Hollywood fame is usually earned, married or born into and the more stars I interview the more I notice how each route creates such very different people.
April brought another taste of this from four leading ladies.
Up first, nine days before fellow Golden Girl Bea Arthur’s passing, Betty White agrees to chat, just because. Of the “earned it” category, off the top White quickly declares herself “the luckiest old broad on two feet.”
An only child, working-class, White started as a Girl Friday on a radio show that went to television.
“How did I get to be in this silly business for 60 years?” she laughs. “How lucky can you get?”
Many with White’s success would have ended up assholes by now, I point out.
“You can’t take yourself too seriously,” White says, “and while I was raised by parents who spoiled me rotten, if I ever took it for granted I was pulled right down to street level.”
Enter, a week later, husband-snatcher Tori Spelling. One of the most famous spoiled rotten little rich girls in the world is pimping a new book.
It takes a woman breathing rarified air to think that tales of how tired she is from chasing kids around make for fascinating reading. Spelling is that woman.
“I work incredibly hard,” sighs the self-proclaimed Queen of the gays, who is also quick to proclaim that she is self-deprecating and that she doesn’t mind being a punch line. “I don’t care.”
What about her feud with Candy? It may sell books, but really, how gross is it to publicly fight with your own mother?
“It’s gotten pretty surreal,” Spelling says. “It is difficult, of course.”
Not quite as difficult, apparently, as life with her family in the spotlight. In her book, Mommywood, Spelling says she realizes there is no perfect way to be a parent and that her children Liam and Stella make her understand, “It’s always a work in progress for any parent.”
Except perhaps her own mother with whom she remains unforgiving.
Mummy herself chats with me an hour after Tori. Candy Spelling’s likeable book, Stories from Candyland, is a good deal less trite than her daughter’s, if only from the self-awareness she has of her own beginnings. Brought up in the era in which girls were expected to excel at home economics, Candy did just that and then married one of the most powerful men in Hollywood.
“I never had a voice because I wasn’t supposed to,” she says. “I never talked about anything. When I was married, it was never a thought. I felt like I was the perfect trophy wife, entertained beautifully, set a beautiful table, cooked.”
I ask her the same question I asked her daughter about the misery it must be to fight with family in public.
“The truth is that I am a mother and I’m sure I made mistakes,” Spelling senior acknowledges. “I’d love to talk to Tori in person and find out what the problem is. I feel really bad that she’s so angry. I call, I email, she doesn’t answer. On The View last week she said, ‘I’m not seeking a relationship with my mother right now.’”
Although her book is filled with fun anecdotes from the Spelling TV heyday — like being asked countless times if she was the inspiration for Alexis or Krystle on Dynasty (a bit of both is her answer) — Spelling seems to want to stick to talking Tori.
“I’m not relieving myself of my mistakes,” says the perfect home-ec student who turned out to be imperfect, “but I’d certainly like to know what she’s so mad about. “She has to play the victim. I promise you I’d be a better mother starting out today than when I was in my 20s. I’ve learned there is no perfect way to be a mother.”
“Funny,” I say to Spelling. “Your daughter told me the same thing.”
The weekend arrives and Arthur’s unexpected death makes the whole world heave a sad sigh come Sunday. Come Monday it’s back into “earned it” territory of Hollywood fame when Rue McClanahan, who spoke to me just after the passing of Estelle Getty last year, graciously obliges again.
“It’s not gracious at all,” the daughter of a beautician and contractor corrects. “I’m happy to do it.”
Like White, McClanahan declares her gratitude, especially where Arthur is concerned.
“Bea in Maude, that was really something,” she says. “I really learned watching her, how far you can go in comedy. That really informed when it came time to play Blanche, where I often had to go further than I was comfortable.”
McClanahan confides she knew Arthur was ill but that no one said anything, which was the way Arthur wanted it.
“I could give her a hug and feel how frail she was getting a little over a year ago, when I was last with her,” McClanahan shares. “She was just a frail thing, still tall but she’d lost so much weight. We just kept it private, like family.”
Of course, that depends on the family. See what I mean? A Hollywood fame sandwich, but the bread is far more pleasant than the filling.