My O’Neal family connection, and remembering Farrah Fawcett as a mother

I’ve always sort of followed the O’Neal family (as in Ryan, Tatum, et al) with a little bit of particular interest because of my own family history. When I was a little girl, living in the Los Angeles area, my grandmother was at that time the west coast editor of Photoplay Magazine. Before People magazine, there was Photoplay. It was the premier entertainment tabloid until the early 80s. And because of her work, my grandmother knew and became friends with a lot of very interesting people. In fact, just the other night I was perusing her handwritten address book from the mid-70s, and saw page after page of home numbers and addresses for everyone from John Wayne to Aaron Spelling to Priscilla Presley to David Cassidy to Sonny & Cher.

Here are some family pix that include shots of my grandmother on the job as an entertainment reporter, and hanging out with various actors over the years.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Among the famous folks with whom my grandmother became exceptionally close was Joanna Moore, Ryan O’Neal’s first wife, and quite an accomplished actress in her own right. She was also the mother of Tatum and Griffin O’Neal. My grandparents became surrogate parents to Joanna, seeing her through her struggles with drug addiction and mental illness. She lived with them for quite some time during the period Ryan O’Neal left her for Leigh Taylor-Young, and my grandmother did what she could to try to help Joanna maintain a relationship with her young children after custody was awarded to Ryan O’Neal. When Joanna did get to see Tatum and Griffin during that period, it was often at my grandmother’s house, and I remember playing with both of them, as I was just a little bit younger than they were. I think my cousin Paige played with them even more often, as she was exactly the same age as Tatum.

When Tatum and Griffin had to give up their dog due to all the family turmoil, she became my family’s dog for the next 13 years. My grandmother also remained on friendly terms with Ryan O’Neal for some years, until she retired to Tennessee in the late 70s; she even attended Leigh Taylor-Young’s baby shower when she was pregnant with her son, Patrick O’Neal. She also knew Lee Majors and his then-wife Farrah Fawcett-Majors pretty well.

I picked up Tatum O’Neal’s autobiography a few years and was saddened to read that she believes her mother abandoned her. I know for a fact that her mother fought like hell to retain visitation and custody rights to her children. But she had a drug problem, and she was being divorced by a super rich, wildly successful movie star who used his power and wealth to make sure that Joanna Moore was effectively cut out of her kids’ lives forever. And then he made sure that his children grew up believing that their mother hadn’t wanted them. To her credit, Tatum apparently reconnected with her mother late in Joanna Moore’s life. My grandmother, who stayed in touch with Joanna until the very end, was so happy to see that happen.

Anyway, with this background, I was sad to see that Farrah Fawcett died yesterday. She was so young – only 62. And as a mother myself, I couldn’t help but think about how hard it must have been to let go and leave behind her own son, Redmond O’Neal, who is very ill with drug addiction. And that’s what I am blogging about over at Babble at the moment.

Father’s Day 2009

Tomorrow will be a very sad occasion; it will be the first Father’s Day for my brother and sister and me without our father, who died very suddenly on September 6 of last year. He was only 64 years old.   I’ve tried not to think about it, but when I stopped in the Hallmark aisle tonight to pick a card up for Jon, I began weeping uncontrollably.  I miss him so much.  I would give anything to have one more Father’s Day with my daddy, so I could tell him how much he meant to me, and how much I admired and adored him.


My father suffered from serious mental illness. He bravely fought it, keeping it mostly at bay for all of his life. In the last five years or so before he died, it became too powerful for a man even as powerful as my father, and it took over his life, leading to behaviors that caused all of us in our family – but especially him – great pain.  The extent of his suffering is really hard for me to contemplate. It was really, really bad in his final years.

Although the autopsy said it was a pulmonary embolism that killed him,  we all know that it was actually the bipolar disorder.

In honor of Father’s Day, I thought I’d share the eulogy my little brother wrote & delivered at my father’s memorial service.

