' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Why I'm not bullish on celebrity adoptions

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Why I'm not bullish on celebrity adoptions

Sandra Bullock and adopted son, Louis
Now that actress Sandra Bullock's new flick Gravity has hit the big screen, she's looking to adopt again, according to the Hollywood gossip machine. Three years ago, Bullock, then 46, joined many other entertainers who took another woman's baby as their own when she adopted Louis named after the jazz trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong because, like Armstrong, he was born in New Orleans. And frankly reading about the likelihood of another Hollywood adoption makes me a little ill.

The list of Hollywood adoptive parents goes back to the beginning of the silver screen and includes Bob Hope, Joan Crawford, Joan Fontaine, Constance Bennett, Al Jolson and Ruby Keller, Dick Powell and June Allison, Bette Davis, Cecil B. DeMille, Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman,
Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, Carroll O'Conner, Diane Keaton, Kirstie Alley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Calista Flockhart, Jamie Lee Curtis, Meg Ryan, Sharon Stone, Sheryl Crow, Angelina Jolie, Marie Osmond, Edie Falco, Rickie Martin, Charlize Theron, and many, many others.

"Children in the United States [are] the ultimate consumer item" wrote author and adoptive father Dan Savage in The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant. For Bullock and other actresses, motherhood would be out of reach if not for adoption. As a 2002 article in US Weekly noted:
Bullock is..."part of a generation of powerful baby-craving female stars...suddenly confronting the dilemmas that have bedeviled American women for decades. When is the right time to have children, and can work and motherhood coexist? In Hollywood, where actresses find their best roles and fattest paychecks in their twenties and thirties, the problem appears particularly acute....Hollywood--where youth and size-0 figures reign [present] a unique set of circumstances. 'The industry values very young, sexy, slim women,' says veteran Los Angeles lawyer Gloria Allred. 'Once an actress becomes pregnant, it's a problem.'" 
Ironically these women whose bodies bring them fame and fortunes are denied the very thing that their bodies were designed to do--have babies. They are joined by gay performers like Rosie O'Donnell and Paula Poundstone, and others who have adopted multiple children, such as Mia Farrow (9) and Josephine Baker (12).

Celebrities have an easier time acquiring children than the general population because they have more money. Rosie O'Donnell told People in 2001, "'anyone who has the money to go to a variety of agencies has a better chance of adopting quickly than someone who has a limited budget.'"

The article notes that as she is an outspoken champion of adoption, she speaks with unusual candor--but Rosie is nothing if not outspoken "To locate birth mothers, she says, 'I retained five lawyers, and paid them anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000 each.'" O'Donnell, now 50, has adopted five children, the latest this past January with her second wife, Michelle Rounds. And of course, having money allows stars to arrange adoptions in adoption-friendly states like Utah and Texas.

Further, their celebrity status may increase their chances of attracting mothers-to-be considering adoption. People: "The glamour does rub off and influence birth mothers." (I can relate to how a celebrity can affect you. Though I am hardly a follower of pop culture today, as young woman I was caught up in that mind set. In 1966, after I surrendered my daughter Rebecca in San Francisco, I had a fleeting thought that I should have gone to Los Angeles to have her so that she might have been adopted by a successful entertainer. How foolish we can be.)

"'People perceive celebrities as living exciting lives, having lots of money and being able to provide a child with an almost royal existence'" David Keene Leavitt, a Beverly Hills attorney told People.

Although I know of no studies comparing how the adopted children of celebrities compare with adopted children of non-celebrities, they certainly are confronted with more problems than those of other adoptees: the often messy personal lives of their adoptive parents--multiple marriages and relationships, drug use and alcoholism, long absences due to the nature of their work, constant presence of paparazzi. We see the outcomes in media stories: the suicides of the adopted sons of Marie Osmond and Carroll O'Connor. Memoirs by Joan Crawford's adopted daughter Christina and Ronald Reagan's and Jane Wyman's adopted son Michael about the the struggles of growing up in their adoptive families. Both were sent to boarding schools when they became too old for cute photo-op pictures. Barbara Walter's adopted daughter, Jackie Danforth, discussed her difficulties in growing up in an interview with Jane Pauly. "I never felt like I fit into her [Walters'] world," she said.

