People would often come up to Sachi Parker to say she must be so lucky to have such a wonderful mother, Oscar-winning actress Shirley MacLaine.
But they only know a part of the story.
Like her outspoken movie star-author-activist mother famous for her iconic roles, interplanetary encounters and reincarnation beliefs, MacLaine's only child has a lot of dramatic things to say, too — some of them that her mom might wish remain unspoken.
Parker, 56, who bears a striking resemblance to her mom, chronicled her eventful, cross-cultural and picaresque experiences in her memoir, "Lucky Me: My Life With — and Without — Shirley MacLaine," published earlier this year. Starting May 30, she will expand upon those autobiographical tales and star in a solo show of the same name at the Off Broadway Theater in New Haven. The commercial run, produced by Joanna Keylock, runs through June 9.
During an interview at director Douglas Moser's home in Branford, Parker, 56, shows many of the same mother's characteristics — not to mention their shared love of bangs. She has a kooky charm, a pixie's enthusiasm (she is prone to high-fives), and exudes an odd combination of childlike innocence and show biz savviness.
Parker began to examine her life three years ago as her 20-year marriage to Frank Murray, a Connecticut investment banker was dissolving. "I was the good wifey-wifey for so long," she says, "safe and sound in my little cocoon and living in Greenwich with all the country clubs and all that [expletive]. I thought I was going to blow my brains out." The divorce is not an amicable one, she says, "and was a real kick in the butt. It was a real opportunity to reassess my life." The marriage produced a daughter, Arin, 14, and a son, Frank, 16, who attends Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford.
Eventually that look-back became a memoir that is as divided as her bi-cultural life. MacLaine's marriage in 1954 when she was 20 to businessman Steve Parker was an unusual one. It was an open and long distance marriage with their daughter living in Japan from the age of 2 with her father and his longtime mistress. Parker spent summers with her mother in Los Angeles or on location and went to boarding school abroad as a teen. (Her father died in 2001 at the age of 79.)
The book alternates scenes of good times with each parent — walks on the beach, shopping in Beverly Hills, attending nightclubs and openings —with tales of abandonment, trickery and betrayal by her mom and dad.
Among these stories was the time both parents forgot to pick her up from boarding school when she was 14, stranding her in Europe for weeks. There was also the time when, to break up a serious romance in California, Parker was told by her mother that a broadcasting job was waiting for her in Japan — only to find out when she arrived that it didn't exist and she was again stranded, working in a noodle shop to make ends meet.
The deepest hurt, says Parker, was when she discovered that her mother actively worked to get her dropped from a major film which was to have been a big acting break for Parker.
But Parker is often more bewildered than angry and frequently speaks with on-the-the-other-hand empathy towards her parents' actions.
"It's hard in Hollywood, man," she says. "The competition is brutal and as you get older it gets even harder. I get it. But you don't do that to your own daughter."
Parker says the stage show allows her story to be told in a more personal way than the book.
Parker separates herself from the most notorious celebrity offspring tell-all, Christina Crawford's "Mommie Dearest." But she also understands that associations will be inevitably made and is also canny enough to use the connections to promote her book and the show. (Parker recently went to see the the solo off-Broadway show by Crawford, 73, which closed on Mother's Day. Parker hopes the New Haven run helps push her show off-Broadway, too.
Parker says she was aware when she was writing the book of what the candid memoir means in terms of her relationship with her mother.
"I'm still struggling with the guilt," she says. "But I decided to stop protecting her. [In writing the book] Fred [Stroppel, co-author] would have to pick me up off the floor because I felt I just couldn't do it anymore. But I'm grateful I wrote it....It was therapy...It was so cathartic and I got so many questions [about my life] answered finally."
Life With Father
Those answers included the true nature of her sometimes affectionate and glamorous, sometimes dismissive and cruel life with her father. (His nickname for her was "Idiot.")
As a youngster in Japan, her dashing, globetrotting and very mysterious father would often be off on a sudden trip and she would be left parentless.
"But it was the emotional abandonment was the problem for me, not the physical one," she says.
More tricky to write about was his questionable behavior, bringing his young daughter to a nightclub filled with naked male servers, a place she is now sure was a gay bar. "I think he might have some gay tendencies. I think he was bi-[sexual]. I don't know."
In one instance she makes vague reference to a more serious question of physical intimacy with her father. "I think I blocked a lot of it out," she says. Parker says there were "some real dark areas" about both parents "that is locked away and will never be said."