Eulogy for Hank Allison

September 11, 2008

My Dad’s death was sudden and unexpected. Many of us here are in shock. We are all in mourning. His life had not been perfect lately and there is a lot I could talk about given all of that. But I don’t want to. Instead, I want to tell you about an idealist in a flawed world. Most of all, I want to tell you about a great father.

Hank Allison was a real man living in a world where there were not many real men left. My Dad was a writer, a farmer, a scholar, a lawyer and a 21st century hands on father. He could castrate a bull, change a diaper, write a legal brief, break a horse, interview a politician, grow organic squash, swap out an alternator, broadcast live television, teach his children algebra, navigate by the stars, patch a roof and cut down huge trees with a woefully inadequate chainsaw.

He liked to drive fast and listen to loud music. He loved the excitement of politics. He loved to eat. He loved good parties – sometimes too much. He loved guns and knives and camping and fishing and hunting.

And he loved his children. My dad was my role model. I wanted to be like him because he could do anything and he knew everything. I wanted to be like him because life was always exciting to him and he was never cynical.

My dad was a loving, hands-on father. He tucked us in. He helped me stretch out my legs when I pulled muscles in soccer games. He thawed me out when I fell through the ice in the neighbor’s pond. He would hold us and comfort us when we were sad. When we were sick he would let us sleep in bed with him.

Once when I was 12, he took some of my friends and me camping at Savage Gulf. It was really cold and half way through the night I couldn’t take it anymore. He pulled me into his sleeping bag and held me and kept me warm until morning. He didn’t sleep but I did. He even woke me up and got me back into my bag before my friends woke up to make fun of me.

My father was always teaching and preaching and explaining. He repeated the same themes over and over to my sisters and me. All of our lives it seemed like he was preparing us for the day when he would no longer be there to guide us.

Among these themes – these lessons – the one that he emphasized the most was: that it is easier to work than to worry; that it is more liberating to take a hand in the game than to sit down on your hands, and that nothing was ever accomplished or changed with whining and complaining.

Essentially, he taught us that if you want something to happen, you have to make it happen. And if you don’t care enough about something to take action, then it probably is not worth complaining or worrying about. These lessons were a great gift – gifts that I am trying to pass on to my children.

But the greatest gift my father ever gave me was the gift of idealism and a hope for something better. My father was a complex man who spent his whole life trying to make sense out of a senseless world. He tried his hand at being a military man, a company man, an anti-materialist, hippie farmer, a family man, a shameless materialist consumer and an artist.

Along the way, he touched a lot of people who loved and still love him. But he was never able to realize that his search for meaning sometimes obscured just how good he already had it. I guess none of us really appreciate how good we have it.

My father suffered from depression. Some people say that depression is anger directed inward. I think that in my father’s case, it was disappointment directed inward – disappointment at not being able to find or create the just, sensitive, loving world that he was so sure was out there somewhere.

But he never stopped trying. And that made life for his children exciting and meaningful. For that, I am forever thankful.

My Dad died too young. I feel cheated. I can’t pick his brain anymore and my children will never have a chance to truly know him.

But I also feel honored – honored to have been raised by someone who actually tried to be human. Someone who was not content just going through the motions. Someone who actually felt like there were answers to be had if only you looked harder.

And who knows – maybe there are answers. I suppose one day we will all find out.

My dad found out last Saturday. I am sure he was thrilled to finally grasp the object of his lifelong search.

I only wish he were here to tell me what he learned.

Goodbye Dad.  I love you.

My father would be so pleased that his eldest granddaughter, J, is spending this week in California with his family, including his 95 year old mother, for whom J was named. He was so proud of J.  I still can’t believe he won’t see her – or her siblings and cousins – grow up. He only met C once before he died, and I will always treasure the single photo I have of the two of them together.

To all of you who are lucky enough to still have a father in your life, be sure to enjoy every moment. Don’t take any of it for granted, and if there are “issues” that separate you, make them right if you possibly can. That would be the best Father’s Day gift you could give your Dad, and yourself.