition to be a Fascist President-For-Life. I expect no less.

But the rest who can’t be bothered to get involved? Oh – you’ve made a choice. Make no mistake. But you’re all too much of a coward to admit it to the rest of us that you agree with what’s going on. You know a Russian Cyber Invasion installed that madman. You can see the extent of the corruption and crimes against humanity, nature and civil rights. You’re aware we’re violating the Geneva Convention on kidnapping and torture, and the UN Convention on Genocide. And you’re all fucking OKAY with it!!

Fuck the myth of the ‘silent middle’.

There is no middle ground on Fascism, dictators or genocide. The ‘silent middle’ are just people too lazy to put on the Party arm band on until it’s a legal dictate.

You don’t refuse a shit sandwich because you’re not hungry, and you don’t eat it to be polite.

Oh – and don’t imagine for a moment that if you have a bit of bread stashed away it means you’ll eat even one less spoonful of shit.


RNC Laura Ingraham 3



Boiling Frogs

In the last 6 weeks I’ve awakened in my bed at home only 13 times. The rest of the time has been split between Canada and the cabin. Different patterns and places cause you to see things from a different perspective, including and especially a lack of internet connectivity for days at a time.

Being without internet for long stretches means when I check back in it’s a virtual laundry list of ‘What the fuck am I reading?’ to ‘I remember when this would have been too absurd for The Onion’.

In short: It was only when I got back into the internet pot did This Little Froggy realize how HOT the water has gotten.

Let’s cut out all the noise (like rage-tweets demanding Sessions fire Mueller) and just look at the last day:

  1. Our Intelligence Agencies held a presser to stress the seriousness of the continuous attacks by Russia on our midterm elections. Mere hours later 45* slurred his way through another Fuhrer rally, calling that announcement a HOAX.
  2. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders refused to say during a press briefing that the Press is not the enemy of the people.
  3. Network television has apparently *just* discovered Q-Anon and their rabid willingness to become violent over their unhinged world view, and to keep Trump in power while thanking Russia.
  4. We’re STILL violating the UN Convention on Genocide, and the Geneva Convention on kidnapping, as well as torture, and the Trump Regime is now insisting the ACLU be responsible for finding the deported parents before families can be reunited. A third employee of the child concentration camps has been arrested for sexually assaulting multiple prisoners. Where the hell are the girls? It’s amazing how quickly this atrocity has dropped off of the A Section in news blocks.
  5. Enjoy your NEW $60 Billion in Chinese Tariffs while you mull over June new housing starts being down 12+%, new homes sales dropped 5+%, and only 150,000 jobs were added last month.

This dynamic is simply not sustainable.

Mom’s in the Potting Shed

How do you deal with someone who refuses to get a will because it’s ‘ghoulish’? How do you respond to the narcissistic person who says ‘I don’t want to think about what happens after I die’?

When dear old mom went to the Great Insane Asylum In The Sky she left her affairs as if she were 25 and had gone up to the store for a loaf of bread. No will, no power of attorney, no funeral arrangements and a stack of unpaid bills. It was up to her survivors (funny word, that) to sort it out. She chose to put the burden on her children; one last punishment.

Here’s the thing about the will: I used to drive myself crazy thinking I could reason with her.  I’d have had better luck teaching my dog a card trick. It wasn’t ignorance. It was utter vindictiveness. “If the tea party goes on without me you’ll have to clean up my mess!!!”

So we did.

A lawyer was retained. One brother and I cleaned out her house. The taxes were paid. Within a year probate closed.

There was one problem: What was to be done with the body?


Family Pictures - Mom Feeding Me



My mother died in a Phoenix hospital in July of 2005, and I was the one who pulled the plug.

I had been in close contact with the doctor assigned to her case. He called me the day everything we owned was being loaded into a moving truck to relocate to Northern California for my husband’s job. She was in a coma after a pulmonary embolism and there was no hope of her regaining consciousness. What did I want to do? Mind you this was just a week after my mother-in-law died. I’ve always felt my mother willed herself to die then, so that she could be the center of attention – even in death.

I remember standing on the back porch awash in the bright summer heat, the phone cord stretched as far as it would go, watching my belongings being carried out the front door, and listening to a man I’d never met describing in precise detail how my mother was dying. Oh, and did I want to keep her hooked up to a ventilator to prolong her agony?

I think I was kinder to her than she deserved. I told them to give her as much morphine as possible, pull the life support and to let her die peacefully.

