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.

 

heatherhartman14

 

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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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

Endless Thoughts and Prayers

Who can honestly say they’re surprised that America had yet another mass shooting? It’s simply a way of life here to log on to social media and find out about the latest massacre, numbly check to see if it is near anyone we love, and watch the body count and the number of injured rise as the reports come in.

In a twisted way I’m getting used to the massacres from domestic terrorists, but what infuriates me now is how the GOP incessantly invokes Thoughts and Prayers after each fresh dose of hell.

Praying is a highly personal thing between you and your God, and is not a replacement for doing your job – whomever you are. Hiding behind God while you refuse to do your duty is an affront to truly spiritual people who do not use their religion as a prop.

For most people Thoughts and Prayers is shorthand for, “I’m powerless to stop this from happening, and I’m asking the Omnipotent Being of my choice to show mercy on this untenable situation.”

But Congress isn’t powerless to change the situation, and they CAN change the law to require the stricter background checks that 90% of Americans are demanding. They could make gun owners responsible for not securing their guns, or require liability insurance. But, they simply refuse to take any action because there’s too much money gushing in from the NRA.

So, when the GOP offers Thoughts and Prayers it’s just weasel-speak for: “It’s out of my hands because I’m going to keep taking contributions soaked in the life-blood of kindergartners and concert goers – but I will ask my God to keep you in His thoughts.”

For the GOP to proudly proclaim that they’ve given a Thought – they’re THINKING  – about something the rest of us can’t get out of our heads, is *stunningly* self-absorbed.

But, I can’t even wrap my brain around the unmitigated NERVE it takes for the GOP to demand God do the heavy lifting when they refuse to vote on bills that have been introduced. How DARE they pretend God has ANYTHING to do with their addiction to Russian blood money laundered through the NRA!

The GOP’s Thoughts and Prayers about domestic terrorists who mow down classmates, co-workers, and worshipers like an edger takes out errant weeds is an infuriating waste of time. Republicans cynically conflate praying with actually doing something, and pretend they aren’t blocking legislation that would prevent future massacres.

Logical people can see that these massacres aren’t happening in other developed nations on the scale that they are here. Look at Canada, Australia or the UK: We speak the same language, have roughly the same religious demographics, the same number of single parents, and marriage equality. We share television content, video games and music. Yet our murder-by-gun rate is 30 times higher than the UK, and our overall murder rate is higher than all three other nations combined. What’s different? The ease with which one can obtain a gun, and the number of weapons of war available to the general public.

The USA is only 4.28% of the world’s total population, but owns 30% of all the guns that exist. There are 1.20 guns for every man, woman and child in the good old US of A. At the same time we hold nearly 1 in 3 guns on the planet, only 1 in 5 Americans owns one. In fact, gun ownership is concentrated into hands of so few people that only 3% of Americans own half the guns in the country

Let me repeat that: 3% of Americans own half of the guns here.

9.8 million Americans own 130 million firearms; which means .001% of the 7.5 billion people on this planet own 15% of its private firearms.

If that number seems out of whack, take this into consideration: Only 1% of Americans belong to the NRA. The murderous gun policies the GOP backs are nothing more than a ruse to fill their coffers with dark Russian cash, while pretending a dismissible fraction of our population should have their fetish codified into our laws.

 

Homice Rate USA UK AUS CAN

 

So, really, when ANY politician (Democrats, too) takes blood money from the NRA and offers the mealy-mouthed phrase “Thoughts and Prayers” about the inevitable NEXT GODDAM SCHOOL SHOOTING, what they’re really saying is, “There’s nothing I will do. Ever.”

Frankly, I’m done debating the indisputable facts that a vast majority of Americans want tighter background checks, or that we have a glut of guns here, or that school shootings don’t happen in other countries like they do here.

I’m tired of people re-framing the need to reduce our gun violence with the notion we must stop all other forms of murder or violence before we tackle the dumpster fire of our gun laws.

I’m sick of answering disingenuous arguments with, “Yes, certainly, vehicles can be used for mass murder. They are also regulated, and insured, and their primary function is for transportation, not for killing people.”

I have precious little patience for those who unironically screech about their ‘god given right’ to the 2nd Amendment, while never comprehending the word amendment literally means ‘change’, and the word god is not in the Bill of Rights. There’s a reason ‘Well Regulated’ comes before ‘Shall Not Be Infringed’, and it’s not that difficult a concept to grasp that Americans are solidly behind weapon’s of war being ‘Well Regulated’ by a margin of 9-1.

I’m SURE as hell over those people stupid enough to argue for anarchy with, “Why pass laws when criminals won’t follow them?” They seem unable to grok that since the police manage to take so many of the white male mass murderers into custody, it’s super helpful to be able to prosecute them, and make them pay for their crimes.

In short: I’m over the excuses for why our schools are war zones, and we have more than one mass shooting a day in America.

