Bouncing from dad to dad: A Hollywood coming-of-age tale

Tribune Content Agency

“Cry it out, Tony. You’ll feel better.”

It was what author Anthony Mohr’s father said to him after escorting his young son back to take on a school bully, from whom he had already run away.

“Cry it out, Tony.”

Touching words from a father, you say? Actually, it was a line that Gerald, an established radio personality and later a bit TV actor, borrowed from one of his roles, yet he delivered it with such perfection to Tony that it seemed more sincere than scripted.

Perhaps that line, and what it represents, best characterizes the make-believe Hollywood world that represented a large part of Anthony Mohr’s childhood in his recent released memoir, “Every Other Weekend: Coming of Age with Two Different Dads” (Koehler Books).

Anthony did not realize the origin of the line until half a century later, when he saw a movie his father had made and, sure enough, heard those exact words uttered from the mouth of Gerald’s character.

Yet “Every Other Weekend,” as the title implies, takes a U-turn in Tony’s upbringing when his mother, Rita, divorces Gerald and takes up with her second husband, Stanley, a successful businessman and credit card pioneer.

An unconventional family for the time

The situation might seem more commonplace by today’s standards, but back in the ’50s and ’60s, divorce was less common, more of an out-of-place mystery that was frowned upon by society. The idea of Anthony having, in effect, two separate families was out of sync with most of his companions growing up in the Beverly Hills, California, community.

So the book again takes on the feel of a Hollywood script: two separate families, two separate living situations, two sets of friends and circumstances. Some people grow up with not even one father figure. Anthony had two — for better or worse.

Imagine one weekend spent with down-on-his-luck but up-on-his-personality dad, with his quirks, entertainment connections and laugh-at-life outlook to make ends meet, barely. Then the next weekend is with mom’s new family and life with Stan, a hard-driving businessman with quirks of his own but perhaps not the charisma, or bloodline, of Gerald.

“It was the contrast between the two personalities, between Stan — serious — and my father — playful,” writes Mohr. “I was oscillating between two worlds. At times I’d watch my father, tense next to Mai [his second wife], and felt lucky I lived with my mother and Stan. Other times, while enduring one of Stan’s outbursts, I missed my father’s frolics and detours.”

Think rich man, poor man — one about to take his company public, the other slowly adapting to the societal switchover from radio to TV and struggling to find work and make ends meet.

The words “big deal” came to mean different things depending on the weekend — for Dad, it means a role; for Stan, it means an “order.”

A tale of two fathers

Dad craved banter, “a quality absent from Stan’s playbook.” Even meal conversations had their own flavor: “With Stan, dinner talk revolved around his business, his boat and politics during election years. Never Shakespeare, psychology, the occult, the Dodgers or any of my father’s favorite topics.”

Dad hung with the Hollywood set, whether it was all-night parties sharing laughs and stories, or bumping into fellow actors on the unemployment line. For years, he smoked more than two packs of cigarettes a day, ate nothing but steak, eggs and burnt bacon, and worried about money.

At a time when romance was a mystery to a growing youth, Dad, the womanizer, was prone to sharing carnal knowledge with his son with inappropriate suggestions and language. Meanwhile, Anthony learned the art of romance from Stan by the loving way he treated the boy’s mother.

“Every Other Weekend” is a well-written captivating memoir with vivid characters and descriptions of the author “vicariously riding the Stan and Gerry roller coaster.” He notes that living between two worlds helped prepare him for his career as a judge.

“To say I had practice weighing lifestyles is an understatement. And when they say a trial is a search for truth, well, spending childhood in the dreamlike realm of Hollywood helped prepare me to separate fact from fiction.”

But it wasn’t easy.