Child Stars & Stage Parents
The dangers of child stardom and pressuring stage parents.
Numerous child actors have been known to be pressured into show business by their parents. You might be shocked to find out just how many had no say in the matter. Where is the line between fulfilling your child's dreams, and working them like a horse for your own indulgence?
*This is not an exact transcript, but rather an outline of my notes.
Before we start, just a reminder that my new book just came out. It’s called Broken Limelight: Shocking True Crime Stories About Celebrities. It’s on sale on Amazon or you can also grab the link on brokenlimelight.com. I’ll also be holding a book signing in Las Vegas pretty soon so stay tuned for those details.
I’m going to be taking a short break from the podcast pretty soon. After this episode I’ll do one more and then I won’t be back until right around Halloween time. I’ve just gotten booked for a lot of work this fall, it seems like Las Vegas is really starting to open back up entertainment-wise so I’ve got a number of performances I’m preparing for. If you want to learn more about that, you can see my performance schedule on my website, didiwestmusic.com. You can also find clips of those performances on my youtube channel under Didi West.
This episode is about child stars with abusive stage parents. When I say “abusive”, I don’t necessarily mean physically. I think this is something that isn’t talked about a lot and I’d like to bring attention to just how common this problem is. A lot of times, these kids have no choice in their career. And I honestly think we need to have a conversation about how working as an actor can affect a child’s psychology. Things like child labor laws are in place, but there are often loopholes in place so kids are worked to their limits. Not only that, but have you ever wondered about kids who play really difficult roles, like in horror or drama movies? Have you ever considered whether or not they receive emotional or psychological support in preparation for their roles or in between takes? I think about it all the time.
This will likely be told in two parts because I have quite a few examples to give you, unfortunately.
Lindsay’s mother, Dina Lohan, has been known for being extremely involved in her daughter’s career. Dina has always claimed that she was formerly a Rockette for Radio City, but there is little evidence of that.
Unfortunately for Dina and Lindsey, both have featured prominently in the media for breaking the law. Lindsey by having a car crash while under the influence and also a separate charge of assault. Dina also has a rap sheet of driving under the influence as well as a hit and run charge. The two of them have been seen leaving nightclubs together and it’s said they used drugs like cocaine together.
Dina Lohan has been accused of piggybacking off of her daughter’s success. She’s made a number of appearances on Lindsay’s behalf, like “answering questions only a mother can”. When Lindsay was in rehab, her mom took "ET" on the plane with her and her other daughter, Ali Lohan, to go "visit" Lindsay at the Wonderland facility in L.A.
"She was so angry there were cameras there," said a friend of Lindsay's. "And people at the rehab center were infuriated."
According to Lindsay’s father, Michael Lohan, Dina signed a lifetime agreement when Lindsay was 10, ensuring that she would forever be entitled to 20% of Lindsay’s earnings. I wasn’t able to verify that. From what I can find, Lindsay hasn’t commented on that. There was a time around 2012 when Lindsay talked about firing her mom as her manager, but it seems like things have gone back and forth between them.
Brook Shields was born in Manhattan, New York on May 31, 1965. Just 5 days after her birth, her mother, Teri, said "She's the most beautiful child and I'm going to help her with her career." Teri was also a model and actress. Brooke grew up taking piano, horseback riding, and ballet lessons.
When Brooke was 10 years old, Playboy hired Brooke for a very inappropriate photoshoot. The photos didn’t end up in the actual Playboy magazine, but rather in their sister magazine, Sugar & Spice, which featured younger girls and was supposed to be a little more tame. The photos show Brooke in a bathtub, nude, wearing heavy eyeliner and lipstick, and oil all over her body. A couple of the photos were full frontal with everything exposed. The photographer, Gary Gross, was reportedly paid $450 for the shoot, but insisted that it wasn’t intended to be pornographic in nature. That’s supposedly why Brooke’s mother, Teri, agreed to the shoot as well.
