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 primetime 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, as fame and a mother’s ambition pushed her older sister deeper into the shadows.
Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter is a fascinating account of life as a child star in the 1980’s, and also a startling 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, and the value of pushing your children: how hard should you push a child to succeed, and at what point does your help turn into harm?
The 411 by Maria:
Look at that face, doesn't it call for you to read this book? I remember that face on one of my favorite childhood shows Little House on the Prairie when they were trying to bring on younger stars now that the Ingalls girls were older. I wonder if Michael Landon had a Melissa thing considering three stars from Little House had Melissa as a first name. This makes me want to Google and see if any of his daughters were named Melissa. Nope! Not a single Melissa among his 8 kids although he did have a Cindy thing as two of his four wives was named Cindy. Wait, hold on...where was I? Oh yeah...Diary of A Stage Mother's Daughter is exactly what I had expected and more.
Melissa Francis takes what I expect the worst parts of any stage mother to be an chops it up with a very honest, account of her tough upbringing and waiting for the she could run from the roost to live her life as she wanted.
It is amazing that with the Jackie Coogan law, childhood actors are still struggling at their hands of their parents. In this case it is a money thirsty, domineering mother and a keep the blinders on father. Melissa was working on a show that has been in syndication for years yet had to work part time to afford things.
I kept thinking two things as I read this...how smart and calculated she was even a teenager to really see her mother for who she truly was and know that she had to take steps to take care of her own future such as sneaking some of those royalty checks that wouldn't be missed and putting them away for college and this is not to judge Melissa's father because it is obvious that they now have a very good relationship but, how HE allowed things that he could have controlled in his children's favor.
If you are a Little House fan looking for the inside scoop, there is a tiny bit of that, I wish there was more but was thankful for what Melissa did include. Reading about Michael Landon and her on screen brother Jason Bateman, made me very happy but this was not a book about Little House On the Prairie. It is about a young woman who escaped the pressure her mother put on her to become a TV Journalist, news reporter, anchor, mother and now writer.
If anything else, I hope writing it all down gave her the catharsis she so deserves.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy for my honest opinion.