Red Hot Grandmas
updated 07/31/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 07/31/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT
When she wants to make a big impression, Suzanne Somers doesn't brag about her bombshell days as Chrissy Snow on Three's Company or her successful ThighMaster exercise device—or even her Suzanne Somers' Eat Great, Lose Weight diet book, which has been a bestseller since 1997. Instead she mentions that she has five grandchildren. "I tell people for effect," says Somers, 53. "They gasp inward. I love it! When they stop gasping, I'll know that I finally look like a grandmother." Meanwhile, she's having fun acting like one to Camelia, 4, and Violet, 2, by her son Bruce (from her first marriage to Bruce Somers); Daisy, 5, by stepdaughter Leslie; and Ziane, 6, and Becket, 9 months, by stepson Stephen. "My mother is so focused on her grandchildren," says Bruce, 34. "She'll say, 'Let's make ice cream,' or she'll let the girls play with her jewelry." Every other week, Somers has at least one grandchild sleep over at the Malibu home she shares with her second husband, producer Alan Hamel, 63. "They usually end up in bed with us, and they kick us all night long," she says. But Somers—"Zannie" to her grand-kids—is no worse for having her beauty sleep disrupted. "Suzanne is most sexy when she first wakes up and doesn't have her makeup on," Hamel says. "The key to that is a lot of sex!" says Somers. "You betcha!"
As a teen, she played drums for an ail-girl band called the Wildcats. In April, Tipper Gore remained untamed enough to play the drums at a gay rights concert in Washington, D.C. "Melissa Etheridge introduced me," says Gore, 51. "She said, 'We need a drummer: Tipper Gore!' " While 45,000 people chanted "Go, Tipper! Go, Tipper!" the nation's Second Lady—a mother of four, grandmother of one—launched into Sly and the Family Stone's "Dance to the Music." "That was my dream in life!" says Gore, who has recovered from a period of clinical depression that she suffered after her son Albert III was hit by a car and seriously injured in 1989. Even on the campaign trail for her husband of 30 years, Vice President Al Gore, 52, Tipper jammed last fall in Concord, N.H. "She was invited into somebody's house," recalls her friend Jodi Cobb. "The next thing I knew, she's playing the drums and the owner is playing the keyboard. Tipper was enjoying every minute of it." She also thoroughly enjoys her duties as "Nana" to Wyatt, the year-old son of Karenna Gore Schiff, 26, an adviser to her dad's campaign, and Andrew Schiff, 34, a physician. "My mom loves reading Wyatt books and feeding him," says Karenna. The toddler lives in Manhattan with his parents but is a frequent guest at the VP's mansion, where Tipper keeps a basket of picture books and stuffed animals for him on the first floor. Nearby, in the foyer—her red drum set.
Almost 20 years after ending her run as curvaceous Jennifer Marlowe on WKRP in Cincinnati, Loni Anderson, 54, is still a head-turner. But her attitude about being one has changed now that she has two granddaughters, McKenzie, 7, and Megan, 4, by her daughter Deidra, 35, a school superintendent, and son-in-law Charles, 37, a high school principal in Northern California. "There was a time when, if men whistled at me on the street, I'd go, 'Oh, please,' " Anderson says. "Now I go, 'Oh, thank you!' " The actress is used to getting double takes when she tells people that she has an adult daughter (by first husband Bruce Hasselberg, a businessman). "But I'm not even the oldest mom in my 11-year-old son's class," she says. Three years before adopting Quinton in 1988 with ex-husband Burt Reynolds, Anderson admits that she had an eye-lift. "I just looked tired," she explains. And since her son's arrival, "I've been more interested in my health. I can't eat two doughnuts for breakfast and malted milk balls all day long like I used to. I realized I'd lose energy." Anderson needs her strength to be "Grammy," since McKenzie and Megan "get her playing on the swing set and taking walks in the woods," Deidra says. When she's with her grandchildren, "Loni gets a sparkle in her eye and a special glow," says her live-in beau, L.A. lawyer Geoffrey Brown, 50. "I find that very sexy!"
It was role reversal for the Mamas and the Papas band member Michelle Phillips and daughter Chynna, whom the free-spirited Michelle raised as a single mom after her 1970 divorce from singing partner John Phillips. Michelle smoked pot in front of her daughter and stocked the girl's bedroom with condoms to promote safe sex. "I've had a lot of patience for her," Chynna told People in 1991, "which makes me feel sometimes I am the mother." Now 32, Chynna is raising her own daughter with actor husband William Baldwin, 37. Jameson Leon was born Feb. 27, making Phillips, 56, a grandmother—or, as she prefers to be called, "Grandperson." Phillips, who describes her relationship with Chynna as "very close, very good-natured," flew from her L.A home to her daughter's New York City hospital room after Chynna gave birth. "She was in awe," says Chynna. "I'm sure it's surreal to see your daughter holding her own daughter. My mom is glamorous and gorgeous, and I think this whole grandma thing has been a little shocking." For her part, Phillips says, "When people find out I'm a grandmother, they do seem to be masking surprise. I think I've been fortunate that I've always looked a little younger than I am." Her fiancé, plastic surgeon Steven Zax, 61, attests to that. "She has a 27-year-old figure and absolutely beautiful legs!" he says. And those legs know when it's time to start walking. "I like holding Jameson, playing with her and cuddling her—until she starts to scream bloody murder," says Phillips, with a laugh. "Then I turn her over to her mom!"
When Joan Collins goes out in public, she makes sure to look like a movie star. She never leaves home without makeup, she says in her 1999 beauty book, My Friends'Secrets, and she always wears "sunglasses at the slightest brightness." But the 67-year-old actress knows when to let her hair down. "What is life without pleasure?" she writes. One treat is granddaughter Miel, 21 months, by daughter Tara Newley-Adam, 36, the oldest of her three children by second husband Anthony Newley, who died last year. Miel calls Collins "Dodo," which was the actress's childhood nickname. Collins "found a name that didn't say Grandma," says Tara. "That's the name she's happy with." The actress, who has been dating art dealer Robin Hurlstone, 42, since 1987, may not answer to the G-word, but as her pal fashion designer Nolan Miller says, "She's a very glamorous woman. Everyone should have a grandma who looks like her!"
"When I first became in a grandmotherly way," says R&B singer Chaka Khan, 47, "I was not happy about it." Only 39 when her then-18-year-old daughter Milini announced that she was pregnant, "I thought, 'Oh, God,' " says Khan, "was thinking about having another kid. She beat me to it." But after granddaughter Raeven, now 8, was born, "everything changed," says the twice-divorced Khan, who also has a 21-year-old son, Damien. "I shifted into a whole other existence. I don't know what the world would be like without her." Khan, who divides her time between an Edwardian house in London and an L.A. apartment, frequently visits Milini and Raeven at their New Jersey home when she's not on tour. But when performing 150 shows a year, the seven-time Grammy winner puts the business of being Raeven's "Nanna" aside and takes to the stage in body-hugging dresses, fishnet stockings and cascading hair. Transforming herself into a soulful siren, Khan captivates fans like Shaft director John Singleton, who says, "She makes the hardest thugged-out cat swoon."
She never led a conventional life. Introduced to Elvis Presley in Germany when she was just 14, Priscilla Beaulieu moved into Graceland at age 16 and married the King at 21. Fifteen years after her divorce (and 11 after Elvis's death), she reinvented herself as a comic sexpot in The Naked Gun (and, later, in its two sequels)—and in 1994, thanks to daughter Lisa Marie, 32, briefly became Michael Jackson's mother-in-law. Now 55 and living in Bel Air with her longtime love, Marco Garibaldi, 45, Presley is raising their son Navarone, 13, and being grandma to Danielle, 11, and Benjamin, 7, Lisa Marie's children from her first husband, Danny Keough. Shared babysitting duties have been one perk of mother and daughter having kids so close in age. Busting the stereotype of a grandmother has been another. At 50, Priscilla played then-36-year-old Jack Wagner's lover on Melrose Place. Producer Aaron Spelling cast her because she was "very, very sensual," he says. "She blended so easily with Jack." There's good reason for that, says Presley's Naked Gun costar Leslie Nielsen. "Priscilla's beauty," he says, "is ageless."
She hangs out with Salma Hayek, wiggles into size-6 skirts and describes her two daughters—singer Wynonna, 36, and actress Ashley, 32—as her girlfriends. In remission since 1997 from Hepatitis C, country superstar Naomi Judd, 54, has energy to spare. In May, she rode the rides at Universal Studios in Orlando with Wynonna's daughter Grace, 4, and son Elijah, 5. "Being a grandma is playtime' Judd says. After raising her own children alone—on and off welfare—Judd, who has been married since 1989 to artists5 manager Larry Strickland, is enjoying the next generation. "I taught Elijah how to pee in the woods," says the six-time Grammy winner, who is known as "Mamaw" to her grandchildren. "And Grace helps me make macaroni and cheese." Judd is busy touring this summer with Wynonna (who is divorced from Arch Kelley III and lives on a property adjoining Naomi's farm outside Nashville)—and helping Ashley shop for a bridal gown for her upcoming wedding to race-car driver Dario Franchitti, 27. "My mother is there when we need her," says Wynonna. Adds Naomi: "I have a phone line that only my daughters know the number for. They'll call and tell me a silly joke. Or Elijah will call—and belch!"