Her mother became visibly upset when handed a copy of the porn magazine which featured her 10-year-old daughter, but admitted that at the time she found the photos to be “beautiful.”
However, Brooke wasn’t old enough to know what those nude photos meant or how they might affect her in the future.
In 1976, Sugar & Spice printed two naked photos of her 10-year-old body, one splashed across a two-page spread.
Gross told the Daily Telegraph of one of those photos in 2009: "The photo has been infamous from the day I took it and I intended it to be."
If you google the pictures, it’s disturbingly easy to find the uncensored, unedited versions. I uploaded edited pictures on brokenlimelight.com that just show her face because I wanted to show you guys her makeup and the way she’s all glammed up. The pictures will be cropped or have emojis covering them. Just because if you’re like me, you might be curious but I was honestly disturbed by what I saw so go ahead and avoid doing what I did and just look at the edited pics on my website.
In 1978, at just 12 years old, Brooke starred in the movie Pretty Baby, where she played a child prostitute. The movie is fucked up, very controversial. It takes place in 1917 while prostitution was legal. Brooke’s character, Violet, has her virginity auctioned off, and she goes and she goes home with and begins a sexual relationship with the grown man. The film includes nude scenes of 12 year old Brooke. She has her first kiss in this movie. It’s pretty disturbing, if you ask me.
Teri Shields then booked her 14-year-old on The Blue Lagoon, a 1980 film that featured nude sex scenes between Shields and an adult male actor who played her brother.
At 14, Brooke was the youngest model to appear on the cover of Vogue, and at 16 she was featured in the famously controversial Calvin Klein jeans campaign. The TV ad included her saying the famous tagline: "You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing."
40 years later, Brooke says she has no regrets about her childhood.
Judy Garland’s mother put her on stage at just 2 years old. “The only time I felt wanted when I was a kid was when I was on stage, performing,” Garland later revealed.
Driven by fame and fortune, Garland’s mother paraded her around countless vaudeville venues and adult nightclubs when she was just a child. One of those places was raided for gambling during her Garland’s performance.
“She would sort of stand in the wings when I was a little girl and if I didn’t feel good, if I was sick to my tummy, she’d say, ‘You get out and sing or I’ll wrap you around the bedpost and break you off short! So I’d go out and sing.”
Ethel managed her children’s lives since they were children by lining up performances and auditions for which they garnered some success, but particularly Judy.
In their early years, they performed in vaudeville shows and later performed in more prominent venues and on television as ‘The Garlands.’
Hollywood producers took a shine to Judy as a child and she starred in many Hollywood movies. Her most well known movie as a child was called The Wizard of Oz
Garland’s stage mother even supplied her daughter with diet pills — which were mere speed that boosted Garland’s energy and performances. To counteract the effects at bedtime, Garland’s mother supplied her with sleeping pills. She ultimately even conspired with the studios themselves to regulate the child’s diet.
“From the time I was 13, there was a constant struggle between MGM and me — whether or not to eat, how much to eat, what to eat,” said Garland. “I remember this more vividly than anything else about my childhood.”
Garland would later describe her own mother as “the real Wicked Witch of the West.” And in the end, her years of being force-fed medication yielded to a lifelong struggle with addiction — and ended in her fatal overdose in 1969. Judy Garland became addicted to drugs and died at 46 years old of an accidental overdose.
Drew Barrymore began her career young. She was only 7 when she appeared in ET. Immediately after she hit it big, her mother, Jaid became money-hungry.
She quit her job at the Comedy Store to become a momager— and moved the tiny family of two from a West Hollywood apartment to a big house in the luxurious Sherman Oaks, California. "I was disgusted. Great. I will be the breadwinner," Drew writes of her feelings as a young girl. (Wildflower)
When Drew was still in school, she says her mother often "forgot" to pack her lunch. "I would stare at these kids' lunches because they had something and I didn't," she says. "It bothered me less that I had an absentee father than it did that I was not in the lunch game."
