FORTY BUCKS AND A DREAM: STORIES OF LOS ANGELES (chapter 3)

I am tweeting my manuscript FORTY BUCKS AND A DREAM: STORIES OF LOS ANGELES. Chapter 3, “Jena at 15, A Childhood in Hollywood,” about actress Jena Malone’s life as a child star and bid for emancipation from her mother Debbie, can be found here. The piece originally appeared in the LA Weekly and won a few local and national awards (okay, two). Go follow on Twitter, @nancyromm; I’ll be posting - and videotaping! — a chapter or two a week, and if you want to publish the book, contact my agent, his info here on Contact page.

Until then! A clip:

Like most dreams, Jena and Debbie Malone’s was uninformed and optimistic: Daughter and mother would move to Los Angeles for a year so ten-year-old Jena could pursue her acting ambitions.

            “It‘s every parent’s fantasy, to have your kid winning an Academy Award, saying, ‘I want to thank my mother and father,’” says Scott Feinstein, a local CPA who handles the finances of child actors. “I‘m not sure I’d believe anybody who said it wasn‘t. Ultimately in the back of everybody’s mind is: I would get credit for having this child who‘s talented, smart, beautiful and makes a pile of money.”

            Unlike most fantasies, the Malones’ came true, fast, and in a big way. Within a year, Jena was making six figures and starring in Anjelica Huston‘s directorial debut, Bastard Out of Carolina, in which her character is repeatedly beaten and raped, and for which she won an Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance. Over the next four years, she co-starred in the feature films Contact, Stepmom and For the Love of the Game, as well as a series of cable projects, including the title role in Ellen Foster (in which she watches her mother die and is then shuffled among uncaring relatives and a drunk, abusive father), Hidden in America (where, after the death of her mother, she survives on hamburgers her dad scavenges from a dumpster) and Hope, directed by Goldie Hawn, in which her character dreams of escaping the exigencies of the Deep South in 1962. “My situation is dismal,” says Lilly, who has an invalid for a mother and a bigot for an uncle. “If there’s any future for me at all, it isn‘t here.” The New York Times has called Jena “astonishing in her portrayals of children buffeted by abuse and the early loss of parents”; a Los Angeles Times profile began, “With Jena Malone, everyone just knew.” According to Huston, “She’s not a usual child.”

            No one questions Jena‘s talent, which has kept her working steadily since she and Debbie arrived in 1995, or that her affinity for tough roles may have its origins in a hardscrabble childhood. She has met her father only once. Her mother was on welfare for much of Jena’s life, and by the time she was nine they had lived in twenty-seven places, including their car.

            “The kids I feel have the most talent in this business are the ones who didn‘t grow up very privileged, that didn’t have TVs and Nintendos and everything else,” says Jena‘s longtime acting coach, Lesley Brander. “All they have is their imagination.” …

Read the whole thing here