Thanks so much to Anna at FSB Media and Weinstein Books for sending us a copy of Melissa Frances’ Autobiography – Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter. Melissa played the ADORABLE adopted daughter of Ma and Pa Ingalls on the 70’s hit TV show Little House on the Prairie— which was one of my all time favourite shows growing up.
My cousin and I were obsessed with anything to do with Little House when we were younger. The summer between Grade 4 and 5 we devoured Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 8 book Little House series, we would constantly quote lines from the TV show, discuss the differences between the books and the show and do elaborate drawings of scenes and characters from both. We loved it so much so I was super excited to read all about Melissa’s experiences with Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert and fun tales of filming. Unfortunately Little House was a very small part of this book. Melissa (or Missy as she was called then) was only on the show at the end of the series so, if you are looking to find lots of Prairie dirt– don’t come here (apparently Allison Arngrim a.k.a. Nellie Olsen has some of the best tales in her book Confessions of a Prairie Bitch).
But that is not to say that this book was not an interesting read. Little House may have been Missy’s first big claim to fame but it was certainly not all she ever did. Even before her big break she was in countless commercials, made-for-TV movies and a bunch of TV shows. Her sister, Tiffany, was also in the biz– an extremely beautiful child who did mostly commercials and modelling. It was quite interesting to read that being pulled out of school to audition for roles was common place in the area of California where they lived. It was a normal thing for the Francis girls to spend hours driving to auditions with their stage mother from hell who was absolutely DESPERATE for at least one of her daughters to become famous.
This crazy-ass stage mom deservedly gets the full Mommy Dearest treatment and no doubt she was an awful person– there are countless tales of extreme mental abuse, confrontations galore and she basically robbed her children of every penny they ever made– but there are also indications that this woman was suffering from some kind of undiagnosed mental disorder (bipolar or schizophrenic). Missy certainly did not get off scott-free from her mother’s tirades but she certainly didn’t get it half as bad as her sister. Because Tiffany was less successful than Missy, both in acting and in life, their bully of a mother preyed on her more, crushing her already low self-esteem into dust which totally changed the path of her life. She did not do very well in school (Missy was a straight A student and eventually went to Harvard) and she got heavily involved in alcohol and drugs at a very early age.
Melissa is now a host on the Fox Business Network, happily married and a mother to 2 boys. She no longer has anything to do with her mother who seems to have dropped off the face of the earth. As much as this book was one giant hack on how terrible a person her mother was it also seems to be an homage to her sister. There seems to be a sense of underlying guilt for what eventually happened to Tiffany and this book provides an explanation as to why it happened. I also found it kind of funny that she thanks and stands by her dad with such love and affection when he just passively allowed the crazy-abusive behaviour and recklessly spending to take place. He did not stand up for his children and came off as a weakling who would, no doubt, go back to this woman should she ever resurface. This was not the most literate autobiography I have ever read but it was certainly interesting enough to keep you reading until the end. Best of luck Cassandra! 3 stars.
Mom had always been the queen of slamming down the phone. The sound of the handset crashing into the cradle a split second before a dial tone replaced her screaming voice. It was the perfect exclamation mark to whatever dramatic speech she’d just finished. Years ago, the proliferation of the cordless phone had robbed her of her of one of her dearest forms of expression.