Mother’s Day Books about Moms & Daughters, Love & Heartache

Photo by Margie Barron

Dyan Cannon.

How can we talk about mothers without discussing the love and heartache (and maybe a little guilt) that goes along with the maternal saints who gave us life.

Every mother has a story to tell, but Julie Mannix von Zerneck’s story is worthy of a Dickensian novel. I’ve known Julie for a couple of decades since I would visit her Toluca Lake shop Portrait of a Bookstore. The literary cornucopia is gone now, but Julie has her own book that can take its place among the great works she used to offer.

Secret Storms: A Mother and Daughter, Lost then Found is a non-fiction book by Julie Mannix von Zerneck and her daughter Kathy Hatfield. It is the story of how the mother and daughter were separated, became accomplished women with wonderful families, and how they were reunited in the most miraculous way.

Julie told me how heart wrenching it was to give up her baby, and always yearned to know what happened to her child. She never lost hope and the unbelievable journey of mother and daughter is a tapestry of sweet, surprising, and often humorous moments in their lives. Julie said she was a Philadelphian debutante, and then an unmarried teenager who was confined to a mental hospital during her pregnancy. She was forced to give her baby up for adoption. She had a career as an actress on Broadway and in soap operas, and eventually married the father, Frank von Zerneck, a TV producer and great guy. The couple raised two more children — and then their lost child was unexpectedly found. Kathy had a good life, but was faced with a mind-blowing discovery, followed by a search for her mother. The fascinating tale is told by both women.

“I simply love this book, which is a heartbreaking but ultimately life-affirming story that defies fiction. Every plot twist, every emotion touches a chord, even for those of us who have not had to endure such a brutal separation. Read it and weep, and then finally rejoice,” stated Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey, who certainly knows something about great literature, since she is the best-selling author of A Woman of Independent Means.

Elizabeth recently hosted a celebration at her Studio City home to toast her good friend Julie for the publication of the book she called, “An ode to the enduring power of family ties.” It is truly a testament to a mother’s love, strong women, and hope.

Now for another book about love: Dear Cary: My Life with Cary Grant by Dyan Cannon, who talked about it when we caught up with her at KCET Cinema Series’ screening of The Last of Sheila. “One thing we always agreed on, our baby was the most beautiful baby in the world,” Dyan said about Cary Grant’s only child, Jennifer Grant. Her goal in writing the book was to convey an honest look at the Hollywood legend, so her actress-daughter could get to know him better. Dyan is currently working on a screenplay based on her bestseller, with plans of producing and directing it as a feature film. She reported, “I have someone in mind to play me, but it’s too early to announce anything yet.”

Cannon’s daughter released her own memoir called Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant. Jennifer Grant dedicated it to her mother. The multi-talented Dyan proudly told me, “My daughter is my greatest personal accomplishment.”

The Today Show producers Alicia Ybarbo and Mary Ann Zoellner, plus Conan TV writer Laurie Kilmartin, and journalist Karen Moline joined forces to write the tongue-in-cheek advice book for the modern day mom. It’s called Sh***y Mom: The Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us. The self-described “shoddy” moms Alicia and Mary Ann talked to me while they were having a makeover day at Lea Journo Salon at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, “because all moms deserve a time out.” Be warned, readers will find rough language, as the moms are brutally honest about their feelings, blasting everything from crying babies on planes, sick kids, and ex-hubbies. So if the potty-mouth dialog doesn’t ruffle your feathers, there are hilarious observations. The shoddy moms’ cookbook author friend Jessica Seinfeld reported she “loved it,” and added it’s “the most inappropriate parenting book I’ve ever read.” Consider it a guilty pleasure.

Happy Mother’s Day.