Bethany Clarke/Getty Images News/Getty Images Bethany Clarke/Getty Images News/Getty Images
By Amy Phillips Penn
“One thing all stage mothers share is an overpowering
ambition for their daughters.”
— Lawrence Welk


While Gypsy Rose Lee’s infamous stage mother ‘Mama Rose’ was busy singing about egg rolls in “Gypsy,” the real life Rose Louise Hovick was accused of murder, while “protecting” her daughter, and was allegedly banned from backstage visits.

Teri Shields (nee Theresia Anna Lilian Maria Schmon) gave birth to a legendary beauty, Brooke Shields, and was widely critiqued for over-promoting and under-protecting Brooke from childhood on.

Does the name Ethel Gumm sound sexy?  She stage mothered a childhood star named Judy Garland.

From Gumm to Garland was more of a mother-load of a stretch than from Kansas and back, as Judy Garland weathered mythical tornados, Hollywood, multiple marriages, and a tragic ending.

Although the names Hovick, Schmon and Gumm may be unfamiliar, their presence was not. The cliché’d stage mother has been and is still portrayed as overly ambitious, downright pushy, and often living, breathing, and self- promoting via their famous offspring.

The world of rising childhood stars is a stratosphere unto itself…a universe of stage mothers, script mothers (those who utilize their children as fodder for marketable scripts) and yes, even stage fathers; and not all are even on the stage.

Ambition wears multiple masks and a tiara or two. In society, it is often swathed in Chanel, diamonds, and dwindling trust funds.

Society’s mothers know that “it’s as easy to love a rich man as a poor man,” and we all know which is usually the more coveted role: Jolie Gabor moved her three glamorous daughters to Hollywood, where they became famous for their roles in films and ‘serial marriages,’ a.k.a. the Hollywood sequel. Daughters, Magda, Eva, and Zsa Zsa boasted close to twenty marriages between them, while two of them married the same man (at different times, please note).

I once invited a male friend to be my date at a cocktail party in East Hampton. It was a cozy parent and children get together with a cast in the hundreds. I introduced my date to our hostess. Her eyes danced and doubled, as she pulled her daughter away from her entourage and introduced her to my date.

In less than a Hampton’s minute, they had all but adopted this ‘heir-to-be-of-untouched-beach-front-property’ as their own.

Welcome in stage grandmothers, stage godmothers, and those we called ‘Auntie’ who aren’t related. You can’t argue with genes. My mother, sister, and I were walking down Madison Avenue, when a stranger approached us and asked if we all had the same genes. I thought that she meant “jeans” and looked down to see what I was wearing. Family is its own stage mother, intentionally or not.

“Through a lemon you might meet a peach,” preached my maternal grandmother.

My paternal grandmother concurred with the Gabor route.“Why buy the cow when the milk is free,” mooed my mother’s very married generation.

These jewels of ancestral fame ooze into our DNA, invited or not.

I often pooh-poohed the idea of the stage mother drive resting in my own being, until I had a polo pony who hated polo. I named him Max after my great-great-uncle, Max Phillips. Max’s show name was “Perfect Guy,” and that he was. Max hated polo, and galloped on to ace hunter championships in the Wellington and Santa Barbara show ring. He became the horse that he always bucked, but was not reared to be, and never was hit by another polo ball or mallet again.

“That’s my horse!” I yelled loudly, as the announcer pinned his ribbons on.

It was the first time that I was called a ‘soccer mom, so not a city girl’s label.

Ahh, motherhood: the subject of everything from the Bible on down to Mommy Dearest. Remember these words fondly:


“Mothers are fonder than fathers of their children because
they are more certain they are their own.”
— Aristotle

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