Dad on Arrival
July 21, 1987, was the day I became a father. My wife, Kathy, had gotten pregnant nine months earlier on or around my thirtieth birthday party with things we had around the house.
My wife had been having contractions for over a month, and the doctor decided to induce the labor during the hottest, most humid stretch of the year, on the kind of day when Angelina Jolie would try to adopt a kid from Antarctica. For my wife's induced delivery we showed up very early at the east door of the George Washington University Hospital, just a few blocks from the White House. This was the same trauma center where six years earlier they rushed President Reagan, when the world discovered that John Hinckley liked Jodie Foster in a much stranger way than Joanie ever loved Chachi.
We have a very romantic story. I met my wife for the first time when she was five. We weren't neighbors or schoolmates or even vague acquaintances. I saw her on television, where she starred as the most incredible girl in the world, Mattel's talking doll, Chatty Cathy. Pull a string in her neck and without moving her lips she'd start repeating one of numerous recorded sentences, bossing around whoever was unlucky enough to be holding her.
"Please change my dress."
"May I have some tea, Mummy?"
"Will you play with me?"
A limited conversationalist, she'd incessantly repeat the same handful of demands over and over again. No wonder there was no childhood obesity back then—little girls were jumping through hoops for Chatty Cathy, one demanding hunk of rubberized plastic. At age five, I watched the commercials on our black-and-white Zenith in Kansas, not knowing that twenty-three years later I would not only meet Chatty Cathy but also marry her.
My future wife wound up a child television actress thanks to the confluence of geography, a persistent stage mother, and general cuteness. Their family lived in the San Fernando Valley town of Encino, which was crawling with A-listers. In my wife's cozy neighborhood, Judy Garland, Tim Conway, and Walt Disney all had houses, as did the biggest movie star of all time. One day on the grocery checkout line my future wife was making a typical five-year-old's demand for her mother to buy her a Hershey bar.
"Please, I want it!" she begged.
Standing her ground, her mother, Lillian, said no. The kid kept begging until some impatient man in line behind cleared his throat. The mother didn't need advice on how to deal with a screaming kid, so she turned to give the stink-eye to the man. The buttinsky was John Wayne.
"Give the little lady the candy, ma'am," the Duke directed.
The fear of insulting Hollywood royalty momentarily immobilized her, so he drove home his point by mouthing the word "Now." A candy purchase was immediately made.
Directly across the street from my wife's house lived the biggest TV stars in the world, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Monday through Friday they were shooting at rustlers and bad guys, but by Sunday morning they were always cleaned up for services at Saint Nicholas'Episcopal Church. A sign in Roy Rogers's front yard said BIENVENIDO, which translates "welcome," which they did every Tuesday afternoon, opening the front door to the neighborhood kids.
"Who wants to see Trigger?" Dale'd ask as the starstruck children filed by the most famous horse in the world. Trigger didn't mind the attention, but why would he? He was dead. When Trigger went to that big haystack in the sky, Roy and Dale had him stuffed and then placed him in their foyer. Maybe it became a neighborhood tradition, because when their neighbor Walt Disney passed away somebody apparently liked the idea of keeping Walt around, but they didn't stuff him and put him in the hall, they just cut off his head and put it in the deep freeze.
"Okay, kids, when I open the refrigerator door, look on the left, and you'll see the guy who invented Epcot."
My wife's father, Joe, was a salesman for a New Yorkbased lingerie company. When I eventually met him I admitted I was unfamiliar with that line of work, but he cleared it up by explaining, "I work in ladies' underpants."
My wife's mother, a onetime New York model, started reading the show business trades, finding open auditions, and putting the kids to work. Barely knee-high to a William Morris agent, they did commercials for cars, fast-food joints, hair color, you name it; when they smiled and held up the product, America bought it.
"You deserve a break today!" My future wife lip-synched Barry Manilow's jingle for McDonald's while looking really cute in a paper hat.
"Here, O. J." was her line when she tossed the Hertz keys to O. J. Simpson as he dashed through the concourse of the Palm Springs airport. Just think, had my future wife not given him the rental car keys, he might never have gotten back to Los Angeles, and American history could have been much different. Slow-speed chases are almost impossible unless the car is turned on.
Eventually she wound up at ESPN, as one of that network's first on-air women, and later at NBC in Washington, where I spotted her in the commissary and made it my life's mission to get a date with her. After a series of awkward encounters I eventually wore her down, for a mercy date. As I left her apartment that night I told her we'd be married. She presumed I was mentally unbalanced, but real life never lets you down—we were married five months later, and fourteen months after that, she was begging to have a word with the nurse who controlled her pain medicine as the real-life Chatty Cathy was about to birth a baby. Somebody please alert Mary Hart.