Experts have stated that it costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $190,000 to raise a child to adulthood. Although some people dispute that figure, there is no doubt that, over the long haul, passing on your DNA can be one of the most expensive decisions that you will ever make. This is why I was particularly interested in my colleague Zac's recent post on Britney Spears' finances. You see, Brit's parents have clearly stumbled across the ultimate way to make sex pay. Forget about prostitution, blackmail, or becoming a trophy wife: real pros simply pimp out their kids.
It's not like this is a particularly new discovery, either. In fact, looking over the annals of showbiz, I find that the industry is littered with integrity-challenged parents or guardians who seem to have little or no trouble cashing in on their children's talent, cuteness, or marketability. Here, then, is a quick rundown of four of history's more questionable showbiz moms and dads. If I missed one of your faves, please feel free to send me a response. I'm always looking to extend my knowledge of human depravity!
Mary Hilton: In 1908, an English barmaid named Kate Skinner gave birth to a pair of beautiful little girls. She was unmarried, however, and wasn't sure how to take care of them. Adding to the difficulty, the girls, Violet and Daisy, were, literally, joined at the hip: their pelvises were fused, and their hips and buttocks were attached. Recognizing the entertainment value of a pair of Siamese twins, Kate's boss, Mary Hilton, bought the girls from Kate, gave them her own last name, and began making money off them. Using a combination of physical abuse and economic slavery (the twins didn't receive any money from their performances), Mary and her husband managed to control the girls for over 20 years. Finally, in 1931, the Hilton sisters sued their "managers" for $100,000 and independence. Within a year, they had recast themselves as dancing flappers and were pursuing a career of their own design.
John and Ethel Ross: While Patty Duke's parents, John and Frances Duke, never officially sold off their daughter to her managers, they might as well have. Between the ages of 8 and 18, Patty was more or less imprisoned by John and Ethel Ross, a pair of ruthless managers who made Bing Crosby look like father of the year. While Patty was almost constantly working on stage, in movies, and on television, the Rosses kept a tight hand on her finances, giving her and her mother only a small amount of spending money. Beginning at age 13, Patty began consuming alcohol and prescription drugs, supplied by the Rosses, and she later claimed that both John and Ethel sexually abused her. By the time she was 18, she was suicidal, anorexic, drug-addicted, and an alcoholic. When she became legally liberated from the Rosses, Duke found out that they had squandered her wages and she was almost penniless.
In the ensuing years, Duke's life got a lot better. She became an outspoken advocate for mental health issues, had a long and productive acting career, received numerous awards for her work, and served as President of the Screen Actors Guild. Perhaps best of all, she not only starred in Valley of the Dolls, one of the coolest, campiest movies of all time, but also spawned Sean Astin, future Goonie, Hobbit, and portrayer of Rudy.
Joe Jackson: On the one side, the Jackson kids credit their daddy with starting their careers, teaching them the skills that would later earn them millions, and keeping them off drugs. On the other hand, they all seem to agree that Joe was a ruthless taskmaster who regularly beat and berated them. In fact, Joe himself admitted that he liberally used a switch and a belt to keep his kids in line. He also used his time shepherding his kids on the road as a handy cover for marital infidelities, fathering a baby with a Jackson 5 groupie and having an affair with a Motown secretary. In 1991, LaToya Jackson claimed that Joe also sexually molested at least two of his daughters, but she subsequently recanted her accusation. And we all know what happened with younger brother Jacko.
For all his excesses, however, Jackson was a great manager, a reputation that he hopes to put to use as a producer. In 2005, he announced plans to start a hip-hop boot camp, where he would train prospective young stars and usher in a new wave of "clean" music. Apparently, there are a few people out there who wouldn't mind being like Mike.
Dina Lohan: Over the past year or two, Lindsay Lohan has slowly made the move from being a promising young star to being a cautionary tale. Back in the day, when she was starring in the remake of Freaky Friday and headlining Mean Girls, reviewers were hailing her as the second coming of Jodie Foster. Now, of course, she looks more like the second coming of Keith Richards.
Having watched one Lohan fall victim to the temptations and stresses of Hollywood, one would think that Lindsay's mom, Dina, would do everything in her power to protect her other children. Think again. Earlier this week, E! announced that it will be producing a new show, tentatively titled "Living Lohan." The program will focus on Dina's struggles to care for her family while managing daughter Ali's career. The skeletal Ali hopes to become a singer/actress, ambitions that her mother will feed during the show's planned trip to Las Vegas.
Obviously, Dina has learned a painful lesson from raising Lindsay: while it's all well and good to pimp out her rugrats, nothing takes the place of personal face time. This way, even if Ali turns out to be a dud, Dina might be able to land on her feet with a lucrative job working the red carpet, endorsing a weight-loss product, or doing some other semi-legit Hollywood fringe job.
Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. His daughter is incredibly cute, but will not be appearing on television anytime soon.