Not only did Jaid Barrymore introduce her daughter to New York City’s notorious Studio 54 when she was just nine, but also made her dance with famous men — and take drugs with them.
Drew Barrymore later recalled how her mom took her on nightly outings with her adult friends for five nights a week for a year. The child star began describing herself as a “party girl” and dabbled in cocaine and alcohol in adult clubs across Hollywood.
“I had a mom, but she was more like my best friend,” said Barrymore. “She was like, ‘Do you want to go to school and get bullied all day, or do you want to go to Studio 54?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, absolutely!'”
Barrymore’s mother didn’t mind her pouring Baileys over her ice cream and the child star became a daily cocaine user at the age of 12. Then, at age 13, Barrymore tried to kill herself by slitting her wrists. In 1988, her mother had her institutionalized.
At just 14, Drew was emancipated from her mother by the court. "She had lost credibility as a mother by taking me to Studio 54 instead of school," the actress writes. Jaid supported her decision, Drew claims, and even hugged her at the hearing.
At 16, Barrymore found herself cleaning toilets for cash with a career that seemed irreparably damaged. But she found roles and revived her reputation and even eventually started her own production company.
Her father died in 2004, and Barrymore said she and her mother do speak these days. Barrymore has had children of her own since, and plans to give them a very different childhood from her own.
Around the time Drew was using drugs was when she dated Corey Feldman for a short time. Corey Feldman is another example of a child star who was forced into acting at a young age. At just 3 years old, he got his first job doing a McDonald’s commercial where he was told he would get to meet Santa, but it ended up just being a short scene where a guy’s arm was costumed like Santa, not the actual entire Santa. Corey’s mom also fat shamed him, called him ugly, held shears up to his face and cackled while she told him she was going to give him a makeshift nose job. She was not present as a mother and often left Corey unsupervised. If you’ve listened to my coverage on Corey Feldman and Corey Haim, I’ve also discussed how he was sexually abused and his parents weren’t around enough to even notice. Corey’s father also tried to step in and take control of his career, until he decided to become emancipated.
I covered Corey Feldman’s story in episode 15, if you want to go back and listen to it.
JOAN & CHRISTINA CRAWFORD
Joan Crawford is known for the 1978 film Mommie Dearest, which is based on the memoir of Joan’s daughter, Christina. Christina has made a lot of claims of Joan’s abuse. She would get drunk often and beat her or punish her for the most ridiculous things. When Christina was nine, Joan dragged her out of bed one night and beat her with a can. When she was 13, she grabbed her by the throat, punched her in the face, and slammed her against the wall.
Joan always needed to maintain the image of perfection, however, so she did everything possible to look like a fantastically happy family. She was also kind of a neat freak and kept plastic covers on all the furniture.
Joan had had 4 failed marriages and a few failed relationships with men and women. She found herself unable to have children, and that’s when she decided to adopt Christina. Joan told Christina that her biological mother was dead, but she actually wasn’t. Christina found out the truth in the 1990’s but by then, both of her biological parents were dead.
A year and a half after adopting Christina, Joan decided to adopt a baby boy. Sadly, the boy’s mother came into the picture and took the baby back. Joan adopted another boy to replace him. In 1947, she started looking for more kids. She adopted a set of twin baby girls who she named Cindy and Cathy. Today, the Tennessee adoption agency is known for employing illegal practices in order to provide babies to Hollywood elite. It's unknown if Joan knew about that.
When Christina was 27 she briefly became an actress on a day-time American soap, however during filming she fell ill and Joan said she’d fill the role herself. For few episodes Joan played the 25 year old character. Keep in mind that Joan was 60 at the time. Its an example of how the ego of a parent can get in the way of good judgment.
Beach Boys Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Brian Wilson and his two brothers Dennis and Carl
Murry Wilson methods of getting his boys to perform for him were cruel and obscene — and he once forced Brian Wilson to defecate on a newspaper in the kitchen before making him clean it up.
