Hollywood Daughters #3: Encore By Joan Lowery Nixon

Erin Jenkins, teen star, feels closer to her show-biz parents than to her real ones, who don’t approve of her television career…

Background: The first volume of the Hollywood Daughters series dealt with former child star Abby “Cookie” Baynes and her struggle to break from her Shirley Temple-like image and get away from her domineering stage mother in the early 1940s. After the tragic death of her father and a number of personal setbacks, Abby finally gets her big break and joins a USO tour with fake-Bob Hope. Renaming herself Abby Grant, she seems to have a bright future as a comedienne.

The second book in the trilogy focused on Abby’s daughter, Cassie, who has zero aspirations of following in her mother’s footsteps and instead pursues a career as a photojournalist and a romance with a USC film student in the late 1960s…

The Plot: And now we arrive at the present day (ok, the present day of 1990) and focus on Abby’s granddaughter, Erin, who has a co-starring role on a bland-sounding TV sitcom, The Family Next Door.

Erin idolizes her famous grandmother, Abby Grant, and has always wanted to follow in her footsteps and become an actress. While Cassie and Marc were determined that daughter have a “normal” life, they reluctantly allowed Erin to audition for a TV pilot when she was 12. She was cast, the show was picked up, and six seasons later The Family Next Door is still a top ten hit.

Erin loves her work, and most of her co-stars; in fact she feels closer to Gene and Lydia, her TV “parents” than she does to her own. Having weathered Abby’s numerous divorces and remarriages, Cassie had vowed to make her relationship with Marc her top priority, so they constantly travel together, whether she is on assignment or he is directing films overseas, leaving Erin home in L.A. with housekeepers, nannies and her Grandmother.

As the book opens, Abby has finished an extended run in Las Vegas, and has just wrapped a comedy-variety special for which everyone has high hopes:

“They’ll give me a variety show, with a good-sized budget, too. If it gets good reviews and decent ratings, they’ll schedule it in the fall as a regular, weekly show.”

“There hasn’t been a really good variety show in years. Not since Carol Burnett’s.”

Unfortunately, The Abby Grant Show is a bomb- while Abby’s army of Yes Men assure her that it’s great, Erin and Cassie both know the truth. And Cassie is still kind of insufferable about her mother’s act:

“We’ve been expecting you to realize that real entertainment is not superficial. It has substance and depth and makes an impact on its audience.”

Erin couldn’t keep the light sarcasm from her voice. “In other words, if you’re going to stoop to watching TV, then it’s PBS or nothing.”

Cassie sighed. “Don’t you see that shallowness- a complete lack of purpose- was one of the reasons Abby’s show wasn’t funny?”

The special is savaged by the critics, leaving Abby depressed and rudderless in the aftermath, her agent only able to scare up a few charity gala appearances in the Midwest as the summer progresses.

And with her parents off to Europe, Erin soon finds professional challenges of her own, as the veteran actors playing her parents on The Family Next Door decide not renew their contracts, and head for greener pastures as their characters are constantly being upstaged by the antics of their sitcom “children”.  The network cancels the show.

While the other teen actors quickly line up work in movies and commercials, Erin finds that she’s not getting the same kind of offers that her former co-stars are.

Erin does start spending a lot of time with Eddie, the actor who played her TV-boyfriend. Refreshingly down to earth, Eddie is a long-time child actor who got himself emancipated from his parents and is now looking forward to living his life out of the spotlight.

While still engaging, this is definitely the lightest-weight of the three books, as Erin encounters minimal tribulations (feelings of abandonment by both real and TV-parents, typecasting as the cute-but-not-glamorous middle sister, conflict with her parents over whether to pursue acting or finish high school and attend college) as she also tries to boost her grandmother’s spirits and sagging career.

When it is announced that Abby will receive an AFI tribute, she has mixed feelings- it is an honor, but she also recognizes that the industry is effectively putting her out to pasture. When she wishes aloud that she had a future project to promote instead of just highlights from the past Erin has a brainstorm: Abby should option the prestigious best-selling novel of the summer The Dorchesters, and produce the film version herself to showcase her dramatic chops.

In the end everything is a bit too pat, as the film becomes a family affair: Erin will star as the granddaughter of Abby’s character, and Marc will direct. Even Abby’s until-now-useless brother Bobby comes through with financing from an Italian restauranteur.

At Abby’s AFI tribute, she shows a scene from her upcoming film, which will surely net her that Academy Award at last!

Sign It Was Written In 1990 Department:

Erin had to admit that Eddie wasn’t as handsome as guys like River Phoenix or Keanu Reeves or the Brat Pack actors like Emilio Estevez or his brother, Charlie Sheen.

Odds and Ends Department:

Abby completes her Fake Lucille Ball trajectory, mirroring Ball’s late-career flop Life With Lucy TV show, and modest success in a dramatic role in the film Stone Pillow.

We learn that Marc was unsuccessful in securing his apprenticeship with Fake Francois Truffaut, although Fake-Amblin’ became a film festival success that launched his career as Fake Steven Spielberg.

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2 Responses to Hollywood Daughters #3: Encore By Joan Lowery Nixon

  1. Conuly says:

    I don’t know if you take requests, but if you do I’d certainly like to see Starring Peter and Leigh, by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

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