The Celebrity A List: Adopted, the not adopted, and the definition of adoption

celebrity addoptionsNOTE:  I am bringing up the 2013 Buzzfeed article because it’s been making the internet rounds during NAM this year.

What would National Adoption Month be without an annual list of celebrity adoptees? AKA, the A List.

This annual ritual is one of the minor, but more irksome, consequences of the circle jerk that is National Adoption Month. It’s not that I don’t like celebrity adoptees. I do  I’ve written that until I was in my 20s, the only adoptees I ever “knew” were celebrities–Ronnie Burns and James MacArthur— and how that was important to me. I thought Ronnie Burns was rather obscure, but my piece shows up consistently at the top of my Site Meter search stats, so a lot of people look back on him fondly for whatever reason. I like to think a lot of the readers are older adoptees checking in on Ronnie.

Of course, the NAM Parade of Stars is all about name appeal and selling  broken economic, welfare, and social systems to the public as benevolent glitz. For the incurious media it’s soppy human interest spewed out to reality-impaired masses.

Adopted celebrities or the adopted adult children of celebrities aren’t  ever asked how they feel about being adopted or how they even view adoption in a general sense. Not even a crass, “Do you know who you real parents are?” Most definitely they are not asked if it’s OK for socio-political agendized organizations to queer their personal adoptee (or not adoptied  as we shall see)  narratives for themselves to fit whatever program they’re pimping. Celebrity adoptees are simply paper dolls for the adoption industry and a gullible public, meant to entertain and play with, not to care about. Certainly nobody is going to bring up the adopted children of celebrities who reject their adopters or whose adopters reject them or those who have otherwise depressing outcomes. How many of you know about  Barabra Stanwyck’s shipped-off adopted son Tony Fay who once wrote an article for Confidential “Why does my mother hate me?” or Joan Fontaine’s possibly illegally adopted Peruvian daughter Marita (they reconciled after decades of estrangement) or Hedy Lamarr’s adopted/not adopted son James Lamarr Loder (think Loretta Young and click the link.) Christina Crawford is the only celebrity adoptee/adopted I can think of who dared to speak out, and you won’t see her paraded around by NAM. In the future no NAM pusher is going chat up Chelsea O’Donnell, though Rosie, no doubt will shoot her mouth off, for years much to the pleasure of her fanc about the ungrateful little bastard formerly known as her adoptee.


In 2012 I took Students for Life to task for playing make-believe (how appropriate for NAM) with .Adoption Not Abortion: Another Year of Adoptee Celebrity Pimping and Lies for the Greater Good of Adoption, pt. 1

Eric Clapton, not adopted adoptee

Eric Clapton, not adopted adoptee

This year, following in the footsteps of anti-aborts, the Catholic Church, and commercial adoption websites.the very secular Buzzfeed, with only a clickbait agenda, came up with a short A List that seems to be lifted from the historically laughable  American Adoptions  which also seems to be  the source of earlier A Lists.  AA’s complete list includes Augustus Caesar (“adopted” for heirship and  political ) , Moses (went home and turned on his adopters in really unpleasant way), Leo Tolstoy (not adopted–reared by relatives after the death of his parents),  John Hancock (not adopted–lived with aunt and uncle after the death of his father), Eric Clapton (not adopted–reared by maternal grandparents who mind-fucked him by pretending his mother was his sister and his grandmother was his mother), Lee Majors (adopted by his aunt and uncle after his parents were killed in a traffic accident)… and good grief!  Talullah Bankhead (not adopted–reared mostly by her paternal grandmother after the death of her mother three weeks after birth.)   I’m surprised they haven’t added Jesus to the pack

Talullah Bankhead, not-adopted adoptee

Talullah Bankhead, not-adopted adoptee

.This is getting confusing. Apparently adoption agencies, adoption pushers, and their  PR flacks  don’t have access to a dictionary, don’t understand how adoption works in the US and don’t care, or are simply dumb clucks or clever scamps redefining adoption to fit their propaganda and an empty space on the computer screen. Maybe all of them.

