— -- When you're a kid, you don't worry what anyone thinks. Yougo around saying whatever pops into your head or pickingyour teeth, and it never occurs to you that someone might thinkyou're gross, awkward, or ridiculous. That was me — picking mynose, snorting when I laughed, wearing white after Labor Day — Ijust was who I was.
That all changed one day at the tender age oftwelve when I was getting ready for a family photo. We were havinga formal family portrait taken with our dogs (doesn't everyonedo that?), and I was getting frustrated with my bangs. I couldn't getthem 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 hairdone 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 nosedone."
I was stunned. My nose, as noses tend to be, was right in themiddle 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 absolutelyno recollection of making this comment. I know this because inhigh school I took a class called Human Development, taught byMrs. Wildflower. In it we had to keep a journal (her name was Mrs.Wildflower — what did you expect?), and when Mrs. Wildflower readmy story about the nose incident, she called my parents. That afternoonI came home to find my mother crying. She said, "I never saidthat. I'd never say something like that." I'm sure she was telling thetruth as she remembered it.
Nonetheless, I had my nose done the minute I turned sixteen. Ordidn't you hear? But what I realized as a twelve-year-old was biggerthan that I was destined for the plastic surgeon's chair. I realized thathow other people saw me wasn't necessarily how I saw myself. Feelingpretty or smart or happy wasn't all there was to it. What I hadn'tconsidered before was how I was perceived. And it wasn't the lastcriticism I'd hear about my nose.
Little did I know then how huge a role public perception wouldplay in my life. My nose, and pretty much every other "prominent"body part and feature, would be prey to gossip and tabloids in justa few years. But the unwanted attention wasn't limited to my body.
According to the press, I was the rich, spoiled daughter of TV producerAaron Spelling. They claimed I grew up in California's largestsingle-family residence. They said that my father had fake snowmade on his Beverly Hills lawn for Christmas. They said I was theultimate example of nepotism, a lousy actor who nonetheless scoreda lead role in her father's hit TV show. They pigeonholed me as mycharacter on Beverly Hills, 90210 : Donna Martin, the ditzy blondevirgin. They later talked about my wedding, my divorce, and mysecond wedding. They reported that I'd been disinherited and wasfeuding with my mother. They told about the birth of my son. WhatI learned from my ugly nose was true times a million: The details ofmy life were and would always be considered public property.
Some of what you may have read about me is accurate (my fatherdid hire a snow machine for Christmas), some false (I didn't live inthat enormous house until I was seventeen), and some exaggerated(I wasn't "disinherited"). But all the while the life I was living wasmuch more than that. I lived in fear of my own doll collection. I let abad boyfriend spend my 90210 salary. I planned a fairy-tale weddingto the wrong man. I begged casting directors to forget that DonnaMartin ever existed. I was working hard and shopping like crazy. Iwas 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 andhate my nose. Still, everyone else has been telling stories about mefor decades now. It's about time I told a few of my own.
Here's the part of my book where I'm supposed to say, Sure, myfamily had lots of money, but I had a normal childhood just likeeveryone else. Yeah, I could say that, but I'd be lying. My childhoodwas 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 makea spectacle, and the press ate it up. Like I said, it's true that myfather got snow for our backyard one Christmas. But that's onlyhalf the story, if anyone's counting — he actually did it twice. Thefirst time was when I was five. My father told our family friendAunt Kay that he wanted me to have a white Christmas. She didsome research, made a few calls, and at six a.m. on Christmas Daya truck from Barrington Ice in Brentwood pulled up to our house.