“My dad was violent. He was cruel,” recalled Wilson. “Whenever I got afraid, he would yell at me or slap me or call me a pussy. When he didn’t put his hands on us, he tried to scare us in other ways. He would take out his glass eye and make us look into the space where they eye used to be.”
Wilson said the abuse continued as his mother looked on and Wilson occasionally even provoked him. “I once took a shit on a plate and brought it to my dad,” he said.
While Brian Wilson and his bandmates would go on to have global success, the traumatized rockstar began to self-medicate with marijuana, cocaine, and LSD. In addition to the physical abuse he endured at his father’s hand, Wilson also claimed to have experienced pangs of anxiety and heard screaming voices in his mind since he was 14 years old.
He later attempted to silence these voices through years of substance abuse and quack doctors who exploited his vulnerable position. Though his career eventually slumped under these pressures, Wilson ultimately found a professional doctor to help him, wrote his memoir, and regained the confidence to go back on stage.
Ariel Winter is known for voicing Disney’s Sofia the First.
She's been open and honest about the emotional and physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother, Crystal Workman. In fact, Winter told The Hollywood Reporter that she often felt oversexualized because of her mother's actions.
She revealed to the outlet, "[My mother would dress me in] the smallest miniskirts, sailor suits, low-cut things, the shortest dresses you've ever seen. People thought I was 24 when I was 12. If there was going to be a nude scene when I was that age, my mother would have a thousand percent said yes."
In addition, Workman allegedly placed her daughter on strict diets and kept her out late at parties even when she needed to be on set early. As a result, Winter had herself emancipated at the age of 14 and went to live with her sister, Shanelle Gray. She also leaned on her "Modern Family" costars, including TV sister Sarah Hyland, for support (via People).
Read More: https://www.thelist.com/391171/the-truth-about-ariel-winters-relationship-with-her-mom/?utm_campaign=clip
College Admission Scandal
Lori Loughlin Bribed officials to allow her two adult children social media stars Olivia Jade and Isabella Rose Giannullig to gain ain entry into the University of Southern California by fraud.
Felicity Huffman also bribed officials for her child to gain entry to a chosen college and got caught by the FBI. They were both perpetrators of the College Admission Bribery Scandal.
Will Smith successful Hollywood actor and father to actor and singer Jayden and his daughter Willow. Willow admitted that during her time as a child singing ‘Whip My Hair’ which featured high in the UKand US charts, that she had a difficult time with her father Will pushing his ideas and not listening to her wants.
Willow felt not listened to and not cared about so she started to self harm trying to grapple with fame being very young in the industry.
She is currently in a good space and is working on her own projects at her own pace. Will Smith stepped back in lightened up a bit and they now have a very good relationship.
McCaulay himself stated that he had hardly read the full scripts for his movies himself but was told by his father what he expected day after day. He Said that it was basically a machine.
Macaulay emancipated himself from his father’s control which meant that Kit had no right to the earnings he made, or what was left. It also meant that he couldn’t control what was left of his earnings once he turned 18.
Michael Jackson & siblings
Jackson was purportedly physically beaten and verbally tormented by his father Joe Jackson.
Joe Jackson allegedly forced his children into rigorous rehearsals on a regular basis, instructing them to sing and dance while insulting them for any missteps. Punishment involved a strap, belt buckle, or the cord of an electric kettle. He also forced them to carry cinder blocks across the garden for hours or beat them with branches.
Joe Jackson also notoriously called Michael “Big Nose,” which perhaps led to the singer’s rhinoplasty and multiple other plastic surgeries in adulthood. For his part, Joe Jackson said he never regretted beating his kids and that doing so “kept them out of jail and kept them right.”
It’s been claimed that Joe had Michael “chemically castrated”-- having forced Michael to take hormone injections to cure his acne and to maintain his falsetto voice.