In the book and in person, Parker is understanding of her mother's own journey. MacLaine has chronicled her life in many books, describing her break from her Virginia family (as did her brother, Warren Beatty),- and moving towards a career in show business. Parker has seen first hand the pressures her mother faced in Hollywood as a star and then as an aging actress when the roles weren't as plentiful.
But Parker is less sympathetic of "the Hollywood psychology of becoming a big star where there are no consequences for your actions." Not all movie star families are troubled, she acknowledges, but those that are more grounded are those where children receive love and support, she says.
Parker says MacLaine didn't want her child to be a spoiled Hollywood brat. "I get it. She had good intentions but she went too far in trying to make me tough and independent," especially, she says, when Parker was raised in a Japanese culture where young women are expected to be submissive and non-confrontational.
What Parker didn't understand was that when she turned 17 and finished secondary school, she was unexpectedly cut off from financial supportShe realized she would not be able to go to college. "She doesn't see the importance of it because she didn't go [to college]. Neither did my father."
Parker also gives other examples of MacLaine's tight-fistedness in the book. When Parker asked for $500 for a used car, her mother gave it to her only as a loan, with interest charged. Meanwhile, the actress was being scammed for $60,000 a month for years by a masterful con artist. Parker says despite her smart cookie image, MacLaine can also be terribly naive .
Does Parker feel she was loved?
"I was loved by other people in my life," she says, then hesitantly adds, "I think, I know she loves me. I know my father loved me. They didn't know how to show it, that's all."
"I'm her only child. If she could just take the time to see a loving daughter, maybe I wouldn't have to do all this other stuff. The wonderful gift now is my children because they have grounded me so completely. I'm so clear about what;s important and it's my children. And that's it, man. That [feeling] was the one thing that wasn't given to me."
Parker says her mother, 79, hasn't mellowed with age. "She's still a firecracker," she says. The role that Parker says mostly resembles the person she knows is the one MacLaine played in "Guarding Tess," where she played an imperious and demanding First Lady "but mush underneath. That's my mother."
She also says a true depiction of her mother's cool attitude is also reflected at the end of the Oscar-winning film "The Apartment." After a suicide attempt, her character is rescued by a co-worker who adores her. When he finally professes his love, she welcomes it but still keeps the sentiment at arm's length by responding with the film's final line: "Shut up and deal."
Parker sent her mother the book as soon as it was completed. MacLaine's only response was in People Magazine, where she called the memoir "virtually all fiction" and saying she was "sorry to see such a dishonest, opportunistic effort from my daughter, for whom I've only ever wanted the best."
Parker points out that MacLaine wrote with intimate detail the troubled childhood MacLaine had with her parents in "Dancing in the Light."
"And goodness, my daughter is probably going to write a book about me and if she did write something I didn't like I would be hurt — but I'd handle it differently."
Can she envision her prolific author-mother writing another book as an answer to Parker's prose?
"That would be fabulous," she says, buoyed. "We would end up communicating that way. And then I'll write another book — and I have so much more to tell — and then she could write another. I would have loved to have been able to work it all out with her in private but that wasn't to be.
"I know I could lose my mother forever [because of the book] and I hope that's not the case but I think I might have blown it. On the other hand, I needed to write my story — and it is my story and I get to write it.
"My biggest hope of all is that my mother understands me. She's so hugely important for me. She's my mother. I would never ever be able let go of that hope. I wish i could but I can't. That's partly why I wrote it. Really, it's partly a love letter to her."
Parker has maintained a humor throughout. She laughs at the suggestion that her show could be in rep with Chris Lemmon's solo show about his father, Jack Lemmon, MacLaine's co-star in several films, including "The Apartment."
"We're good friends," she says. "And we thought about it. We were also talking about doing a talk show together because we have such chemistry together."
She says she hasn't been approached by any reality show people but said she would love to. "Absolutely. It would be interesting and fun and I talk a lot."
She says she is aware that she has bills to pay and she is already saving to send her children to college.
And if the phone rang and it was her mother, what would Parker say?
"I would probably start crying. I think I would be so apologetic and yet I would say, 'Mom, I needed to do this. It's my story. I really need you to understand that. Please, please give me that so we can move on. I love you and you love me. Let's do it.' The adult part of me says there's no way she's going to do that. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe she will. Maybe she'll surprise me. Maybe I'll be lucky."
LUCKY ME will run May 30 through June 9 at the Off Broadway Theater, 41 Broadway (behind Toad's Place), New Haven. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m, on June 2 and 9. Tickets are $30 ($20 for the May 30 preview). Information: 203- 305-7762.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun