Shock of Recognition

updated 08/01/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/01/1994 01:00AM

MAYBE THE TALK SHOW TOPIC "Adopted Children Who Want to Find Their Birth Parents" does need a little extra pizzazz these days. But there's spark, and then there's dynamite—a Geraldo Rivera specialty. Moments before soap star Brent Jasmer, 29, who was adopted as an infant, was to be introduced at the Sept. 13,1993, taping of Geraldo to pour out his story of longing, Rivera conspiratorially stage-whispered to the audience, "He thinks he's just coming to make the plea. What he doesn't know is that we've already found his mom!"

Then Rivera asked Jasmer—the devilishly handsome Sly Donovan on CBS's The Bold and the Beautiful—how he would react when, and if, he met his birth mother.

"I have no idea," Jasmer replied. "It's gonna be, uh, intense. Very emotional."

Thereupon, from the wings emerged Elizabeth Fobes, 49, the woman who had given Jasmer up for adoption 28 years ago, followed by Farah Fobes, 23, the sister Jasmer never knew he had. Stunned, Jasmer hugged his instant family and looked helplessly at his adoptive parents, Virginia and Fred Jasmer, who were sitting in the front row. Rivera beamed. The audience applauded wildly. Stay tuned for the next segment, Rivera told his viewers: "Not all reunions turn out to have happy, fairy-tale endings."

In at least one respect, this one did not. Brent Jasmer is suing Rivera, his producers and distributor, Tribune Entertainment, and International Locaters, the Cape Coral, Fla., firm that tracked down Elizabeth Fobes, for unspecified damages on seven counts, including fraud, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Jasmer insists he repeatedly made it clear that he never wanted to meet his birth mother for the first time on-camera. "Geraldo screwed me," he says. "When he brought out Liz and Farah, I wanted to smack him. I felt, 'Help me, somebody please just get me out of here.' " He looks down and shakes his head. "They ruined the most important moment of my life."

Those who planned the surprise party, naturally, put out a different spin. "From day one, Brent knew we agreed to do his search for free in return for him doing his reunion on television," says Virgil Klunder, the founder of International Locaters. "We only acted with Brent's interest at heart." Lora Wiley, who produced the Geraldo segment and is also named in the suit, says, "Finding his mom is something Brent wanted."

That much Jasmer will concede. Sitting in the den of his two-story tract house in Duarte, Calif., 35 miles southeast of L.A., the actor admits that the desire to locate his biological mother was "gnawing at me from deep inside." Not that his childhood in Eugene, Ore., was unhappy—far from it. Virginia Jasmer, 54, a speech therapist, and Fred, 54, a retired manager for Oregon's state employment agency, believed they couldn't have children of their own and adopted Brent three months after his birth in 1965. (Three years later, Virginia gave birth to a second son, Bryce, now a computer programmer.) From the very start, says Brent, who always knew he was adopted, his parents "made me feel like I was really wanted and special."

Still, there were things that set him apart. Though the other Jasmers had little musical talent, Brent was tap dancing and singing by age 5 and playing drums by the time he was 9. He was also the only athlete in the family. Says Virginia: "It was a thrill to watch him grow, but he was so different from the rest of us."

After graduating from Thurston High School in 1983, Jasmer studied musical theater for two years at Lane Community College in Eugene before spending three years at Pasadena's Academy of Dramatic Arts. In 1989 he landed his first movie role, in Hot Times at Montclair High, and in 1991 he joined The Bold and the Beautiful.

As his professional life fell into place, Jasmer could no longer ignore his growing curiosity about his roots. In 1991 he asked his parents to make a formal request to the adoption agency for information about his birth parents, a plea that may legally be honored only if the birth parents have made a corresponding request. Weeks later he was notified that no such request had been made. "That just crushed me," he confesses. "I kept saying over and over, 'Why did she give me away?' "

The following year, his girlfriend, Adrianne Richter, 27, an oral surgeon's assistant, bore their daughter Alexa. Because Richter is also adopted, Jasmer says, they were totally in the dark about their child's genetic background. Suddenly, finding his birth parents became so imperative—"for our daughter's sake," he says. In January 1993, after articles about his quest had run, a professional search firm contacted Jasmer.