Mia Farrow's boyfriend Woody Allen, 56, had an affair with Farrow's 21-year-old adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. Allen and Soon-Yi  later married and have two adopted children themselves. Paula Poundstone was charged with committing a lewd act with a girl under 14 and later arrested for drunken driving while her three adopted and two foster children were in her car. She pleaded "no contest" to felony child endangerment and a misdemeanor charge of  inflicting injury on a child in exchange for the lewd acts charge being dropped. All the children were removed from her care; the adopted children were returned to her after she completed an alcohol rehabilitation program.

Simply by adopting, celebrities promote adoption as just another way to form a family. Media accounts
of celebrity adoptions are consistently positive. The dark side of adoption is never mentioned. Jamie Lee Curtis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and others use their fame to promote adoption as a good thing. Rosie O'Donnell went even further, creating an outreach program "Rosie Adoptions" in conjunction with New Jersey's Children of the World adoption agency, which she promoted at the end of each of her shows, providing a toll-free number for women considering adoption and prospective adoptive parents. Fortunately her show ended and the toll-free number is no longer in service. With advocacy like that, who is surprised that O'Donnell's brother, Dennis, a member of the New York Legislature, told Lorraine when she was lobbying a bill in Albany, that he would never vote for a bill to that would unsealing adoptee' original birth certificates.

Barbara Walters was also an opponent of unsealed records, and used her media outlets to promote that view in the late Seventies. Lorraine, as well as some of our other readers, may remember the afternoon talk show she had in which she discussed the subject with obvious objections, as a "new" adoptive mother, and in other comments she made to the press over the years. Lorraine and ALMA founder Florence Fisher were invited audience members that day. Both were able to speak, but the overall impact of the show presented openness in adoption as a troubling idea. Decades later, after Walters' daughter found her natural mother--the two are amazingly alike--Walters stopped speaking against open records. But she retained her bias against reunions. A few years ago, she interviewed singer Faith Hill who had recently been reunited with her first mother. Hill told Walters something to the effect that she needed to find her mother to find peace. Walters gave Hill a puzzled look and asked in an innocent voice, "why would finding your birth mother bring you peace.?" Hill answered "I had to know where all that music inside me came from."

Celebrity adoptive parents not only attract media attention, they influence the general public into imagining that adoption is a wonderful thing. Barbara Walters and other adoptive parents who are members of the ABC News team--Tim Johnson, Carole Simpson, Connie Chung and Maury Povich--have done several adoption promotion programs. Chung did a segment on adoption records clearly biased towards keeping the records closed.
Scott Simon of NPR's Weekend Edition wrote a book about adopting two Chinese girls: Baby We Were Meant for Each Other: In Praise of Adoption. He did a book tour sponsored by adoption practitioners. In an interview on NPR, Judy Woodruff, now co-anchor on PBS' New Hour, referred contemptuously to those who questioned certain adoption practices as "anti-adoption." It reminded me of  the racists I heard growing up in Chicago in the 1950's who called civil rights activists "n...lovers." When you are on the wrong side, and are blind to the changes that are coming, it appears that people--including new anchors who ought to know better--resort to name calling just like internet bullies.--jane
"Who Wants A Baby?" US Weekly 5/27/2002
"How Stars Find Their Babies" People Weekly 3/5/01
Rosie O'Donnell, wife Michele Rounds announce adoption of new daughter Dakota
Mia Farrow
Dateline: A Daughter's New Horizon
Paula Poundstone

Scott Simon: Adoption Pimp
Loretta Young's 'adopted' daughter wasn't adopted at all
Why did my mother keep me a secret?
Will NPR Report the Truth about International Adoption? It's legitimated kidnapping in many poor countries