Back to Buzzfeed:  Some of the 2013 featured adoptees are actually documented adoptees.Too bad the not adopted weren’t documented as well.. Sorry being sent too a reformatory (like Babe Ruth)  or off to live with a gaggle of maternal relatives in Alabama is not adoption.

You might want to read my original blog first, since this is a continuation of the chastisement and I refer to not adopted adoptees from those ranks here.. I didn’t want to wax redundant.

Buzzfeed’s  Class of 2013 Famous Adoptees who aren’t adopted include Ingrid Bergman, Priscilla Presley, Truman Capote, Richard Burton, and Edgar Allen Poe.  As in my 2012 piece, I’m cutting and pasting out of Wiki, not my first choice, but the quickest way to separate the wheat from the chaff. I


Ingrid Bergman, not adopted adoptee

Ingrid Bergman – not adopted.

Buzzfeed maintains that Bergman was adopted because she went to live with an aunt when she was 13. She was not adopted, simply the victim of some very bad parental luck.  They died. From wiki:.

Bergman, named after Princess Ingrid of Sweden, was born on 29 August 1915 in Stockholm, to a Swedish father, Justus Bergman, and his German wife, Frieda (née Adler) Bergman. When she was two years of age, her mother died. Her father, who was an artist and photographer, died when she was 13. In the years before he died, he wanted her to become an opera star, and had her take voice lessons for three years. But she always “knew from the beginning that she wanted to be an actress,” sometimes wearing her mother’s clothes and staging plays in her father’s empty studio. Her father documented all her birthdays with a borrowed camera.After his death, she was sent to live with an aunt, who died of heart disease only six months later. She then moved in with her Aunt Hulda and Uncle Otto, who had five children.


Priscilla Presley, LDA and adoptee lite (stepparent)

Priscilla Presley – LDA adoptee-lite

Presley’s father was killed in a plane crash when she was 6 months old–something her family decided was none of her business.  She was “secretly” adopted by her mother’s second husband. From Wiki:

Priscilla’s biological father was US Navy pilot James Wagner… On August 10, 1944, at the age of 23, he married Priscilla’s mother; they had been dating for more than three years. He was killed in a plane crash while returning home on leave when Priscilla was six months old.  When Priscilla discovered this “family secret” while rummaging through an old wooden box of family keepsakes, she was encouraged by her mother to keep it from the other children as she feared it would “endanger our family closeness”. In 1948, her mother met a United States Air Force officer named Paul Beaulieu, from Quebec, Canada. The couple were married within a year. Beaulieu took over the raising of Priscilla, and was the only father she would ever know

Truman Capote

Truman Capote, adoptee lite(steparent); also reared by aunties

Truman Capote – adoptee lite

Was Capote “adopted twice?  Buzzfeed reports Capote was sent to live with his mother’s relatives, which if we follow the Bergman scenario, means he was adopted by them. He was later adopted by his stepfather, but it doesn’t look like that worked out too well.  Wiki entry:

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Capote was the son of 17-year-old Lillie Mae Faulk and salesman Archulus Persons His parents divorced when he was four, and he was sent to Monroeville, Alabama, where, for the following four to five years, he was raised by his mother’s relatives. He formed a fast bond with his mother’s distant relative, Nanny Rumbley Faulk, whom Truman called “Sook”. “Her face is remarkable – not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind”, is how Capote described Sook in “A Christmas Memory” (1956). In Monroeville, he was a neighbor and friend of author Harper Lee, who is rumored to have based the character Dill on Capote

In 1933, he moved to New York City to live with his mother and her second husband, Joseph Capote, a Cuban-born textile broker, who adopted him as his stepson and renamed him Truman García Capote. However, Joseph was convicted of embezzlement and shortly afterwards, when his income crashed, the family was forced to leave Park Avenue.

