Parenthood, offscreen and on

Posted: May 23, 2002 12:00 AM
In Hollywood, the best defense is a good offense. Rather than take responsibility for their product that poisons the minds of impressionable youngsters, La-La Land's greatest offenders quickly point their fingers at parents for being irresponsible in not protecting their children from the slime. It's the classic cop-out, to be sure. But there's also some truth to it. What some parents are doing in exercising their parental discretion just amazes. In Babylon, N.Y., reported the May 7 New York Times, a single mother named Marie Minutillo bought a 17th-birthday present for her son, John. A stereo? A trip to Europe? A PlayStation 2? Nope, it was a $6,000 pro-wrestling ring for their backyard. Minutillo, in the words of the Times' Elissa Gootman, thought the ring would "keep [John] occupied and close to home." Perhaps you're familiar with the "backyard wrestling" phenomenon that's the rage (pun intended) in some neighborhoods. Maybe, like me, you've seen (and heard) teenagers in action around these rings. Surely Minutillo knew something -- and still she bought it, spending a fortune in the process. She got what she paid for. This past winter, Danielle and Michael Nucci, who live next door to Minutillo and her son, threw a birthday party for their 1-year-old. Predictably, writes Gootman, "the thirty friends and family members who gathered for shrimp cocktail and birthday cake found themselves listening to obscenities blurted over a loudspeaker." Another neighbor, Patricia Rodriguez, comments, "All we hear is cursing and boom, bam, boom. Where's the quality of our life?" A peeved Rodriguez videotaped some of the wrestling action, which in Gootman's account included "bash[ing] ... with a folding chair," "crashing into wooden boards," and an "assault ... with a metal garbage can." Rodriguez delivered the tape to the local government, and the Babylon town board unanimously outlawed wrestling rings and boxing rings in residential areas. Single-parenting in today's complex world has got to be one of life's greatest challenges. Still, spending $6,000 on any birthday gift for a teenager is excessive, and spending it on an item that fuels his enthusiasm for today's ultraviolent, ultravulgar pro wrestling is beyond irresponsible. It's just plain ... stupid. How might Mama Minutillo defend herself? She could point to what some in Hollywood
boast as good parenting. Minutillo comes across as June Cleaver by comparison. Allison Janney, who plays White House press secretary C.J. Cregg on "The West Wing," guested on David Letterman's May 14 show and told a remarkable tale of Tinseltown's moral compass in the parenthood department. Janney relayed how actress Sheila Kelley -- the wife of Janney's "West Wing" co-star Richard Schiff, who plays communications director Toby Ziegler -- "teaches stripping. She did a movie [for which] she researched stripping for a year, and so she had a pole installed in their back office." I'm not sure which is more amazing: that Kelley -- or anyone -- offers instruction in this field or that she had to research it for a whole year. Oh, but that's just the start. "So it was me and a bunch of women," related brainy Janney, "who were like, you know, mothers and housewives, and [Kelley] made us go up to Hollywood Boulevard and buy the big, you know, stripping shoes and the hot pants, and we're ... in their back office, you know, stripping, and these mothers would bring their kids, and [the kids] would come up to the window and they would [ask], 'Mommy, why are you dressed like that?'" To which the mothers responded, "This is Mommy's private time, remember?" Since it's safe to assume these women can afford baby-sitters, one has to wonder what they were thinking when they brought their children to Kelley's version of the Bada Bing. But you know they were thinking: Nothing. Just as Demi Moore thought nothing about bringing her 7-year-old daughter to the premiere of "Striptease," having cast her in the striptease film to begin with. Several years ago, Mel Gibson was the featured attraction on one of those Barbara Walters specials. Ms. Walters seemed generally perplexed by Gibson's defense of the Roman Catholic faith and his loyalty to her codes on abortion, even contraception. But in his defense she saw the opportunity to pounce. If you're so devoted to your morality, she asked searingly, how will you explain your racy sexual on-camera exploits to your children when they're old enough to learn of them? Gibson didn't miss a beat with his quiet, but firm answer: "I'll tell them that Daddy was wrong." Today, more than ever, that man's a shining role model for his industry.