Both he and Virgil Klunder of International Locaters, which has helped such celebrities as Melissa Gilbert and Dana Plato find their birth parents, agree they made a deal that the search would be free if Jasmer did publicity for the company. Klunder maintains, in addition, that the on-air reunion was part of the bargain. Jasmer denies this.

In early September, Elizabeth Fobes was contacted unexpectedly by Klunder, who said that the son Fobes had long ago given up now wanted to meet her. "My knees buckled," says Fobes, who investigates civil-rights cases for a law firm in Portland, Ore., just 109 miles from Eugene. And when Klunder pitched the idea of a meeting on Geraldo, "I said, 'Absolutely not,' " she says. "No one in my life knew anything about the adoption." An actress when she was younger, Fobes had given birth to Brent at 20, and though she later married his father, screenwriter-actor Conrad Marshall (whom she divorced in 1973), she says she had learned to block out thoughts of her son. "It was too painful to think about," says Fobes, who never even held her infant before turning him over for adoption. "I thought he would hate me for giving him up."

Klunder kept pushing, and after the Geraldo staff sent Fobes a letter from Jasmer's publicist saying the actor might consider the idea of a TV reunion in the future, she relented. (According to Jasmer, the letter said, "at a future time but not on this segment.") It was not until the taping, Fobes says, that she realized that her son had no idea she had been found. "It was just horrible," Fobes says.

During the first commercial break following the unexpected reunion, Jasmer ran immediately to comfort Virginia and Fred, who say they flew to New York City for the show only because it seemed so important to their son. "My overwhelming feeling was for them," he says now. "They've done nothing but good all their lives." Virginia Jasmer says angrily, "It was not the way we wanted things or were told things would be." After the show, Brent says, "all Liz did was cry. My mom cried a lot too."

Why did Jasmer appear on Geraldo to begin with? He says he trusted Klunder, who is himself adopted, and the Locaters staff. "They said, 'We'd never let anything happen to you that you didn't want,' " Jasmer explains with a grimace. "These guys were my buddies." At a dinner the night before the reunion, says Virginia Jasmer, she fretted aloud in the presence of Klunder and Geraldo's Wiley, "Can somebody please reassure me...that we will not be terrified by a reunion tomorrow?" Both Brent and Virginia say the representative responded, "Of course not, we'd never do anything like that." Klunder and Wiley dispute this. Klunder adds that had he known of Virginia's anxiety, "I would have stopped things right there."

Jasmer filed his lawsuit in L.A. superior court last March. Rivera has issued a statement that reads in part, "This is the most extraordinary public whining from what must be the most ungrateful, unemployed soap actor in the country.... I just feel sorry for his mom."

Jasmer (who is, in fact, still employed on The Bold and the Beautiful) feels sorry for both his mothers. He and Virginia have had long, wrenching discussions about their new family, says Brent, "but I'm her child, and I always will be. I needed to tell her that." Liz Fobes, who has spent a few weekends with Brent, is reveling in her grown-up son. "He's such a bright, handsome, funny, tender person," she says happily. For his part, given Elizabeth's acting background and sister Farah's budding dramatic career (including two bit parts her brother landed for her on Bold), Brent is delighted to have discovered the source of his dramatic aptitude. He has also happily bonded with his birth father, who, says Brent, revealed that "a great-aunt on my father's side was related to the Gabor sisters. Talent is in our genes."

Still, Jasmer is quick to admit that his family tree has more branches than he is quite prepared to handle at the moment. For instance, there is the matter of Adrianne, who is studying to be a nurse in Eugene, and their daughter. "I'm not ready to settle down," says Jasmer, who says he travels from L.A. at least once a month to visit 2-year-old Alexa. His fondest wish? That all his loved ones—Adrianne and Alexa, Virginia, Fred and Bryce, Liz and Farah—can be "all together on the holidays as one big family." Geraldo will not be invited.

ELIZABETH GLEICK
JOHN GRIFFITHS in Los Angeles

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