Richard Burton 2

Richard Burton, ward, not adopted adoptee

Richard Burton – not adopted. ward

Now there is nothing wrong with anyone having a strong non-biological father or mother figure in their lives. Lots of people do, and lots of bio parents are incompetent douches.  Buzzfeed refers to Burton as being “almost adopted” by his schoolmaster, Philip Burton. whose name the actor took. Sorry Buzzfeed, but “almost” doesn’t make the cut, making Richard Burton, a member of the Not Adopted Adoptee Class.  Wiki entry:

Richard Burton was born Richard Walter Jenkins in the village of Pontrhydyfen, Neath Port Talbot, Wales. He grew up in a working class, Welsh-speaking household, the 12th of 13 children. His father, also named Richard Walter Jenkins, was a short, robust coal miner, a “twelve-pints-a-day man” who sometimes went off on drinking and gambling sprees for weeks. Burton later claimed, by family telling, that “He looked very much like me … That is, he was pockmarked, devious, and smiled a great deal when he was in trouble. He was, also, a man of extraordinary eloquence, tremendous passion, great violence.”

 Burton was less than two years old in 1927 when his mother, Edith Maude (née Thomas), died on 31 October 1927 at age 44 after giving birth to her 13th child. His sister Cecilia and her husband Elfed took him into their Presbyterian mining family at their terraced house on Caradoc Street in Taibach,in the town of Port Talbot (an English-speaking steel town) Whilst staying with Cecilia, Burton attended nearby Eastern Primary School on Incline Row.Burton said later that his sister became “more mother to me than any mother could have ever been … I was immensely proud of her … she felt all tragedies except her own”. Burton’s father would occasionally visit the homes of his grown daughters but was otherwise absent…

Inspired by his schoolmaster, Philip H. Burton, he excelled in school productions, his first being The Apple Cart Philip Burton could not legally adopt young Richard due to their age difference; Burton was one year short of the minimum twenty years required… 

When he joined the Port Talbot Squadron of the Air Training Corps as a cadet, he re-encountered Burton, his former teacher, who was the commander. He joined a youth drama group led by Leo Lloyd, a steel worker and avid amateur thespian, who taught him the fundamentals of acting. Burton, who recognised the youth’s talent, then adopted him as his ward and Richard returned to school. Being older than most of the other boys, he was very attractive to some of the girls.Philip Burton later said, “Richard was my son to all intents and purposes. I was committed to him.”[

In 1943, at age 18, Richard Burton (who had taken his teacher’s surname but would not change it by deed poll for several years), was allowed into Exeter College, Oxford, for a special term of six months study, made possible because he was an air force cadet obligated to later military service.


Edgar Allen Poe, not adopted adoptee

Edgar Allen Poe – not adopted

Anyone who knows anything about Poe knows that he was not adopted by the Allans.  For a time there was an adoptive-type or guardian/ward relationship, but the writer separated himself from the family by the time he was in his early 20s and kicked out of West Point. Are there any adoptee literary scholars out there who’d like to take a swing at analyzing Poe’s work through the adoptee lens?  From Wiki:

Born in Boston, Poe was the second child of two actors. His father abandoned the family in 1810, and his mother died the following year. Thus orphaned, the child was taken in by John and Frances Allan, of Richmond, Virginia. Although they never formally adopted him, Poe was with them well into young adulthood. Tension developed later as John Allan and Edgar repeatedly clashed over debts, including those incurred by gambling, and the cost of secondary education for the young man. Poe attended the University of Virginia for one semester but left due to lack of money. Poe quarreled with Allan over the funds for his education and enlisted in the Army in 1827 under an assumed name. It was at this time his publishing career began, albeit humbly, with an anonymous collection of poems, Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), credited only to “a Bostonian”. With the death of Frances Allan in 1829, Poe and Allan reached a temporary rapprochement. Later failing as an officer’s cadet at West Point and declaring a firm wish to be a poet and writer, Poe parted ways with John Allan.