My dad, Aunt Kay, and a security guard dragged garbage bagsholding eight tons of ice into the back where there was plastic coveringa fifteen-foot-square patch of the yard. They spread the snowout over the plastic, Dad with a pipe hanging from his mouth. Tocomplete the illusion, they added a Styrofoam snowman that myfather had ordered up from the props department at his studio. Itwas eighty degrees out, but they dressed me up in a ski jacket andhat and brought me out into the yard, exclaiming, "Oh, look, itsnowed! 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 asseeing 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 snowmachine to blow out so much powder that it not only filled thetennis court, it created a sledding hill at one end of the court. Iwas ten and my brother, Randy, was five. They dressed us in full-onsnowsuits (the outfits were for the photos, of course — it was a typicaleighty-five degrees out). According to Aunt Kay, the sledding hilllasted three days and everyone came to see the snow in Beverly Hills:Robert Wagner, Mel Brooks … not that I noticed or cared. Randyand I spent Christmas running up the hill and zooming down in redplastic saucer sleds. Even our dogs got to slide down the hill. It wasa pretty spectacular day for an L.A. girl.
My parents didn't get the concept of having me grow up like otherkids. When I was about eight, my class took a field trip to my dad'sstudio. It was a fun day — my father showed us around and had somesurprises planned, such as a stuntman breaking "glass" over somekid's head. But then, at the end of the day, the whole class stood fora photo. My father and I were in the back row. Just before the shutterclicked, he picked me up and held me high above the class. My facein the photo says it all. I was beyond embarrassed that my father waslifting me up like that. I just wanted to fit in. When I complained tohim, he said, "But you couldn't be seen." He just didn't get it.
And then there were the birthday parties. The setting was alwaysthe backyard of our house on the corner of Mapleton and SunsetBoulevard in Holmby Hills, a fancy area on the west side of LosAngeles. It was a very large house — though not the gigantic manorwhere everyone thinks I grew up — maybe 10,000 square feet. It wasdesigned by the noted L.A. architect Paul Williams, whose manypublic buildings include the famous Beverly Hills Hotel. A house hedesigned in Bel-Air was used for exterior scenes of the Colby mansionon my dad's television series The Colbys. Our house's back lawnwas probably an acre surrounded by landscaping with a pool andtennis court, the regular features of houses in that neighborhood.
As I remember it, the theme for my birthdays was always RaggedyAnn, and there would be a doll centerpiece and rented tables andchairs with matching tablecloths, napkins, and cups. But every partyhad some new thrill. There were carnival moon bounces, whichweren't common then as they are today, and fair booths lined upon both sides of the lawn offering games of ringtoss, balloon darts,duck floats, Whac-A-Mole, and the like. One birthday had a dancingpoodle show conducted by a man in a circus ringleader's outfit.Another included a puppet show with life-size puppets. And one yearwe had a surprise visit from Smidget, who at the time was the smallestliving horse. My godfather, Dean Martin, whom I called UncleBean, always brought me a money tree — a little tree with rolled uptwenty-dollar bills instead of leaves. Just what a girl like me needed.
When my sixth-grade class graduated, we had a party at my housefor which my father hired the USC marching band. Apparently, mydad first approached UCLA, but they said no. According to AuntKay, who organized a lot of these parties for my parents, my fathertold her, "Money is no object." Well, it must have been an objectto the USC marching band because all one hundred plus membersshowed up to play "Pomp and Circumstance" and whatever elsemarching bands come up with to play at sixth-grade graduations. Ihave to admit I didn't even remember the marching band's presenceuntil Aunt Kay told me about it.
What I remember are the things a twelve-year-old remembers: the rented dance floor and the DJ andhoping that the boy I liked would ask me to slow dance to "Crazyfor You" by Madonna. I remember swimming in the pool. I rememberfeeling sad that we were all moving on to different schools. Iremember being only mildly embarrassed that my mother was hulahooping on the dance floor, but I'm sure I was truly embarrassed bythe marching band.
