Second-generation stars are springing up in popular culture

June 28, 1992|By David Hinckley | David Hinckley,New York Daily News

One thing about those second generations. You start having kids and 15 or 20 years later, there they are and suddenly you're old.

This is bad enough in life. It's flat-out sobering when these new generations start showing up in pop culture.

"Isn't Laura Dern neat?" says the kid. "Isn't she Bruce and Dianne Ladd's kid?" you say. Bam! You're a generation older.

Second generations are always coming along, of course. Kirk Douglas begat Michael. Judy Garland begat Liza Minnelli and Nat King Cole begat Natalie. There's Hank Williams Jr. and now his half-sister Jett. "Dirty Dancing" gave us Jennifer Grey, daughter of Joel, and Rob Reiner, son of Carl, has been a star so long he's gone through an entire head of hair.

When the second generation is going bald, it's really time to worry.

A next-generation rock band called Nelson, led by the twin sons of Ricky Nelson (Matthew and Gunnar), moved to the top of the Billboard pop charts recently, bumping off a trio called Wilson Phillips, which includes two daughters of Beach Boy Brian Wilson (Wendy and Carney) and one daughter of Mama and Papa John and Michelle Phillips (Chynna).

This follows the success of not only Laura Dern, but Kiefer Sutherland, son of Donald; Campbell Scott, son of George; Ziggy Marley, son of Bob; Bonnie Raitt, daughter of John; LeVert, a soul group including two sons of the O'Jays' Eddie Levert; James McMurtry, songwriter son of novelist Larry; and Bonham, a band led by Jason Bonham, son of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John.

Not to mention the re-emergence of Carrie Fisher, daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, and the debut of singer Tricia Leigh Fisher, Carrie's little half-sister.

So what does it mean? Some of it means random selection. Some of it means the kids got hooked on show biz early, like when Cissy Houston took her pre-teen daughter Whitney to sessions with Aretha Franklin, or Brian Wilson brought his

4-year-old daughters on stage in front of 50,000 Beach Boys fans.

Some of it suggests pushy parents, though the pushiest often tend to be those who didn't make it themselves. An unsuccessful session man named Joe Jackson, for instance, herded his whole family into show business. This is still working out well for Jermaine, Janet and Michael, though it's frustrating at the moment for Marlon, Jackie, Tito and La Toya.

That family rarely discusses Joe, but most second-generation stars analyze the parental connection like this: "The name may help you get in the door, but you have to earn the right to stay."

"We knew our way around better because of Dad," says Gerald Levert. "But we couldn't get signed at first because people said we sounded too much like the O'Jays."

"Where it helps is here," says Arma Andon, manager of Wilson Phillips: "If a radio station music director has a huge pile of tapes, the fact these girls are who they are may pique his interest enough to get him to listen. That's your edge. But if he doesn't like what he hears, it won't get on the air."

As for the personal impact of parental fame, Carrie Fisher's "Postcards From the Edge" paints a rather grim picture of growing up with a famous mother. Offscreen, however, Carrie says her mom is the greatest and let no one think otherwise.

Laura Dern says her parents tried to talk her out of becoming an actress. This is the "anti-stage mother" story. The other side is Marilyn Wilson, mother of Wendy and Carney, who always wanted desperately for her own three-woman group (the Honeys) to be stars. She didn't discourage her daughters from carrying on the fight.

"Remember, Brian didn't see the girls for years," says Beach Boys biographer Steven Gaines. "They grew up with Marilyn. I think you could say the girls are living out their father's success and their mother's dream."

Cissy Houston was a success herself, but she still groomed daughter Whitney for a singing career. The teen-age Whitney took solos in Cissy's cabaret show, though the story is told that once when Whitney got carried away, she lost the solo for a few nights. Even today, no one forgets who is the mother in the Houston household.

Actually, many second-generation artists grew up in a parental void, because stars tend to be off working. Charlie Sheen's and Emilio Estevez' father Martin Sheen frequently took them on location, but the Nelson twins and Jason Bonham didn't see too much of their famous fathers, which now has become a source of endearment. A father not around for day-to-day "no's" becomes a blank slate on which to inscribe happy memories.

In an interview a few years ago, Keith Carradine said he thought his father, John, did a good job, even though he was busy a lot. In the same interview, Keith mentioned that when he was a child he enjoyed killing things.

Psychology aside, is there something that filters down in genes? Something they don't mention in biology class?

"I think there is," says John Kalodner, senior vice president of A&R for Geffen Records. Mr. Kalodner groomed Nelson for two years before the band's first DGC album came out. "They're very serious, but I think there's also music in their blood. It's funny, but it's true."

Still, the second generation can't coast. "They have to have credibility," says Arma Andon. "Wilson Phillips worked for a year before their record came out -- on singing, grooming, image, all of it -- and they'd been singing long before that. They weren't star-struck. They came in with confidence."

They also came in with the backing of their label chief Charles Koppleman, a long-time power broker who has spared no guns in firing salutes for Wilson Phillips.

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