Even when he was in his 40s, the singer confessed to reporters that the mere thought of his father made him ill. He later confessed that he often socialized with children because he was forbidden from playing with his friends as a young boy and robbed of a childhood of his own.
“It would make me sad that I would have to go to work instead,” said Jackson. “People wonder why I always have children around. It’s because I find the thing that I never had through them.”
We’re going to talk about Michael Jackson on another day. I haven’t said much about him yet because I want to be completely unbiased and I’m just not ready yet but it’s coming.
He was introduced to the topic of sex at a very early age while touring as a member of the Jackson 5. He and his brothers would perform at strip clubs, sharing the bill with strippers and drag queens, and the sexual adventures of his brothers with groupies further affected Jackson’s early life.
From a young age, Jackson was exposed to sex. He received mixed messages on the subject from his parents. His mother Katherine was a devout Jehovah’s Witness and conveyed her thoughts clearly; lust in thought or deed was sinful outside of marriage, and physical intimacy should be saved for marriage.
In contrast to his wife, Jackson’s father, Joseph, a steel mill worker, shunned the religion and would have the Jackson 5 perform in strip clubs and seedy bars in the earliest days of their career. He allowed nine-year-old Michael to watch from the wings of the stage as male audience members whistled at women who stripped until they were nude.
While playing at Chicago’s Peppermint Lounge, the brothers made use of a peephole in their dressing room, through which they had a clear view of the women’s bathroom. They would take turns watching, and as Marlon recalled, “learnt everything there was to know about ladies”.
During other residencies, the siblings would perform the Joe Tex song “Skinny Legs and All”. Joseph would instruct a young Michael to make his way into the audience, crawl under tables, lift up ladies’ skirts and peek at their under garments as part of the performance. Though embarrassed, Jackson gave in as he knew the audience loved the routine.
Following such performances, the Jackson brothers would then be tucked up in bed by their oblivious mother and reminded of the virtues of being a good Jehovah’s Witness. Katherine remained unaware of her sons’ strip club activities for many years.
As members of the increasingly successful Jackson 5, Michael’s brothers Jermaine and Jackie found fame advantageous. As they toured the country, they had sex with many female fans. Their guide was their father Joseph, who would often organize and arrange sexual encounters for his sons as well as cheat on his wife Katherine with their sons’ groupies. The two brothers would bring girls back to their hotel room, where younger siblings Michael and Marlon were instructed to “play sleep”.
A teenage incident with a prostitute may have scarred Michael Jackson for life sexually - according to his elder sister REBBIE.
"This person then arranged the services of two hookers for Michael. He told them to work him over and then locked him in a room with them.
"Rebbie said this incident absolutely traumatised her brother. Whether Michael actually had sex with the hookers, she didn't say."
One of the prostitutes was LILLIAS HARRIS who remembers, "The first thing out of his mouth was, 'Why are you a prostitute?' I answered, 'Because I need the money.'
"He seemed interested so I undid my blouse and showed him my breasts. He turned his head, repulsed. 'Stop, I can't have sex with you,' he said. 'Please put them back.'"
Harris continues, "When I asked him why he told me, 'Because I just can't.' I thought he meant he couldn't get aroused. He looked so sad. Then he said, 'Can we talk about you and your life?' I didn't want to talk so I gave him my telephone number, 'Any time you want to get off, call me,' I said.
"Michael looked at me and asked, 'What does that mean, get off?' He was totally sincere. I told him, 'It means screw, Michael. Any time you want to screw, call me.'"
She says he never called her.
Brittany Spears is another one that we’ll have to deep dive later.
She got her start on the Mickey Mouse Club alongside stars like Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake. She became a multi-platinum record-winning pop star at 18 years old. From the beginning, Britney worked incredibly hard and performed a lot. She had a tumultuous marriage with Kevin Federline, with whom she had two sons. In 2007, Britney began behaving erratically, after her divorce was finalized and K-Fed was granted custody of the kids. She shaved her head and was photographed hitting a paparazzi’s car with an umbrella. In 2008, she was twice admitted to hospital under a temporary psychiatric assessment ruling, including after an incident in which she allegedly refused to surrender her sons in a stand-off involving police.
