When you're a kid, you don't worry what anyone thinks. You go around saying whatever pops into your head or picking your teeth, and it never occurs to you that someone might think you're gross, awkward, or ridiculous. That was me — picking my nose, snorting when I laughed, wearing white after Labor Day — I just was who I was.
That all changed one day at the tender age of twelve when I was getting ready for a family photo. We were having a formal family portrait taken with our dogs (doesn't everyone do that?), and I was getting frustrated with my bangs. I couldn't get them to do whatever a twelve-year-old in 1985 wanted bangs to do.
So I went into my parents' bathroom, all dressed up, with my hair done as best I could manage, and asked my mother, "Am I pretty?" She looked at me and said, "You will be when we get your nose done."
I was stunned. My nose, as noses tend to be, was right in the middle of my face, and I had just been told that it was ugly. So long, innocence.
To be fair, let the record show that my mother has absolutely no recollection of making this comment. I know this because in high school I took a class called Human Development, taught by Mrs. Wildflower. In it we had to keep a journal (her name was Mrs. Wildflower — what did you expect?), and when Mrs. Wildflower read my story about the nose incident, she called my parents. That afternoon I came home to find my mother crying. She said, "I never said that. I'd never say something like that." I'm sure she was telling the truth as she remembered it.
Nonetheless, I had my nose done the minute I turned sixteen. Or didn't you hear? But what I realized as a twelve-year-old was bigger than that I was destined for the plastic surgeon's chair. I realized that how other people saw me wasn't necessarily how I saw myself. Feeling pretty or smart or happy wasn't all there was to it. What I hadn't considered before was how I was perceived. And it wasn't the last criticism I'd hear about my nose.
Little did I know then how huge a role public perception would play in my life. My nose, and pretty much every other "prominent" body part and feature, would be prey to gossip and tabloids in just a few years. But the unwanted attention wasn't limited to my body.
According to the press, I was the rich, spoiled daughter of TV producer Aaron Spelling. They claimed I grew up in California's largest single-family residence. They said that my father had fake snow made on his Beverly Hills lawn for Christmas. They said I was the ultimate example of nepotism, a lousy actor who nonetheless scored a lead role in her father's hit TV show. They pigeonholed me as my character on Beverly Hills, 90210 : Donna Martin, the ditzy blonde virgin. They later talked about my wedding, my divorce, and my second wedding. They reported that I'd been disinherited and was feuding with my mother. They told about the birth of my son. What I learned from my ugly nose was true times a million: The details of my life were and would always be considered public property.
Some of what you may have read about me is accurate (my father did hire a snow machine for Christmas), some false (I didn't live in that enormous house until I was seventeen), and some exaggerated (I wasn't "disinherited"). But all the while the life I was living was much more than that. I lived in fear of my own doll collection. I let a bad boyfriend spend my 90210 salary. I planned a fairy-tale wedding to the wrong man. I begged casting directors to forget that Donna Martin ever existed. I was working hard and shopping like crazy. I was falling in love and getting hurt.
My life has been funnier and sadder and richer and poorer than any of the magazines know. Public opinion dies hard. To this day I still look in the mirror and hate my nose. Still, everyone else has been telling stories about me for decades now. It's about time I told a few of my own.
Chapter One: X Marks the Spot
Here's the part of my book where I'm supposed to say, Sure, my family had lots of money, but I had a normal childhood just like everyone else. Yeah, I could say that, but I'd be lying. My childhood was really weird. Not better or worse than anyone else's childhood, but definitely different.
Part of it was the whole holiday thing. My parents liked to make a spectacle, and the press ate it up. Like I said, it's true that my father got snow for our backyard one Christmas. But that's only half the story, if anyone's counting — he actually did it twice. The first time was when I was five. My father told our family friend Aunt Kay that he wanted me to have a white Christmas. She did some research, made a few calls, and at six a.m. on Christmas Day a truck from Barrington Ice in Brentwood pulled up to our house.
My dad, Aunt Kay, and a security guard dragged garbage bags holding eight tons of ice into the back where there was plastic covering a fifteen-foot-square patch of the yard. They spread the snow out over the plastic, Dad with a pipe hanging from his mouth. To complete the illusion, they added a Styrofoam snowman that my father had ordered up from the props department at his studio. It was eighty degrees out, but they dressed me up in a ski jacket and hat and brought me out into the yard, exclaiming, "Oh, look, it snowed! In all of Los Angeles it snowed right here in your backyard! Aren't you a lucky girl?"