When I think about that afternoon it was like trying to use a kaleidoscope as a magnifying glass.

After she died one of my brothers went to put a wooden stake in her heart. Wait. No. One of them went down to identify and take care of the body. She left the decision and the cost of her final disposition up to us. Although she was a baptized Catholic, we had her cremated. If she wanted something different she had years to make those plans.



Family Pictures - Part 20014


Don’t speak ill of the dead.

It’s the command given to anyone who dares to talk about the deeds of the dearly departed.

Don’t speak ill of the dead.

Your feelings still don’t matter. Even in death your tormentor can silence you through shame.

Don’t speak ill of the dead.

Even if it’s true.


My experience with that hated phrase (aside from brutally hilarious news rooms) is with a few of my mother’s acquaintances, and a handful of distant relatives we got Christmas cards from the 1970s.

‘Don’t speak ill of the dead’ was what they invoked when hearing why there would be no funeral.

You see, after she died I agreed to call the few people in her phone book to let them know.

“No funeral?”



“Afraid not.”

“Why?” asked in a tone used when you kick a puppy.

“Well… Ahhh… None of us want or will come to a celebration of her life.”

“B-b-but… She’s your Mother!! She deserves at least that much respect.”

“Look, (insert indignant person’s name here), she wasn’t a very nice person. None of my 5 brothers were talking to her when she died, some of them for years. I was the only one who would have anything to do with her at the end.”

“B-b-but… How could you?”

“How can I put this? She was toxic. She beat us mercilessly when we were children, and terrorized us as adults.”

“Don’t speak ill of the dead.”


There were one or two sympathetic souls who were floored. But they were able to accept the fact that anyone who had 6 middle-aged children that vehemently opposed to a service memorializing their life might not have been a very nice person.

The rest, however, were quite judgmental. Interestingly enough, not one was worried about the religious aspect of it. They were all horrified that we wouldn’t ‘do the right thing’. No matter that she hadn’t done the right thing since the day she gave birth to my eldest brother. And most were people I had never met, just some stranger at the other end of a long-distance line. Never mind that they would never come to her funeral if we’d had one. And there I was, trying to defend to someone I couldn’t pick out of a police line-up with a gun to my head about why I wouldn’t hold a funeral for a person who tormented me from the day I was born.

I could have lied, and said there would be a small service for the family, and no one but me would have known the difference. But, I didn’t want to lie anymore. I was really tired of covering for her.

So, I told the truth; which wasn’t well received. ‘It was a different time’ was the excuse offered. That always made me gag a bit. The conversation would end with, “I’m sorry for your loss.” It was a phrase for which I never had a good reply.



Family Pictures0050



I remember the day my mother arrived in San Jose. It was still beastly hot, but not so much like looking through a kaleidoscope. The doorbell rang, the dog barked. It was a return receipt package. I didn’t realize what it was, at first. Then I noticed the return address was from a funeral home in Arizona. I can’t describe the look of abject horror on the mail carrier’s face when I remarked, “Oh, hey! That’s my mother’s ashes. I wondered where they were.”  The postman couldn’t get that box out of his hands fast enough. He shoved them into my hands as I was still signing, and they tumbled to the ground. The postman blanched visibly and looked at me in even greater horror. He grabbed his crucifix, made the sign of the cross, and beat a hasty retreat when I said, “Dude, it’s OK. She’s dead. She didn’t feel it.”


I had no idea what to do with my mother’s ashes. They were in a sealed quart sized can, packed inside the box in which it came. I walked around our new place in San Jose trying to figure out where to put them. I felt like I had a plastic bag full of dog shit I was trying to figure out where to put. Actually, dog shit is easier to throw away. I wouldn’t have her ashes in my house. Not even the garage. Finally, it came to me: The potting shed.

One of the things I liked best about the place in San Jose was the garden. You could put anything in the ground and it would grow. One of the best things about the garden was the potting shed. It was as far from the house as you could get, and waterproof.

I put her ashes out there on the farthest top shelf I could.

Now and then I would joke to my closest friends how I was going to go visit mom in the potting shed.

Every so often, when I was transplanting something, I would look up at the box on the shelf and say, ”Hey, you miserable bitch. How’s it going? Hot enough for you? What? No complaints? That’s a first.” Sometimes I wouldn’t be as charitable

That went on for a couple of years.