Barbara Stanwyck and Deon Anthony Fay (nd)

Barbara Stanwyck and Deon Anthony Fay (nd)

Now why do I find this so annoying?

First, the media is lying or to be kind, stupid..Where have all the fact checkers gone? Certainly not to Buzzfeed or industry sources. The rah-rah  A List is a trivial matter in the scope of world events, but if you can’t grasp something this simple– that adoption is a legal proceeding–not somebody’s state of mind or whim–how can we believe anything you write?  The least you could do is do a Wiki look-up and go from there. I mark this up to the current popularity of white saviorism and humanitarian intervention. Children must be saved (from what?). Children of hard times need to be validated or legitimized through adoption. See, even The Adopted can succeed, even if they’re not adopted. Washed white of sin, the new inheritors of privilege.  It’s lazy “journalism.”

Second ,adoptees get little attention during NAM/NAAM, which supposedly celebrates “us” but as we all know is really about “getting us.”  GOTTCHA!  To add insult to injury, what little “legitimacy” we do get, is subsumed by not adopted adoptees who no doubt  wish the hacks and incompetents would leave them alone. How do you think John Lennon or Nelson Mandela or Eleanor Roosevelt would feel if they were told their parents weren’t “really” their parents and that they were adopted? . I also bet the bank that nobody is ever going to put people like Jean Paton or Helen Hill or Shea Grimm and the rest of us down as bastard  revolutionaries who changed adoptee status in the US forever. No. At best we’ll get movie stars or singers either untouched by the politics of adoption or unicorn humpers. The rest of us remain as invisible as our OBCs.

Celebrity adoptions are an important social phenomenon that publlicly fetishizes the adoptee body and adoption as “beloved.” It is a public reflection of the private adoption experience.The superficial A List valorizes and beautifes adoption as a system.  It is exploitative and reeks of  colonization. It is patronizing. It is insulting. Created without context much less accuracy these lists  intrudes in private space and twists adoptee narratives into consumable clickbait whether the source and recipient is commercial (Buzzfeed) or commercial (American Adoptions;

Bastards are not clickbait.

Joan Crawford and family: Christina, Christopher and "the twins."

Joan Crawford and family: Christina, Christopher and “the twins.”

For a long time adopted celebrities were my only connection to other adoptees.  It’s not like anybody used to admit they were adopted so celebrity adoptees were so out-there bastards, who probably didn’t want be out there, but had no choice since their lives were plastered across Photoplay, the LA Times, and  The March of Time.. When one researches adopted celebrities or the adult children of celebrities or their adoptive and, if possible, birthparents, it should be done through the political bastard lens, not the superficiality of celebrity. There are lots of fascinating “celebrity” stories out there that are gritty and sad, some times happy, sometimes confusing, sometimes mysterious, that are our histories as bastards and adoptees.  We need that bastard examination,  not silly lists meant somehow to convince the public that yes, even adoptees, even can succeed. We are washed clean of sin or at least the pernicious influence of our irresponsible sperm and egg donors.


 In 2010 I wrote of James MacArthur, but it holds for other adoptees in the public eye, and I think for those of us in the private sector as well. Bluntly adoptees are freaks.

James MarArthur like other celebritized adoptees was tagged “adopted son of.” While private adoptees like us, outside of the scrutiny of the press and public, were locked in the closet, stigmatized, silenced and shamed by our birth/adoptive status, public adoptees like James MacArthur were stigmatized and othered, the most private part of their self exposed to conjecture and gossip by the public at large. While private adoptees might have been banging on the closet door to get out, public adoptees might have been knocking to get in. No matter private or public, we cannot escape our “adopted son/daughter of” identity whether in the home or the public square. No matter age or accomplishment we are eternally othered and identified by our adoptive status. When James MacArthur died he was identified as “adopted son of.”

I’m not sure we will ever escape that fate.



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