Thoughts and Prayers are all well and good as a means to spiritual fulfillment, but they do nothing to change the very real gun crisis in this country. The only way we can break the endless cycle of Republican Thoughts and Prayers will be when We The People force change through activism and elections, and not by demanding God cure the illness we created ourselves.

Screw Thoughts and Prayers – You need to VOTE, dammit.

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.

10 Absolutes About Abusers

Those of us who’ve escaped the orbit of a Narcissistic Psychopath are fully aware of how Trump & Company are bludgeoning America into submission with relentless lies and sadistic behavior. We’re all too familiar with watching helplessly as our abuser breaks everything we hold dear just for the fun of it, and then lies to our face about what our eyes can see.

If you’ve never been trapped by a Narcissistic Psychopath you are in very real shock right now at finding a person utterly lacking in compassion or empathy is controlling your life and means you very real harm. The continual Gaslighting and threats to your safety become a steady feedback loop of anxiety, and the sustained emotional assault actually causes physical and mental harm.

Understand that this ceaseless firehose of bald-faced lies and indignities is designed to overwhelm and humiliate, and ultimately to make us all passive by cutting so deep into our soul we beg for the pain to stop, even though we know there is no mercy.

Those of who have walked down this path owe it to those who have not to take their arm and assure them as we walk through the darkness they are not alone, nor are they crazy.

To wit, I offer these irrefutable Truths About Abusers – especially Trump and Company:

  1. You aren’t human – you’re expendable chattel without rights
  2. Your opinion, wants, and needs are punishable offenses
  3. You are expected to follow rules and display manners that they deny exist
  4. You will NEVER get them to acknowledge facts
  5. They will never, ever, EVER admit they are wrong
  6. They will steal from you while insisting you’re a duplicitous thief
  7. They will lie so boldly and confidently that you will question your sanity
  8. They enjoy your pain even more when you tell them how much it hurts
  9. They will not stop until they control you completely and capriciously
  10. Anything they can’t control completely they will ceaselessly try to destroy

Now repeat these truths until they are so ingrained they can’t be shouted away.

Trump and his acolytes are soulless entities who will suck every ounce of you out of you if they can, and eventually being around them becomes a fight to keep your sanity and your personality from being swallowed by inexhaustible evil.

The urge is to give up and give in by not looking around to see about how bad things really are. It may be easier in the short term for some to ignore the reality in our collective Home – but you can’t wish away the Authoritarian that lounges insolently in our Parlor any more than you can reason with the termites and rot that infest the walls.

No matter what we do – compliance or fight – understand that there is no depth which Trump and Company won’t plumb, there will be no savagery left undone, no barbarity overlooked, and no opportunity to inflict sadistic inhumanity will be missed.

Accept that none of us will come out the other side of this fight the same, nor is it our fault that Trump and Company are evil. These facts exist together and separately, and all we can do is try to mitigate the damage.

I will do the very best I can to give voice to our #Resistance. I am here.

Embrace the reality that Trump and Company are relentlessly evil and will continue to screw with our heads and our very lives until we are compliant and submit to watching our country slide back 100 years – or until we’ve had enough and fight back like we mean it.

RNC Trump Flags

Preaching To The Choir

It’s best if we accept the reality that Trump speaks to the vacuum of compassion in his followers. All their life Trump Apologists (Trumpologists) have known on an instinctive level that they lack something most other people have, but can’t quite grasp what it is.

Trump is their Jack from Lord Of The Flies because he validates Trumpologists lack of empathy and need to destroy things and take pleasure in other’s pain – they grunt and nod as Trump eschews the Conch and the Rules of Law and Decency.

The sooner we accept this the sooner we will be able to break free from the notion these folks can be reasoned with.

They don’t WANT to be reasoned with, they don’t want a middle ground – they don’t want to live peacefully.

What they want is for you to abase yourself to their God, and mouth their beliefs and surrender your Civil Rights to their religion.

They want to control your life and be in charge of who you can marry and where you can live and when you will have babies – and even WHEN YOU WILL DIE.

To that end I offer my Brothers and ReSisters a basic template of how to respond to ANYONE ignorant enough to insist Donald J. Trump is a good President.

You won’t change a Trumplogst’s mind, but you will help other Resisters who read it to shake off the continual gaslighting from the Administration and Russia (but, I repeat myself), and the numbness from the never-ending fire-hose of terrifying and infuriating news.

Think of the following paragraphs as Colorform Facts that you can mix and match for the Trumpologists in your life. Use them all – or use just one.

Copy, paste, share, and use in good health. It will always be here when you need it. Most people don’t have the time to put together and fact check a list like this that has taken me 2 ½ years to curate.

So, Sing It Loud! Sing It Proud! Raise up your voice and speak the TRUTH my Brothers and ReSisters!