I'm sure that little white patch was as amazing to a five-year-old as seeing a sandbox for the first time, but my parents didn't stop there. Five years later they were thinking bigger, and technology was too. This time, again with Aunt Kay's guidance, my dad hired a snow machine to blow out so much powder that it not only filled the tennis court, it created a sledding hill at one end of the court. I was ten and my brother, Randy, was five. They dressed us in full-on snowsuits (the outfits were for the photos, of course — it was a typical eighty-five degrees out). According to Aunt Kay, the sledding hill lasted three days and everyone came to see the snow in Beverly Hills: Robert Wagner, Mel Brooks … not that I noticed or cared. Randy and I spent Christmas running up the hill and zooming down in red plastic saucer sleds. Even our dogs got to slide down the hill. It was a pretty spectacular day for an L.A. girl.
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.
My parents were endlessly generous, and those parties were spectacular … on paper. The reality was a little more complicated. For every birthday and Christmas my big present was always a Madame Alexander doll. Madame Alexander dolls are classic, collectible dolls. Sort of like a rich man's Barbie, but — at least in my house — they were meant for display, not play. My mother loved the best of the best, for herself and for me. She was known for her Dynasty-style jewelry — quarter-size emeralds dangling off nickel-size diamonds. Most attention-grabbing was the forty-four-carat diamond ring she always wore. That's right — no typo. Forty-four carats. Walking around with that thing must have been as good as weight lifting. I always begged her not to wear the ring to school functions. But that was her everyday style — put together in blouses with Chanel belts, slim jeans, Chanel flats, perfectly manicured red nails, and a heavy load of jewelry worth millions of dollars.
As for the Madame Alexander dolls, every birthday, as soon as I unwrapped them, they were whisked away, tags still attached, to a special display case in my room that had a spotlight for each doll. No way in hell was I allowed to dress and undress them or (God forbid!) cut their hair. Every time I unwrapped a present, my heart sank a little bit when I saw that same powder blue box. I knew that all I had was a new, untouchable doll to add to my expensive collection. But my mother would be smiling with pleasure. She loved the dolls, had always coveted them as a girl, and wanted me to have something special. I didn't want to hurt her feelings, so I always thanked her and acted excited — she had no idea that all I wanted (at some point) was a Barbie Dream House.
So now imagine another birthday party. I was four or five. The great lawn was festooned with balloons and streamers. Colorful booths lined the perimeter of its downward slope. And in the center of it all was a mysterious white sheet with a big red X painted across it.
In the middle of the festivities a plane flew overhead. I was just starting to read, but our family friend Aunt Kay had spent all morning teaching me how to read Happy Birthday, Tori. Not coincidentally, the plane was pulling a banner saying just that. I read it and was thrilled and proud, jumping up and down and clapping my hands in excitement. Aunt Kay waved to the pilot, and he dropped a little parachute with a mystery gift attached to its strings. So dramatic! It was supposed to hit the X on the sheet, but instead, it landed in a tree. One of the carnival workers had to climb the tree to get it down. I later found out that Aunt Kay had to get special permits for the plane to fly that low over the house.
As soon as my present was liberated, I ran to the box and pulled away the padding until I got to the present. I tore open the wrapping paper, and there it was. The powder blue box. Another Madame Alexander doll. This one was a surprise, along with the plane, from Aunt Kay. (Some of my most valuable dolls were gifts from her collection.) My friends oohed and aahed, and I fake-squealed with joy. Then I handed the doll over to my mother so her dress wouldn't get dirty.
At some point I wondered if all these spectacular events were actually being done for me. Really, how many sixth-grade girls' biggest fantasy is for a college marching band to play at their graduation? Take Halloween. When I was five or six, my mother decided I would go as a bride. No polyester drugstore costume for me, no sir. Halloween found me wearing a custom bridal gown made by the noted fashion designer Nolan Miller, with padded boobs and false eyelashes. And, like many Halloweens, I wore high heels. It wasn't easy to find heels for a young child, so my mother went through the Yellow Pages until she found a "little person" store that sold grownup shoes in my size.
Then there was the Marie Antoinette costume my mother had Nolan Miller make for me when I was nine or ten. My five-year-old brother, Randy, was Louis XVI (a costume that actually suited him — even at that young age, he was already showing a taste for the finer things. We'd go to a restaurant and he'd tell the waiter, "For my appetizer I'll have the escargot.") My Marie Antoinette costume had golden brocade, a boned bodice, and gigantic hip bustles. It was topped off with an enormous powdered wig of ringlets so heavy that I got my first headache. I looked like one of those Madame Alexander dolls ofwhich my mother was so fond. Meanwhile, Randy got off easy in a ruffled red coat and a comparatively lightweight wig.