Family Pictures - Part 20127

1939 – Mom, bottom left


Here’s the thing: Years before she died my mother told me about her burial plot in Sarnia, Canada that had been paid for by the grandparents who raised her in the 1930s. After my father died, and was buried in a McCatholic cemetery, she made me promise many, many times that I would return her to her home in Sarnia. It was yet another of her lies.

There was no plot. There never had been. The only plot was in her mind. It was yet another of her fantastic lies, and one I found out via long distance day rate when I called the cemetery in Canada. They had no record of there ever having been a plot purchased for her.

After doing everything from pulling the plug, to cleaning out her house-of-hoarding, I was left with her ashes, and the unappealing task of how to dispose of them without honoring her or being a complete dick.

As the years went by I asked her ashes how thing were going less and less.

Eventually, I stopped remembering that mom was in the potting shed. As I went about my life – finally rid of her judgements and cruelty – I learned to enjoy the peace.



Family Pictures - Part 20082


We moved to San Francisco late in the summer of 2007, as the world economy was just beginning to shit the bed. It was another hot, hectic moving day, but finally the movers were lumbering their way up the peninsula to our new house by the beach. We were making a final run-through, picking up the last odds and ends, Richard was anxious to head out and be there when the truck arrived. I told him I’d finish up here, and meet him up there. I gathered odd bits of trash in a garbage bag, and checked behind doors, assuring myself the house was empty.

But there was still one more thing to deal with: Mom in the potting shed.

I stood in the suffocating July heat of the potting shed watching swirls of dust illuminated by the sun coming in through the window, and finally reached for the still-sealed box with the can holding my mother’s ashes. As I held the heavy box in my hands I knew I simply couldn’t bring them to our new home. Yes, there was a lovely a potting shed there, too. It was even bigger than this one, but there was simply no room in it for her. I wanted no more ashes or commitments to crazy dead people.

I knew what needed to be done.


Family Pictures - Part 20067


We watched the last of our things get transferred from the truck into our new place, and as the moving van pulled away I unloaded my car. Finally there was nothing left, but the box with the can holding the ashes.

It was only 10 blocks to Ocean Beach, and we bought a bottle of wine at the corner bodega. In the parking lot of the beach I opened the box with Richard’s knife, took out the can, and looked at it for the first time. It looked like an unmarked paint can, but was much heavier than any paint would ever be.

I remember the sun was setting, with yellow, orange and white shafts. There were people setting bonfires. I didn’t know what to think as I walked toward the ocean.

After a few pulls on the wine bottle I gestured with it, and said, “Well, here’s a fine place to spend eternity.” I took a few more swigs, and used the bottle opener on my key ring to pry the lid off of the can. After a few tries it popped off.

Inside were the burnt remains of an evil, hurtful being that tortured her children and alienated everyone around her. I stared at what remained for a long while, feeling many, many things – but guilt-free relief was what won out.

Finally, I took my shoes off and went to the water’s edge. I watched the waves play in and out, and the sun as it headed towards the horizon.

I threw my arm out in a sweeping motion. The ashes made a comma in the wet sand. I thought of the commas after zeros, and of all the money my parents had stolen from me. A wave came in and washed the sand clean. Just like that the comma and the imaginary zeros were gone.

I threw more ashes, and made more commas. More waves came in and washed away the answers to so many questions.

Finally, the can that came in the box that sat in the potting shed was empty.

After a long sigh I said, “You’re welcome. For everything.”

Richard came up and silently offered the wine bottle, his arm sliding around my shoulder as much in comfort as solidarity. I took a few pulls, and silently congratulated myself for never having soiled my relationship with the man I loved by even introducing him to someone who tried to destroy any happiness that found its way to my life.

The waves crashed, the gulls called, and the sun was in its last brilliant stage of setting.

Mom had left the potting shed, and I was finally free.

Liberation – at long last!

In the final rays of the setting sun I saw metal glinting where I had thrown my mother’s ashes. I picked up a piece of stainless steel out of the wet sand: It was her ID tag from the mortuary – and the date of her death was wrong.

I laughed so hard wine shot out my nose.

The Circle had closed, and the woman who forgot what day her only daughter was born (Yes, really) shuffled off this mortal coil unmarked and unmourned, the victim of an administrative mistake. It was a perfectly fitting end for a woman with a bottomless need for attention and perfection.

The Universe has one hell of a sense of humor, and once in a great while we’re lucky enough to see some asshole get exactly what they deserve.


Ocean Beach Sunset