Mom and Dad Are Rich. You’re Broke.

May 6, 2011

I have often been asked what it was like to grow up in an Old Hollywood family. As we celebrate Mother’s Day weekend, and many of us reflect back on our childhoods, I want to answer that question with an excerpt from Bringing Back The Old Hollywood:

“Mom and Dad Are Rich. You’re Broke.”

In a few ways anyway, being raised in Beverly Hills in the 1950s was just like being raised anywhere else.

I rode my bike to school every morning, we hung out and played sports after school, and we became the first generation of kids to watch television on a regular basis.

The most popular television shows of the 1950s centered on family life. Problems were always solved by the end of each show and most every character was portrayed as being happy or at least relatively secure.

For me, whatever version of reality that was depicted on shows like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett, Father Knows Best, and Make Room for Daddy was a welcome glimpse into how I thought other families actually lived and was a lot more real than my own life.

Not much else about my early life had any connection to the real world.

Looking back, spoiled and out of touch with reality are descriptions that don’t even begin to explain how bizarre it was growing up in Beverly Hills. While I was living it, however, I took almost everything for granted and just assumed that I would always live that kind of life.

In a word, I felt entitled without really understanding what the word meant. I just felt that I would always have money and enjoy the same privileged and easy life that my parents enjoyed.

My stepfather and mother had a full-time chef, two live-in housekeepers, and a butler. Didn’t everyone?

I never had to do laundry, clean my room, or do a single household chore. Until I was a teenager, my allowance was whatever I asked for.

Even though “spoiled” is really too polite a word to describe both my lifestyle and my attitude, I was nevertheless convinced that I was untouched by all that extravagance. The only thing I learned about growing up, being responsible, and creating a strong work ethic was…nothing. I was young and my parents were rich, which I foolishly misinterpreted as meaning that I was rich, too.

Oprah Winfrey recently asked actor Will Smith about his kids and their relationship to money. Smith responded with an absolutely classic line that he had said to his son. “Yeah, we had that talk recently. And I said that yes, Mom and Dad are rich….but you’re broke!”

Unfortunately, I was blissfully unaware of that simple fact in my own family and was therefore setting myself up to walk the trapeze of life blindfolded and without the net that I had been so certain would always be there to catch me.

Perspective: Isn’t That What They Use on Submarines?

One of the first casualties of growing up in a well- to-do Hollywood family is the ability to achieve or maintain any sense of perspective.

Case in point:

One of my stepfather’s closest friends and business associates was William (Billy) Goetz. Bill’s wife Edie was the daughter of the legendary Louis B. Mayer of MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). Along with Joe Schenck and Darryl Zanuck, Billy Goetz was one of the founders of 20th Century Fox and a major film producer (Sayonara) in his own right

When I was young, we spent a lot of time in the Goetz’s Bel Air home, having elaborate dinners served by a staff of at least four or five people, and then adjourning to their private projection room to watch the newest films from every studio in town.

(My parents also had a private screening room. Actually, it was an entire building behind our house that my mother had my stepfather build so that she didn’t always have to go to friends’ homes to see movies. Quite appropriately, she named it The Whim House and actually had matchbooks made with that name on the cover.)

Private screening rooms were really the norm for my parents and their friends. Ray Stark had one as well.

Seeing a movie in a theater was much more of an unusual occurrence in my life than sitting in an overstuffed chair in a private home with homemade popcorn and an endless supply of candy.

I remember wandering the Goetz house one night and noticing that almost every square inch of wall space was covered with art from classic painters. Renoir, Picasso, et al.

I made my way into Bill’s study and was immediately struck by the fact that there was only one small painting on the wall.

I thought that was unusual, to say the least. Why only one painting?

My stepfather found me in there and explained that this one painting was very special indeed and that’s why it had it’s own room.

It was a Vincent Van Gogh self-portrait.

What? Every one didn’t visit private houses with Van Goghs and Renoirs, with dinners cooked by personal chefs, followed by first-run movies in a private screening room?

AND A HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TO ALL!

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