Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter
written by Melissa Francis
published by Weinstein Books
Why did I pick this book: I was asked by the publicist to review this book. Plus, I’m on a search to find a child actors who grow up to be functional members of society. (I received a copy of this book for review purposes.)
Did I enjoy this book: I’ve never seen Little House on the Prairie, nor have I seen Ms. Francis on TV. I guess I’m a bit too young, so going in I had no reference point; it wasn’t like I was reading about Screech from Saved By the Bell.
I was expecting the typical stage mother crazy and I got it. I was expecting the typical mismanagement of finances, and I got it. I was expecting a downward spiral, and though it was in an unexpected place, I got that too. There were, though, a few things that surprised me.
I wasn’t expecting Francis’s strength. I wasn’t expecting her to talk so frankly about her sister, or to write about her mother without spite. I am proud of her though I’ve never met her; I’m certain the bitterness would have leaked out had this been my story. It’s easy to leave out the icky bits when you’re writing about yourself, and though I felt that Francis could have been a bit more honest about her own faults, I commend her for describing those icky bits without bitterness.
Would I recommend it: Yeah! If you’re interested in an uplifting version of the traditional “Childhood Actor Grows Up” genre, you’ll enjoy it.
Will I read it again: Nah. I find it difficult to re-read this genre.
About the book: A dazzling honest and provocative family memoir by former child actress and current Fox Business Network anchor Melissa Francis — both a startling personal story and a cautionary tale for both parents in competitive times.
When Melissa Francis was eight years old, she won the role of lifetime: playing Cassandra Cooper Ingalls, the little girl who was adopted with her brother (played by young Jason Bateman) by the Ingalls family on the world’s most famous prime-time soap opera, Little House on the Prairie. Despite her age, she was already a veteran actress, living a charmed life, moving from one Hollywood set to the next. But behind the scenes, her success was fueled by the pride, pressure, and sometimes grinding cruelty of her stage mother.
While Melissa thrived under pressure, her older sister — who had tried her hand at acting and shrank from the limelight — was often ignored by their mother in a shadow of neglect and disappointment. Tiffany could do nothing to please her mother, but it wasn’t until after Melissa had graduated from Harvard University with a degree in economics, found love, and married that Tiffany’s personal problems culminated in a life-and-death crisis. When Melissa realized the role of her mother continued to play in her sister’s downward spiral, she resolved to end the manic, abusive cycle once and for all.
Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter is a fascinating account of life as a child star in the 1980’s, and also a disquieting tale of a family under the care of a highly neurotic, dangerously competitive “tiger mother.” But perhaps most importantly, now that Melissa has two sons of her own, it’s a meditation on motherhood. She asks the questions so many of us ask ourselves: how hard should you push a child to succeed, and at what point does your help turn into harm?
Every Free Chance Book Reviews is pleased to welcome Melissa Francis, author of Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter, to the blog today. She has prepared the following guest post for all of you.
Choose to be Happy
By Melissa Francis,
Author of Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter
As a journalist, I have built a career around asking other people questions. But answering them? That is another story altogether. When the topic turned to my life growing up, I was the master of skirting the issue. Even with my closest friends.
“Are your parents coming for Christmas?” someone would ask.
“Not this year,” I’d reply.
“Do you have brothers or sisters?” they’d wonder.
“It’s just me,” I would say.
I hadn’t lied, but I hadn’t told the truth either.
The fact that I grew up on dozens of Hollywood sets — the fictional daughter of Michael Landon, Martin Sheen, Ted Danson, Glenn Close and others, hawking baby shampoo, McDonald’s cheeseburgers, and Campbell’s soup — made the topic of my past even more attractive. And I didn’t mind talking about that part. But then diverting the conversation when it inevitably turned to my real family proved almost impossible. I didn’t want to share the fact that my flesh and blood family had exploded and disintegrated in spectacular fashion. That behind the scenes, my magical childhood was fueled by the Hollywood version of a Tiger Mom, a Stage Mother, whose wildly ambitious and often cruel ways ultimately destroyed my sister. Rather than explain, I preferred to just avoid the whole topic.
After years of skirting the issue it was my four year old who was the one person I could no longer hide my past from.
“Where’s your Mommy?” he asked. This was not the first time he’d gone down this road. After all, his other grandmother, my husband’s mother, is a vibrant character in our family portrait, constantly abounding with energy and creative ideas for how to spend the day. Next to her, the hole where my mother should be is even more gaping. I knew I had to come up with an answer that I could stand behind, not a diversionary technical-truth.
So I dared to put my history on paper, in Diary of Stage Mother’s Daughter. And finally, in putting words to my story and sharing my life with the world, I have relieved the pain, largely because of the support showered on me by complete strangers. Turns out, I was far from alone in having a troubled past. Judging from the letter, emails and even Tweets I have received, I now realize that nearly every family has a dramatic, heart wrenching story, that every person has suffered through their own trials. We could all write a book!
What counts is what we do now — how we move forward.
Rather than carrying past pain around and allowing it to paralyze us, I suggest that raw, aching memory can be harnessed as a richness of experience to draw upon. For me, I know how not to raise my sons. I took control of my history, stopped the cycle in its deadly tracks, and chose to take a different path into the future. I demanded a different relationship with my mother, and when she refused, I moved on to a new life. It was both a terrifying and a liberating choice. But it changed my life.
I’d love for anyone who reads the book to feel that they can learn from a challenged past and move forward positively towards a joyful future. You can choose to be happy — your very best person. It’s never too late.
About the author: Melissa Francis, author of Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter, grew up in southern California. As a broadcast journalist, she has anchored CNBC’s Power Lunch, The Call, and On The Money, and served as a regular contributor to the Today show and Weekend Today. Currently she hosts two daily business shows on the Fox Business Network, including Money with Melissa Francis. Francis holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Harvard University. She lives in New York City with her husband and their two sons.
Melissa Francis enjoys discussing her book with her readers and is available for book club meetings as her schedule permits.
If your book club would like to schedule a phone or Skype interview with her, please direct your request here: http://www.
For more information please visit http://www.
melissafrancisofficial.com, and follow the author on and
Happy reading wherever you are and whenever you get a free chance!!!