My parents didn't get the concept of having me grow up like other kids. When I was about eight, my class took a field trip to my dad's studio. It was a fun day — my father showed us around and had some surprises planned, such as a stuntman breaking "glass" over some kid's head. But then, at the end of the day, the whole class stood for a photo. My father and I were in the back row. Just before the shutter clicked, he picked me up and held me high above the class. My face in the photo says it all. I was beyond embarrassed that my father was lifting me up like that. I just wanted to fit in. When I complained to him, he said, "But you couldn't be seen." He just didn't get it.
And then there were the birthday parties. The setting was always the backyard of our house on the corner of Mapleton and Sunset Boulevard in Holmby Hills, a fancy area on the west side of Los Angeles. It was a very large house — though not the gigantic manor where everyone thinks I grew up — maybe 10,000 square feet. It was designed by the noted L.A. architect Paul Williams, whose many public buildings include the famous Beverly Hills Hotel. A house he designed in Bel-Air was used for exterior scenes of the Colby mansion on my dad's television series The Colbys. Our house's back lawn was probably an acre surrounded by landscaping with a pool and tennis court, the regular features of houses in that neighborhood.
As I remember it, the theme for my birthdays was always Raggedy Ann, and there would be a doll centerpiece and rented tables and chairs with matching tablecloths, napkins, and cups. But every party had some new thrill. There were carnival moon bounces, which weren't common then as they are today, and fair booths lined up on both sides of the lawn offering games of ringtoss, balloon darts, duck floats, Whac-A-Mole, and the like. One birthday had a dancing poodle show conducted by a man in a circus ringleader's outfit. Another included a puppet show with life-size puppets. And one year we had a surprise visit from Smidget, who at the time was the smallest living horse. My godfather, Dean Martin, whom I called Uncle Bean, always brought me a money tree — a little tree with rolled up twenty-dollar bills instead of leaves. Just what a girl like me needed.
When my sixth-grade class graduated, we had a party at my house for which my father hired the USC marching band. Apparently, my dad first approached UCLA, but they said no. According to Aunt Kay, who organized a lot of these parties for my parents, my father told her, "Money is no object." Well, it must have been an object to the USC marching band because all one hundred plus members showed up to play "Pomp and Circumstance" and whatever else marching bands come up with to play at sixth-grade graduations. I have to admit I didn't even remember the marching band's presence until Aunt Kay told me about it.
What I remember are the things a twelve-year-old remembers: the rented dance floor and the DJ and hoping that the boy I liked would ask me to slow dance to "Crazy for You" by Madonna. I remember swimming in the pool. I remember feeling sad that we were all moving on to different schools. I remember being only mildly embarrassed that my mother was hula hooping on the dance floor, but I'm sure I was truly embarrassed by the marching band.