My parents were endlessly generous, and those parties were spectacular… on paper. The reality was a little more complicated. Forevery birthday and Christmas my big present was always a MadameAlexander doll. Madame Alexander dolls are classic, collectible dolls.Sort of like a rich man's Barbie, but — at least in my house — theywere meant for display, not play. My mother loved the best of thebest, for herself and for me. She was known for her Dynasty-stylejewelry — quarter-size emeralds dangling off nickel-size diamonds.Most attention-grabbing was the forty-four-carat diamond ringshe always wore. That's right — no typo. Forty-four carats. Walkingaround with that thing must have been as good as weight lifting. Ialways begged her not to wear the ring to school functions. But thatwas her everyday style — put together in blouses with Chanel belts,slim jeans, Chanel flats, perfectly manicured red nails, and a heavyload of jewelry worth millions of dollars.
As for the Madame Alexander dolls, every birthday, as soon as Iunwrapped them, they were whisked away, tags still attached, to aspecial display case in my room that had a spotlight for each doll. Noway 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 alittle bit when I saw that same powder blue box. I knew that all Ihad 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 somethingspecial. I didn't want to hurt her feelings, so I always thanked herand 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. Thegreat lawn was festooned with balloons and streamers. Colorfulbooths lined the perimeter of its downward slope. And in the centerof it all was a mysterious white sheet with a big red X paintedacross it.
In the middle of the festivities a plane flew overhead. I was juststarting to read, but our family friend Aunt Kay had spent all morningteaching me how to read Happy Birthday, Tori. Not coincidentally,the plane was pulling a banner saying just that. I read it and wasthrilled and proud, jumping up and down and clapping my handsin excitement. Aunt Kay waved to the pilot, and he dropped a littleparachute with a mystery gift attached to its strings. So dramatic!It was supposed to hit the X on the sheet, but instead, it landed ina tree. One of the carnival workers had to climb the tree to get itdown. I later found out that Aunt Kay had to get special permits forthe plane to fly that low over the house.
As soon as my present was liberated, I ran to the box and pulledaway the padding until I got to the present. I tore open the wrappingpaper, and there it was. The powder blue box. Another MadameAlexander doll. This one was a surprise, along with the plane, fromAunt 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'tget dirty.
At some point I wondered if all these spectacular events wereactually being done for me. Really, how many sixth-grade girls' biggestfantasy is for a college marching band to play at their graduation?Take Halloween. When I was five or six, my mother decided Iwould go as a bride. No polyester drugstore costume for me, no sir.Halloween found me wearing a custom bridal gown made by thenoted fashion designer Nolan Miller, with padded boobs and falseeyelashes. And, like many Halloweens, I wore high heels. It wasn'teasy to find heels for a young child, so my mother went through theYellow Pages until she found a "little person" store that sold grownupshoes in my size.
Then there was the Marie Antoinette costume my mother hadNolan Miller make for me when I was nine or ten. My five-year-oldbrother, Randy, was Louis XVI (a costume that actually suited him —even at that young age, he was already showing a taste for the finerthings. We'd go to a restaurant and he'd tell the waiter, "For my appetizerI'll have the escargot.") My Marie Antoinette costume had goldenbrocade, a boned bodice, and gigantic hip bustles. It was topped offwith an enormous powdered wig of ringlets so heavy that I got myfirst headache. I looked like one of those Madame Alexanderdolls ofwhich my mother was so fond. Meanwhile, Randy got off easy in aruffled 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 togetherthan those in our neighborhood but still inhabited by rich peoplewho didn't think twice about giving out full-size candy bars. Not thatwe got to keep any of the candy we collected anyway. My motherwas paranoid about hidden razor blades and poisoned chocolate,so she always confiscated our booty and replaced it with bags she'dpainstakingly assembled herself.
As I wobbled my way down the street trying to adjust to my newcenter of gravity, some kids threw raw eggs at me. I barely felt thefirst couple — they must have hit my bustle. But then, as if in slowmotion, I saw two eggs coming toward us, one at me, one at mybrother. Randy darted out of the line of fire, but I couldn't escapebecause of my enormous petticoats. An egg hit me in the ear. I wishI could at least claim it was some French immigrants avenging theireighteenth-century proletariat ancestors, but I think I was just caughtin run-of-the-mill vampire/Jedi knight cross fire.