Mommie Dearest  With the 20th Anniversary Edition of Mommie Dearest, Christina Crawford becomes one of the only authors in publishing history to re-issue a number one best-seller. "The new edition is published as I intended it. More than 100 pages - mostly that delve into my adult relationship with Mother - that were left out of the original version are back in," said Ms. Crawford. "I've also added eyewitness accounts from people who came forward with information after the book was initially published, a preface to reflect the whirlwind that has happened in my life since Mommie Dearest was first published, and an afterword on adoption reform." When it was released in 1978, Christina Crawford's Mommie Dearest made an indelible impression on America's cultural landscape: it enjoyed 42 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, spawned a cult film classic based on the book, and placed the issue of family violence in the national spotlight. Issues of family violence brought to light then have yet to be resolved today and the book still stands as a catalyst for change. Christina Crawford is an internationally recognized, best-selling author and advocate for adoption reform, the rights of women and children, and a pioneer in making family violence an issue of national concern.--Amazon  (I read it when it came out, thought it was a real page-turner.--lorraine)

Michael Reagan: On the Outside Looking in "Michael Reagan with brutal honesty, and a whole lot guts, tells the gut-wrenching but inspiring story of his much traveled life. From living a childhood that included such traumatic experiences as: being ridiculed for being adopted, being brutally molested by a camp counselor, having his parents divorce,and being constantly switched to different boarding schools, Michael grew up feeling very low about himself, and contemplated suicide on several occasions," --Amazon

Order either by clicking on title or book cover. Thank you. Mommie Dearest, made into a movie with Faye Dunaway, is an interesting and sometimes horrifying read.


  1. When I see celebrities with their adopted children, especially from other countries, I only wonder at what age will the adoptee want to know their natural family and parents. What will the adoptive celebrity do then especially if no traces of the natural biological family can be found. I read an article lately where Sandra Bullock was preparing for just such a time when her son may not love her as much as when he was younger. So she started taking many photos of them happily playing together so she could remind him later. It reminded me of emotional blackmail. When I found my fist son he told me he felt like a slave in his adoptive home. When I told my (ex) best friend how my first son felt, she laughed. My (ex) best friend has a niece who has 2 adopted boys. Somehow anyone who knows adopted children in their own families always sees adoption as the best for the children. I just want to say just wait until they get older.

  2. Interesting that David Keene-Leavitt is quoted in the article. He arranged my adoption over twenty years ago, but I was placed in Canada. I thought he was hit with some kind of lawsuit years ago, but apparently he’s still in business. I’ve been reading your site for some time, but this finally compelled me to comment.

    This is off-topic, but it’s been on my mind for awhile now and I’d appreciate any knowledge you have to offer. Do you know what happens to the citizenship of international adoptees? I’ve been considering applying for US citizenship but I’m not sure it would be granted to me. I have a copy of my OBC listing my place of birth in the US, but some of the documents I need to fill out require full information about my first family, which I do not have (my father is listed as unknown). I’m not in reunion yet, although I hope to be soon, when my life settles down a bit. But it would mean a lot to me to be acknowledged as a citizen in the country that I was born and in which my family lives. I thought perhaps you may have talked to someone in a similar situation to mine and have some insight.

  3. 'Walters...retained her bias against reunions.'

    It's got nothing to do with her.

  4. C.C.: That certainly is an interesting dilemma. I don't know anything about this but let me ask an attorney who is an adoptee and a C.I. to boot. Let's communicate via forumfirstmother@gmail.com.

    Send me an email there, okay?

  5. C.C.,

    Before you apply for citizenship, you might want to look into the tax laws of the U.S and talk to ex-pat Americans living in Canada.

    Be aware that as an American citizen you'll be required by law to file for U.S. taxes every year, even if you do not work or live in the U.S.

  6. In reading Burt Bachrach's newly published memoir, "Anyone Who Had a Heart," what leaped out at me was the anecdote about how and why he and his third wife, Carole Bayer Sager (then in her late thirties) adopted.

    When Bachrach and his second wife, Angie Dickinson, had their only child in 1966, Nikki was born three months premature and weighed just one pound, ten ounces. The chances of her living at all were very slim, and the heartbreaking problems that followed were innumerable despite the devoted love and care of her mother. Nikki took her own life in 2007.