Sure, I’m preaching to the choir, but it’s so damned EASY to forget what we’ve been through – and sometimes the Choir needs practice:

 

Journalists should be jailed and or killed. Mexicans are rapists & Blacks are lazy. POWs aren’t heroes because they got caught & US soldiers with PTSD aren’t strong. A woman questioning him has to be on the rag. Syrians should be put in concentration camps, and deported. Muslims should have to register and wear ID tags and mosques should be closed.

Trump cruelly derided the grieving parents of a Gold Star soldier, while himself taking 5 deferments from Vietnam. When asked which foot had the bone spur that allowed him a medical deferment after playing 4 years on the college tennis team Trump told the reporter, “You look it up.”

During a campaign rally Trump viciously mocked Serge Kovaleski, a physically disabled New York Times reporter, who pointed out that Trump was pretending to have personally witnessed the thoroughly debunked urban legend that thousands upon thousands of Muslims were cheering in New Jersey on September 11, 2001.

Donald Trump incites violence at his rallies and believes protesters deserve to get beaten up by wistfully pining for “the old days when they’d be carried out on stretchers.” Encouraging violence, he promised to pay the legal bills of anyone assaulting a protestor in the crowd.

Before declaring his candidacy Trump faced more than 4,000 lawsuits on everything from fraud to unpaid bills, contract disputes and sexual discrimination.

Trump has been found guilty and fined twice for violating the Federal Fair Housing Act, due to his management company’s egregious policy of racial discrimination against African Americans.

He was forced to pay a $200,000 fine to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission for denying blacks casino floor jobs and forcing black employees to be removed from sight when Donald and Ivana visited.

He made fraud, racketeering and elder abuse charges vanish from his bogus Trump University by paying off tens of thousands of plaintiffs, whom he defrauded to the tune of $50 million.

He has contributed no money to charity – None. His Foundation is not only uncertified, it is being investigated by the state of New York due to good-faith donations being misused. Paperwork shows nearly half-a-million dollars in charitable funds were used to pay Trump’s personal obligations of legal bills and fines on his for-profit business, including a $120,000 penalty from the city of Palm Beach for code violations by his prized Mar-a-Lago Club. Beyond that, Trump made an illegal political gift of $25,000 to Pam Bondi – the Florida Attorney General who conveniently decided not to press charges on Trump and his Trump University. He used $40,000 to buy oil paintings of himself and even paid his son’s $8 Boy Scout fees out of the charitable fund.

He lies when it’s easier to tell the truth, claiming to be the first person to predict terrorism in the United States.  Trump continues to flog the lie that his first wife competed as a skier in the 1972 Olympics for Czechoslovakia, even though it’s easily verifiable that the Czechs didn’t even field a team that year. A marker on the third green of his Virginia golf club boasts of the 100% pulled-out-of-his-ass ‘River of Blood’ Civil War imaginary battle – and Trump unironically goes so far as to say of the historians who vehemently deny any fight took place within miles of the course, “Where they there?”

He is a thin-skinned narcissist who rage-tweets about anyone who disagrees with him, going so far at one point as to encourage people to watch a non-existent sex tape of Alicia Machado, former Miss Universe from Venezuela, when she detailed his fat shaming of her.

A raging racist, he spent several years and thousands of dollars ‘investigating’ Barack Obama’s birth certificate, encouraging Birthers, and conveniently ignoring the fact that no matter where Obama was born in this great big wide world, his mother being an American citizen MADE HIM ONE, TOO – with all the accompanying privileges, like being President. Please note that John McCain was born in Panama and Trump didn’t say ‘Boo’ when McCain ran for President because he was a white dude.

 

Beyond all of this – NEVER forget this is a man who has promised state sponsored murder and torture of children, and who thinks the Press exercises entirely too much Freedom.

This self-imagined dictator promises to violate the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 14th amendments, as well as end abortion, civil rights, voting rights, marriage equality and the EPA.

He has proudly broken every Commandment Christians purport to hold dear, except murder – and he brags of being able to shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue without it costing him a single follower.

He is working in cahoots with Putin – and no matter how they try to deny it – Trump is ON TAPE begging straight into the camera for Russia to hack Clinton’s emails, which they did.
A ‘Good President’ wouldn’t sentence thousands of children to death, and let 9 million more lose their insurance coverage – as happened at the end of September, when the CHIP bill was not reauthorized.

A ‘Good President’ wouldn’t let the Pre-existing Conditions clause die, or allow Health Insurance Companies to sell worthless policies, or refuse to tell it’s citizens about ACA policies with subsidies.

A ‘Good  President’ wouldn’t let the people of PR die of cholera and thirst. A ‘Good  President’ wouldn’t golf while the people of California are being burned alive and out of house and home.

A ‘Good President’ doesn’t spend 1 in 3 days at his own properties, exhausting the Secret Service budget in weeks that was meant to last a year.

A Good Man doesn’t make fun of POWs and soldiers who died for our country, or a Mayor who is pleading for the very lives of her constituents.

Oh yeah – A Good HUMAN would never, ever, ever “Grab Them By The Pussy!!”