A temporary conservatorship was established around this time and made permanent later that year.
While the order was meant to be temporary, it has remained in place for 13 years.
With a nightly residency in Las Vegas earning her estate $350,000 per concert, it became clear that Britney was her father’s work horse.
In June 2021, Spears detailed her struggles with her mental health, the loss of agency over her life, and how her father forced her to work during a live-streamed court proceeding on her conservatorship. She reportedly spent $1.1 million in legal and conservator fees in 2018 alone.
I’ve mentioned her before and I’m going to do a full deep-dive episode on her soon. She recently wrote a memoir about her experience, called I’m Glad My Mom died. Jennette also has a podcast where she’s described a lot of her experiences.
A couple of things that are notable are that her mother pressured her into anorexia. Jennette grew up restricting calories and didn’t realize that anorexia was a thing for a long time. Her mother also pressured her into doing roles she didn’t want to play, or perform scenes she wasn’t comfortable with. Jennette has described having a constant urge to perform for people. Like, it’s hard for her to be herself. She once described going to her therapist and thinking of ways to phrase her statements so they came out as entertaining, until she realized “why am I trying to entertain my therapist?” there’s something fundamentally strange about learning from such a young age that your every movement or every tone in your voice comes with an immediate reaction from adults.
Dr. Jenn Berman, a Beverly Hills psychologist who specializes in parent-child issues.--
Stage parents, Berman believes, are people who want to stay “overinvolved in their child’s life” and “often times lose their own identity in their child’s identity and success,” which, she thinks can have a lot of long term negative effects on the kids.
“The bigger picture is when a parent does something like this it shows a lack of sensitivity to their children and a lack of understanding of child development,” Berman said. “Generally, with the exception of blatant abuse, children tend to be harmed more by ongoing parenting choices than one specific incident.”
That harm can manifest itself in the form of depression, resentment and anxiety. “When a child is being depended on to create a sense of success and self-esteem for a parent, it is way too much pressure,” Berman said. “And it can lead to all kinds of things like alcoholism, substance abuse and eating disorders.”
With all that said, I have a lot of my own personal opinions about child actors. If you don’t want to hear them this is a good time go leave. But personally, and I’m saying this as someone who’s been performing since 13 and my own child has been performing since age 5– I don’t think children should be “working” as actors. Here me out– I don’t mean they shouldn’t act. I mean we need to make sure we draw the line between work and play. I’ve always loved acting and performing and so do my kids. But I’m not looking for jobs for them. I’m not trying to ship them off to Hollywood to work. If your child wants to be a performer and it’s their dream to go to Hollywood, you have to set the correct expectations for them and you need to set them for yourself as well. You need to realize beforehand that you’re doing this for your child’s enjoyment, and not for your success. The moment your child doesn’t want to do something, it’s your job to advocate for them. Hollywood isn’t looking out for the kids and they need to be held accountable as well. A lot of times, parents don’t know what they’re getting into and they need to trust that the professionals are going to guide them effectively. Sometimes parents know exactly what they’re getting into and take the risk anyway but still, the professionals owe it to the newbies and they laymen to provide some kind of security as well.
When we talked about Brittany Murphy, I mentioned how she would go to school on set to comply with labor and education laws. But because it was on set, there was rarely any actual schoolwork being done. So the “systems” we have in place are bull shit.
How did Corey Feldman get abused on set multiple times before someone said “hey, where’s your guardian?”
Where was his guardian, but also, where were the executives saying “you can’t be here without a guardian”?
This is the problem with sending kids off to work. They’re children and we’re literally shipping them off and telling them “figure it out and do your job.”
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