My parents drove their young royals to the flats of Beverly Hills, L.A.'s prime trick-or-treating turf. The houses were closer together than those in our neighborhood but still inhabited by rich people who didn't think twice about giving out full-size candy bars. Not that we got to keep any of the candy we collected anyway. My mother was paranoid about hidden razor blades and poisoned chocolate, so she always confiscated our booty and replaced it with bags she'd painstakingly assembled herself.
As I wobbled my way down the street trying to adjust to my new center of gravity, some kids threw raw eggs at me. I barely felt the first couple — they must have hit my bustle. But then, as if in slow motion, I saw two eggs coming toward us, one at me, one at my brother. Randy darted out of the line of fire, but I couldn't escape because of my enormous petticoats. An egg hit me in the ear. I wish I could at least claim it was some French immigrants avenging their eighteenth-century proletariat ancestors, but I think I was just caught in run-of-the-mill vampire/Jedi knight cross fire.
After the Marie Antoinette debacle, I'd had it. When Halloween rolled around again, I begged to be anything other than a historical figure. I wanted to be a plain old bunny. You know, the classic Halloween costume: plastic mask, grocery bag for candy, jacket hiding the one-piece paper outfit. My mother agreed to the bunny concept. But instead of drawn-on whiskers and bunny ears on a headband, I had a hand-sewn bunny costume, which had me in (fake) fur from head to toe with just my face showing. Who was I to complain? It was the best bunny costume a girl could ever want. Unfortunately, after four houses I had an allergy attack and had to go home.
For all the effort and fanfare my parents put into my childhood, I'm most sentimental about some of the lower-key indulgences, the ones that had nothing to do with how I was dressed or what kind of party our family could throw. We have a beach house in Malibu, and whenever we went there, my mother and I would walk out to the end of our beach to pick shells. (This is the same beach house where Dean Martin, my Uncle Bean, came to stay for a summer during his divorce. He was a huge golfer and traveled with a stockpile of golf balls that had his autograph printed on them. Every morning he'd set up a driving range on the private beach in front of our house and shoot golf balls into the ocean. People from all sides of the beach would be diving into the water to collect those golf balls as souvenirs, but Uncle Bean would just keep hitting the balls, completely oblivious.)
Anyway, whenever my mother and I went shelling, she always brought her purse, which wasn't suspicious since she smoked at the time. I'd hunt for shells and she'd urge me on, pointing me to spots I'd missed. It never took me long to find a few big, beautiful, polished seashells. I was always telling my friends that Malibu had the most amazing seashells.
My Malibu illusions were shattered when I was twelve. We took a family trip to Europe, but because my father refused to fly, we took the scenic route. It started with a three-day train trip to New York in a private train car attached to the back of a regular Amtrak train. We brought two nannies, my mother's assistant, and two security guards. From New York we took the Queen Elizabeth II to Europe. I loved the boat — it had a shopping mall, restaurants, and a movie theater — but what excited me most was that they had little arts-andcrafts activities scheduled for the kids. It was the closest to summer camp I ever got. (It was also the farthest from home I ever got. Every other family vacation was spent in Vegas, mostly because you could get there by car.) In England we made the tourist rounds: Trafalgar Square, Madame Tussaud's, and so on. Of course, when my mother saw the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London she commented, "I have a necklace bigger than that." It was true. She did. But I was talking about the breaking of the Malibu seashell mythology.
In England I was reading OK! or Hello! — one of those gossip magazines that were more respectable back in the eighties — and I came across an interview with my parents. In it my mother talks about how she used to buy exotic seashells and hide them for me on the beach in Malibu. Total shock to me. So much for the beautiful seashells of Malibu. You know your family doesn't exactly communicate well when you find out things like this in weekly magazines.
Part of why I was upset about the seashells (beyond normal almost-teenage angst) was that it had only been the year before that I realized there was no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny. All I knew was that every year on the night before Easter, the Easter Bunny would call me on the phone and tell me to be a good girl. And every Christmas Eve the phone would ring and Santa's workers would inform my father that Santa had landed and he was approaching our house. A few moments later there'd be a knock at the door and … there was Santa. My brother and I would rush to greet him in our coordinated Christmas outfits. I'd be wearing a red overalls dress with a white shirt and red kneesocks, and Randy would be wearing red overalls shorts with a white shirt and red kneesocks. We'd sit on Santa's lap, one on each knee, and tell him what we wanted for Christmas. Then he'd tell us to get to bed early, that tomorrow was a big day, and he'd ho-ho-ho out the door. It didn't always go so smoothly — like the time that Randy peed on Santa's knee — but for the most part that was what had gone on for years, and I saw no reason to believe the kids at school when they said Santa was bunk. I saw him with my own eyes.