After the Marie Antoinette debacle, I'd had it. When Halloweenrolled around again, I begged to be anything other than a historicalfigure. I wanted to be a plain old bunny. You know, the classicHalloween costume: plastic mask, grocery bag for candy, jackethiding the one-piece paper outfit. My mother agreed to the bunnyconcept. But instead of drawn-on whiskers and bunny ears on aheadband, I had a hand-sewn bunny costume, which had me in(fake) fur from head to toe with just my face showing. Who was Ito complain? It was the best bunny costume a girl could ever want.Unfortunately, after four houses I had an allergy attack and had togo home.
For all the effort and fanfare my parents put into my childhood,I'm most sentimental about some of the lower-key indulgences, theones that had nothing to do with how I was dressed or what kind ofparty our family could throw. We have a beach house in Malibu, andwhenever we went there, my mother and I would walk out to theend of our beach to pick shells. (This is the same beach house whereDean Martin, my Uncle Bean, came to stay for a summer during hisdivorce. He was a huge golfer and traveled with a stockpile of golfballs that had his autograph printed on them. Every morning he'dset up a driving range on the private beach in front of our house andshoot golf balls into the ocean. People from all sides of the beachwould be diving into the water to collect those golf balls as souvenirs,but Uncle Bean would just keep hitting the balls, completelyoblivious.)
Anyway, whenever my mother and I went shelling, shealways brought her purse, which wasn't suspicious since she smokedat the time. I'd hunt for shells and she'd urge me on, pointing me tospots I'd missed. It never took me long to find a few big, beautiful,polished seashells. I was always telling my friends that Malibu hadthe most amazing seashells.
My Malibu illusions were shattered when I was twelve. We took afamily trip to Europe, but because my father refused to fly, we tookthe scenic route. It started with a three-day train trip to New Yorkin a private train car attached to the back of a regular Amtrak train.We brought two nannies, my mother's assistant, and two securityguards. From New York we took the Queen Elizabeth II to Europe.I loved the boat — it had a shopping mall, restaurants, and a movietheater — but what excited me most was that they had little arts-andcraftsactivities scheduled for the kids. It was the closest to summercamp I ever got. (It was also the farthest from home I ever got. Everyother family vacation was spent in Vegas, mostly because you couldget there by car.) In England we made the tourist rounds: TrafalgarSquare, Madame Tussaud's, and so on. Of course, when my mothersaw the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London she commented, "Ihave 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 gossipmagazines that were more respectable back in the eighties — and Icame across an interview with my parents. In it my mother talksabout how she used to buy exotic seashells and hide them for me onthe beach in Malibu. Total shock to me. So much for the beautifulseashells of Malibu. You know your family doesn't exactly communicatewell when you find out things like this in weekly magazines.
Part of why I was upset about the seashells (beyond normal almost-teenageangst) was that it had only been the year before that I realizedthere was no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny. All I knew was thatevery year on the night before Easter, the Easter Bunny would callme on the phone and tell me to be a good girl. And every ChristmasEve the phone would ring and Santa's workers would inform myfather that Santa had landed and he was approaching our house. Afew moments later there'd be a knock at the door and … there wasSanta. My brother and I would rush to greet him in our coordinatedChristmas outfits. I'd be wearing a red overalls dress with a whiteshirt and red kneesocks, and Randy would be wearing red overallsshorts 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. Thenhe'd tell us to get to bed early, that tomorrow was a big day, and he'dho-ho-ho out the door. It didn't always go so smoothly — like thetime that Randy peed on Santa's knee — but for the most part thatwas what had gone on for years, and I saw no reason to believe thekids at school when they said Santa was bunk. I saw him with myown eyes.
