Believe It! Ripley's Has 13 Crew Members with Celebrated Parents
Mark Davis, Sammy Davis Jr.'s son, was too shy to be a performer. Dennis Crosby Jr., son of Dennis Sr. and grandson of Bing, was troubled and had moved from job to job. And Rory Flynn, the striking, 6-foot-tall daughter of Errol Flynn, fled to Europe and a career in modeling rather than try the movies. So who could bring these and 10 other offspring of the famous together in showbiz? Only another child of a star, Jack Haley Jr., executive producer of ABC's Ripley's Believe It or Not!, now beginning its third season. All told, 13 of Ripley's 125 or so staffers are the progeny of celebrated parents. Is it coincidence or just good old-fashioned Hollywood nepotism? "Every business does it," says Haley, whose dad played the Tin Woodman in The Wizard of Oz. "It's just that this business is more visible. It can be terribly abused. But on this show, there's really no favoritism."
Nonetheless, Ripley's is a Hollywood genealogical wonderland. Rory Flynn is the show's special photographer. Mark Davis is a production associate. Joe Luft, Judy Garland's son, is a production assistant. Crosby, now in a drug control program, works as a location scout. Mark Wolper, son of David (The Thorn Birds) Wolper, who produced the Olympics' glitzy opening and closing ceremonies, is a field producer. William Schifrin, son of movie composer Lalo Schifrin, is a text researcher. Paul Boorstin, son of renowned historian Daniel (The Discoverers) Boorstin, is a staff writer. Barry Bregman, son of musician and producer Buddy Bregman, is a production coordinator. Thomas Fuchs, a staff writer, is the son of Oscar-winning screenwriter Daniel (Love Me or Leave Me) Fuchs. And Holly Palance is often co-host with her host father Jack.
"My recognition of all that began in 1982 when Holly came to work for us," Haley says. "I think she was the first to notice a lot of second-generation people, so we started counting heads." Haley insists there were second-generation Hollywoodians on staff he didn't even know about. William Schifrin had been so sensitive about trading on his name that he started out as a lowly runner without ever meeting the boss. "I found out when I was having dinner with his father one night," says Haley, laughing. "Lalo said, 'He's doing great on your show.' I said, 'What?' " The younger Schifrin notes, "Your father's connections can get you only so far, and sooner or later you must prove yourself—usually sooner." Says Paul Boorstin, "We all want to be seen as individuals, not as members of a litter."
For some, landing on the show has been a godsend. "I never liked to sing and dance," says Mark Davis, whose parents (his mother' is May Britt) divorced when he was 8. "I was shy. My dad got me a small part in The Cannonball Run, but it was cut out. Besides, I was too tense. I'll stick to being behind the scenes." Young Dennis Crosby Jr. has stopped using drugs, although it was touch and go when he joined Haley's staff in 1983. "I canned him once," says Haley. "His counselor asked me to give him another chance and now he's shaped up terrifically."
Rory Flynn doesn't like to talk about what it was like to have a matinee idol as a father. "It may have been tougher on my half brother, who was constantly being compared," she says. Sean Flynn, a photographer, was lost in the Vietnam War in 1970 and is presumed dead. "I was six feet tall at the age when Annette Funicello was popular," Rory says, "so I knew I wouldn't make it in films. But I picked up using a camera from modeling. I started doing portraits [of stars' children] and that's how I got to know Jack." Did Rory do anything to escape comparison to her father? "I avoided being a swashbuckler," she grins.
Haley cites Rory as a good example of Hollywood kids' ordeals. "She went through hell," he says. "She did everything until one day she said, 'What am I doing?' She started off being a model, then went through the '60s as a flower child, a beatnik in Paris. Maybe it was Sean's death, or presumed death, that straightened her out."
Haley knows the problems of having a famous name as well as anyone. The ex-husband of Liza Minnelli and producer of three Academy Awards shows, he started out in small acting jobs on TV, but only to learn the business. "I liked it in front of the camera, but I never had the courage," he admits. "I put my toe in the water, but there was no way I was going to dive in." Since finding solid ground as a producer, he has turned out the movie That's Entertainment! and numerous TV programs. He says he has fired, as well as hired, the children of the famous. "I won't name them, but there have been a couple of people here who just didn't work out. In other words, these are the survivors you're talking about—survivors of an insane show. We all have a perspective on the business, so we share a certain camaraderie. The only others I've come across who are similar are military brats and politicians' kids.
"My father told me, 'Look, it's tough out there in the lights. Get behind the camera.' And he was right—unless you have enormous talent. Mark Davis doesn't think he can sing or dance like his father. And Rory Flynn is certainly not going to put on a sword. So you try to find your own way. But whatever the way is, in this business, with so much money on the line, you have to cut the mustard." So far, believe it or not, they have.
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