    In the late '70s, writes Bachrach, "Carole [then in her late thirties] and I wanted to have a child together but we were having difficulties so we decided to adopt a baby. I was a little reluctant to do this at first because I wasn't sure how Nikki would react to it, but I also felt it was unfair for Carole and me not to be able to have a child together.

    "Our son was four days old when we got him, and although the birth mother was not supposed to name the child, she had decided to call him Nicky. Carole and I renamed him Cristopher Elton Bachrach. Elizabeth Taylor was his godmother, and his godfather was Elton John. I wasn't sure I could handle having a child but when Carole brought him into the house, he was just so perfect and seemed to have so much potential that I broke down and started crying."

    Within a few years, the couple divorced--so much for that "forever family" concept; Bachrach had fallen in love with a ski instructor in Aspen several decades his junior, whom he married and produced two children in the early 1990s.

    "All I can say is that Burt wasn't the greatest husband in the world but he was a great father," remarked Bayer Sager. "Until Cristopher was eighteen, there wasn't a single night when, wherever Burt was, he didn't call him to say goodnight."

    Called to say nighty-night, did he? What a prince of a "father"!

  7. CC,
    David Keene-Leavitt did adoptions for Hollywood people which is why he was quoted in the People article. I don't know if he is still around--the article is over ten years old.

    Your question about citizenship is interesting. The 14th Amendment makes anyone born born in the US, a citizen. I haven't researched this but I believe you can lose citizenship only by renouncing it or taking arms against the US.

    You might contact Alison Larkin who was born in the US and adopted by a family in the UK. I believe she lives in the US now. She wrote a memoirs "The English American."

  8. In the science-fiction novel "Podkayne of Mars" by Robert Heinlein, it was typical for humans on Mars to marry young, have as many children one after another, and then put them in stasis until you wanted to raise them:

    "Mother told the Board that five was all that she had time for and then had us as fast as possible, while fidgeting at a desk job in the Bureau of Planetary Engineering. Then she popped her babies into deep-freeze as fast as she had them, all but me, since I was the first. Clark spent two years at constant entropy, else he would be almost as old as I am-deep-freeze time doesn't count, of course, and his official birthday is the day he was decanted."

  9. "Decanted" reminds me of "Gotcha Day" that some adoptive parents like to celebrate on the day that they "got" their children. Amanda in her collection of essays from the Declassifed Adopte (reviewed in previous blog) specifically talks about why that is so offensive, and basically was simply a reminder that she was "other" and "adopted." As a quite young girl, she put a stop to it.

    Thinkers emerge early.

  10. I will nit go to see any movies that these people "star" in they use these kidss as props. Look at me I adopted.
    They make me ill buying babies because they can I hope the nannies these kids are left with will be able to provide some stability. What I have seen by these stars they soon go on to the next kid, lover or movie. Kids are left to deal alone with issues of adoption.

  11. II have a big list of celebrity adoptions; it's in the hundreds. Everybody from Wallace Berry to Frederick March. (and a little candal about Woodrow Wilson to boot!) I'm surprised that any babies were actually born to stars during the Golden Age of Hollywood. If I could figure out how to put this list up someplace, I would. (It's in a Google database right now) I didn't have Burt Bachrach and Carole Bayer Sager which I'll add tonight.

    1. Marley, another pair of celebrity adopters is/was Jack Benny and wife Mary Livingston (birth name: Sadie Marks). I'd love to see your list, as I probably can add to it. Lorraine can fwd it to me if you like. Thanks.

  12. I forgot. Interestingly, what seems to be the most popular blog Bastardette has ever written is about Ronnie Burns--the adopted son of George and Gracie. He's not that well known and I've had thousands of hits for it. He played himself on their show for awhile, made a few movies, and then went into real estate and did quite well. He died a few years ago. BTW, one I haven't written about and need to look more into was Ruth Gordon. She "adopted" a boy in Europe and brought him back home. Thing is, he was her son, but that wouldn't have gone over so good in Hollywood back then.