I probably would have kept believing if my cousin Meredithhadn't come over for a sleepover when I was eleven. She was a yearolder than I was, and that fact alone made her cool. I was reallypsyched that she was spending the night. It was Easter, and I musthave said something about the Easter Bunny's imminent arrivalbecause she was like, "You're kidding that you think there's an EasterBunny." I said, "Yes, there is." Then she said, "Don't tell me youbelieve in Santa, too!" The kids at school were eleven like I was —what did they know? Why should I believe them? But Meredithwas twelve. She knew stuff. I had to concede. If it hadn't been forher, who knows how long the charade might have gone on. Oh,and after that I never saw Meredith again. I think her disclosuresconvinced my parents that she was a bad influence.
As a kid I felt deceived to discover my parents had been lying, butnow I realize it was pretty lovely. My mother loved decorating forand with us — coloring Easter eggs, carving jack-o'-lanterns, settingup moving Santa scenes at Christmastime. The seashells, the holidaycharacters, the decorations, these were pure, sweet moments thatweren't about putting on a show, they were about making us happy.These were the heartfelt private gifts from my parents for which Inever knew to thank them.
Looking back, what I remember with the most affection is beingfour years old and having a dad who would sit in the Jacuzzi withme and make up stories. My father was a slight man with slouchyshoulders that made him appear even smaller. For all his power inHollywood, most of the time he'd appear in a jogging suit with apipe. He spoke in a soft voice with a hint of Texas twang and wouldcome right up to you to shake your hand or give you a hug evenif he didn't know you well. The overall effect was very Wizard ofOz man-behind-the curtain — this unimposing, gentle guy is thefamous Aaron Spelling? People always felt comfortable with himright away.
He and I would sit in the hot tub, and he'd be Hansel and I'd beGretel and my mom (upstairs with a migraine) would be the witch.(Yes, I now think this is weird, if not psychologically damaging, thatmy father let me cast my unwitting mother as the villain. At least Ican say that on the day I have in mind I kept looking up at the windowof my mother's bedroom, hoping to see the shade go up, whichmeant the witch felt better and might join us at the pool.) Or we'dplay Chasen's.
Chasen's restaurant, which is now closed, was a legendary celebrityhangout on Beverly Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Frank Sinatra,Alfred Hitchcock, Marilyn Monroe, Jimmy Stewart, and most ofthe Hollywood elite were regulars in their day. When I was a kid, thefamily would go to Chasen's on Mother's Day or Father's Day for afancy celebration. So my dad and I would recline in the Jacuzzi andsay, "We've just arrived at Chasen's. What should we order?"
A few years later I asked my parents for an allowance because theother kids at school had allowances. My father wanted to give mefive dollars, but I wanted only twenty-five cents because that's whatthe 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 saidhe'd do it with me. Every weekend we'd go out into the yard to scoopup dog poo and rake leaves.
That's right, every weekend TV mogul Aaron Spelling, net worthequivalent to some small island nation, went out and scooped poowith his daughter. We hadn't yet moved to the Manor — that enormoushouse that the press can't get over — but we still had a largeyard and four dogs. And of course we had gardeners who were supposedto be taking care of all that. But there was always plenty forus to pick up, and I suspect he told the gardeners to leave it be. Sortof like the seashells, I guess — but a lot grosser. No matter, I lovedit. I remember spending a lot of time out on that lawn, hanging outwith my dad, playing softball, or working in the vegetable gardenwith him and my mother. One year we grew a zucchini that wasas big as a baby. There are photos of me cradling it. My father wasvery proud — no matter what it was, our family liked the biggest andthe best.
For the most part my father thought that money was the way toshow love. Where do you think all those lavish jewels my motherwore came from? Every holiday he bought her a bigger and brighterbauble as if to prove his love. When I asked Aunt Kay to help meremember some of the extravagances, she said, "Money was noobject. That's how much he loved you. There was no limit to whathe 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 howmuch she loves you." When it comes down to it, luxury wasn't thesubstance of my childhood. Love was, simply, the time my parentsgave me. What I wish my father had understood before he died isthat of all those large-scale memories he and my mother spent somuch money and energy creating, picking up poo is what has stayedwith me my whole life.