I probably would have kept believing if my cousin Meredith hadn't come over for a sleepover when I was eleven. She was a year older than I was, and that fact alone made her cool. I was really psyched that she was spending the night. It was Easter, and I must have said something about the Easter Bunny's imminent arrival because she was like, "You're kidding that you think there's an Easter Bunny." I said, "Yes, there is." Then she said, "Don't tell me you believe in Santa, too!" The kids at school were eleven like I was — what did they know? Why should I believe them? But Meredith was twelve. She knew stuff. I had to concede. If it hadn't been for her, who knows how long the charade might have gone on. Oh, and after that I never saw Meredith again. I think her disclosures convinced my parents that she was a bad influence.
As a kid I felt deceived to discover my parents had been lying, but now I realize it was pretty lovely. My mother loved decorating for and with us — coloring Easter eggs, carving jack-o'-lanterns, setting up moving Santa scenes at Christmastime. The seashells, the holiday characters, the decorations, these were pure, sweet moments that weren't about putting on a show, they were about making us happy. These were the heartfelt private gifts from my parents for which I never knew to thank them.
Looking back, what I remember with the most affection is being four years old and having a dad who would sit in the Jacuzzi with me and make up stories. My father was a slight man with slouchy shoulders that made him appear even smaller. For all his power in Hollywood, most of the time he'd appear in a jogging suit with a pipe. He spoke in a soft voice with a hint of Texas twang and would come right up to you to shake your hand or give you a hug even if he didn't know you well. The overall effect was very Wizard of Oz man-behind-the curtain — this unimposing, gentle guy is the famous Aaron Spelling? People always felt comfortable with him right away.
He and I would sit in the hot tub, and he'd be Hansel and I'd be Gretel and my mom (upstairs with a migraine) would be the witch. (Yes, I now think this is weird, if not psychologically damaging, that my father let me cast my unwitting mother as the villain. At least I can say that on the day I have in mind I kept looking up at the window of my mother's bedroom, hoping to see the shade go up, which meant the witch felt better and might join us at the pool.) Or we'd play Chasen's.
Chasen's restaurant, which is now closed, was a legendary celebrity hangout on Beverly Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Frank Sinatra, Alfred Hitchcock, Marilyn Monroe, Jimmy Stewart, and most of the Hollywood elite were regulars in their day. When I was a kid, the family would go to Chasen's on Mother's Day or Father's Day for a fancy celebration. So my dad and I would recline in the Jacuzzi and say, "We've just arrived at Chasen's. What should we order?"
A few years later I asked my parents for an allowance because the other kids at school had allowances. My father wanted to give me five dollars, but I wanted only twenty-five cents because that's what the other kids got. Dad told me that in order to earn my allowance, I'd have to help out around the house, so he gave me a job and said he'd do it with me. Every weekend we'd go out into the yard to scoop up dog poo and rake leaves.
That's right, every weekend TV mogul Aaron Spelling, net worth equivalent to some small island nation, went out and scooped poo with his daughter. We hadn't yet moved to the Manor — that enormous house that the press can't get over — but we still had a large yard and four dogs. And of course we had gardeners who were supposed to be taking care of all that. But there was always plenty for us to pick up, and I suspect he told the gardeners to leave it be. Sort of like the seashells, I guess — but a lot grosser. No matter, I loved it. I remember spending a lot of time out on that lawn, hanging out with my dad, playing softball, or working in the vegetable garden with him and my mother. One year we grew a zucchini that was as big as a baby. There are photos of me cradling it. My father was very proud — no matter what it was, our family liked the biggest and the best.
For the most part my father thought that money was the way to show love. Where do you think all those lavish jewels my mother wore came from? Every holiday he bought her a bigger and brighter bauble as if to prove his love. When I asked Aunt Kay to help me remember some of the extravagances, she said, "Money was no object. That's how much he loved you. There was no limit to what he would do for you." When my mom and I were planning my wedding, my father said almost the same thing: "She loves you so much. Do you know how much she's paying for this wedding? That's how much she loves you." When it comes down to it, luxury wasn't the substance of my childhood. Love was, simply, the time my parents gave me. What I wish my father had understood before he died is that of all those large-scale memories he and my mother spent so much money and energy creating, picking up poo is what has stayed with me my whole life.