    1. Another Gordon-like "adoption" was that of Judy Lewis, whose mother Loretta Young retrieved her in toddlerhood from an orphanage. Young and Clark Gable conceived Judy while filming "The Call of the Wild" (1935), and young Judy (who died in 2011) did meet her father before he died in 1960.

      Loretta Young finally had her daughter's ears surgically "pinned" to lessen the resemblance to her father's; Lewis, whose surname came from her stepfather, learned the truth about her father from her new husband on their wedding night! Wikipedia has quite a lot of information on this tangled family story... but I didn't know about Ruth Gordon! Thanks for the tip!

  13. So many celebrity adoptions make it clear that big money talks louder than anything else in adoption. The unstable and self-centered lifestyles of many famous celeb adopters would never pass most home studies, but they do not have to worry because they have the power and bucks.

    Living as the child of a celebrity is not ideal and is an extra stress, even for biological children. Add to that the problems of being adopted and the extra problems of transracial adoption, and you are putting a lot on an innocent kid to satisfy the needs of wealthy and famous adults used to getting what they want. It is not a good scenario for an emotionally healthy childhood.

  14. Your celebrity adoption story is right on target.

    Mia Farrow, Oliver Stone, Dianne Wiest, Isabella Rossellini, Ilie Nastase, Diane Keaton and Mariska Hargitay all reportedly adopted through the now-defunct Adoption Services Associates (ASA) in San Antonio, TX. (It is said that the little girl Woody Allen was accused of molesting was also an ASA baby?)

    The secrets of ASA's adoptions are presumably safe now, though, because dead agencies tell no tales. One can only guess that the celebrities involved don't mind that one bit!?

  15. Celebrity adoptions show what a classist institution adoption really is. Although despite all the prestige and wealth, any first mother giving her child to a celebrity would have to realize that the child has an excellent possibility of also being a child of divorce.

    The one celebrity adoption that always bothered me was Loni Anderson and Burt Reynolds. I guess because it hit so close to home. It seemed no sooner had Loni (in her forties) and Burt (in his fifties) gotten married and adopted a child than they were getting divorced, with Loni accusing Burt of physical abuse. I felt so bad for their adopted son. He had to deal with being an adoptee and a child of divorce before he even entered the first grade, just like me. I never knew the boy's full story, but always wondered if he wouldn't have been better off staying with his original mother.

    Here is a link to an article by famous adoptee, Christina Crawford, of 'Mommie Dearest' fame. She adds her 2 cents about the latest rash of celebrity adoption. It almost seems like an adopted child is the latest must have accessory for single actresses.


  16. FMF has visited this topic before, all you culture fans:

    Loretta Young's 'adopted' daughter wasn't adopted at all

    Why did my mother keep me a secret?

    Loretta is rolling over in her grave. We've mentioned this story in other posts too.

  17. I need to clean up my list before I can send it out. I'm moving Bastardette over to WordPress in the next few days and I hope I can figure out a way to keep it there.

    I think there were more Loretta Young type "adoptions" than we know. I'm particularly suspicious of Miriam Hopkins adoption. I've also been curous about Gloria Swanson's case. She had a long term affair with Joe Kennedy and her adopted son's name was Joe. My my research, though, there seems to be no connection, but nobody mentions it either. I got the new book on Joe Kennedy in Hollywood but haven't read it yet. I don't belive there are an revelations in it about the adoption, but there should be plenty of dates to figure out.

    Also an interesting case is James McArthur. He was adopted by Helen Hayes and her husband playwright Charlie McArthur. There's been a long standing rumor that the baby was actually his son by Lillian Gish. I have no idea.

  18. And isn't there a Babe Ruth similar story? I would look with a flinty eye on all single stars on old Hollywood who "adopted."

    At least they kept their kids. But too bad Loretta couldn't deal with telling her daughter the truth. And Gable certainly didn't come out of the closet, but then...he wasn't supposed to.

  19. Ironically when Clark Gable visited his teenage daughter a few times--he knew Judy Lewis was his daughter, but didn't say so--that was the only experience he had with his own known child(ren): His son, John Clark Gable, was born to Gable's fifth wife three months after Gable died of a heart attack.



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