The 8 Most Intense Stage Mothers In History

Poor Mischa Barton — she's suing her own mother, Nuala, calling her a "financial vampire" and accusing her of swindling Mischa out of earnings for years. Behind many ambitious stars are equally ambitious mothers, playing the part of Mommie Dearest to the hilt for their own gain. The story of the intense stage mom is nothing new.

Lindsay Lohan's equally messy mom Dina and Kris Jenner, the "momager" par excellence, are thoroughly modern incarnations of a very old phenomenon. Mothers, often dealing with thwarted ambitions of their own, have pushed their children into the limelight for fame and gain for centuries (if they don't just wrestle it for themselves — hi, Empress Cixi of China). But Hollywood has been a particular breeding-ground for them, and some of history's most glittering actors have had very determined mothers pinching their arms behind the scenes.

You think your mother-offspring relationship is twisted? Wait till you get a load of this...

Mama Rose, Mother Of Gypsy Rose Lee

The biggest and, by most accounts, most terrifying stage mother of them all, Mama Rose was the mother of the first seriously famous burlesque artist, Gypsy Rose Lee — and was so formidable that she once allegedly pushed a hotel manager out a window and killed him. She raised her two daughters, Gypsy Rose and the actress June Havoc, on the vaudeville circuit as child dancers, forging their birth certificates to fit whatever age limit a job required — so that they themselves never even knew how old they were.

The musical Gypsy, about her twisted ambition and her daughters’ attempts to free themselves, has been a smash hit since it premiered in 1959, based on Gypsy Rose’s own memoirs.

Image: Flickr/Isabel Santos

Ethel Gumm, Judy Garland's Mother

Judy Garland also got her start on the vaudeville circuit, at the ripe age of three. Mary Jane, Virginia, and Frances (Judy herself) were the three children of Ethel and Frank Gumm, vaudeville performers who sent the trio onstage as “The Gumm Sisters”. Judy’s long history of addiction began when her mother administered uppers and sleeping pills to her child, to her energetic for auditions. It’s said that Garland herself called her mother “the real Wicked Witch of the West.”

Image: Wikkicommons

Sara Sothern, Elizabeth Taylor's Mother

A big-eyed actress who gave up her career when she married, Sara Sothern became one of the archetypal stage mothers to only daughter Elizabeth Taylor, who, before she was romancing Richard Burton, was a child movie star. Sara trained her daughter to cry on cue, and manipulated MGM and Universal into a bidding war on her when she was only eight years old. When Taylor rebelled as a teenager and asked to be a “regular child,” Sara responded, “But you’re not a regular child, and thank God for that.”

Image: Flickr/RoseFire

Ruby Dandridge, Dorothy Dandridge's Mother

Vaudeville strikes again: Dorothy Dandridge, called the “black Marilyn Monroe,” was paraded on vaudeville stages with her sisters by her mother Ruby, who billed them as “The Wonder Children.”The real problem, however, was in their training: Ruby’s lover, Geneva Smith, was their stage teacher, and was reputedly harsh and physically cruel. It’s thought that Dandridge broke out into acting and married at the age of 19 to get away from the both of them.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Jaid Barrymore, Drew Barrymore's Mother

Drew Barrymore has called her relationship with her mother “complicated,” which seems something of an understatement. A part of the Barrymore Hollywood dynasty, Jaid Barrymore took her daughter to clubs as a child, auctioned off her baby clothes for money, and posed for Playboy nine months after Drew herself in 1995. “I was going to be the star, not her!”, she wrote in a memoir in 2000. It’s not really surprising that Drew filed for emancipation at the age of 15.

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Marie Gurdin, Natalie Wood's Mother

These days we mostly remember Natalie Wood for dying mysteriously on a boat in the company of Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken in 1981, but the star had a glowing Hollywood career — and a seriously ambitious mother behind it. Marie Gurdin refused to let her daughter wear a cast on a broken wrist in case she didn’t get parts (the bone never set properly), forced her to date older, famous men in pursuit of connections, and pulled off butterfly wings to prompt the child to cry in scenes. Dina Lohan is kid’s stuff, by comparison.

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Jean Poe Harlow, Jean Harlow's Mother

The platinum blonde ’30s starlet Jean Harlow died of alcohol abuse at age 26, but her short career was hugely motivated by her mother — whose name Harlow (born with the first name Harlean) took as her stage name. “Mother Jean,” as she was known, had acting ambitions of her own, but was told she was too old; Jean herself initially wasn’t interested at all. One biography describes Mother Jean as controlling to the point of madness.

Image: Flickr/Tom Margie

Melissa Francis's Mother

Little House On The Prairie’s reality wasn’t so idyllic after all. Melissa Francis, who played Cassandra Cooper Ingalls on the 1980s soap as a child, has gone to the lengths of writing a memoir, Diary Of A Stage Mother’s Daughter , exposing her mother’s cruelty and manipulation of her two kids (Melissa had a sister, Tiffany). Melissa was allegedly left by the sides of roads, terrorized, and generally psychologically abused all through her childhood — and her mother has been politely described as a “Hollywood Tiger Mom”.

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