By Don Diamont
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- ebook $13.99 $17.99 CAD
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around May 29, 2018. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Called a “daytime deity” by Soap Opera Digest, Don Diamont is best known as the dashing publishing titan with steel abs, “Dollar Bill Spencer,” on the most-watched daytime drama in the world, The Bold and the Beautiful.
But all of that takes second place to his most important role to date: father to seven boys.
By turns hilarious and poignant, My Seven Sons and How We Raised Each Other is a family memoir for our time. Don writes with openness and courage about the ways his family came together: by marriage, divorce, the death of his sister, and marriage again. Today’s blended families might look different from the households of even a few decades ago, but the first dates, first cars, busting curfew, talking back, grounding, broken hearts, laughs, tears, and the love are the same.
From his childhood growing up in LA, to his Zoolander phase as a model in both Paris and Los Angeles, to the iconic place he now occupies in daytime television, Don also gives us a glimpse into a life that at times could have been scripted for a soap opera. And, with brutal honesty, he tells of the personal devastation he suffered after the deaths of his father, brother, and sister.
My Seven Sons is required reading for everyone who is a parent, and all those who have one.
At times, being the father of my gang is extraordinarily ordinary. Breakfast is served. School lunches are packed. Nobody’s perfect, but everybody tries. A solid work ethic is essential to football, photo shoots, and everything in between. Mistakes are made and lessons are learned, sometimes the hard way. Ego trips and drama are left outside the door with a giant pile of muddy sneakers. There’s no room on our schedule for Hollywood vanity. You don’t want to know about the sights, sounds, and smells that permeate a house of seven boys.
“Eight boys,” my wife Cindy corrects me. “You’re the ringleader.” She holds her own as the sole female in the Animal House.
Traditional, we are not. My four oldest sons, Lauren, Sasha, Alexander, and Luca, are the biological children of my first wife. I shared custody of them with her. The youngest two, Anton and Davis, arrived on the scene with Cindy Ambuehl, the love of my life. The last to join the brood, and the oldest, is my nephew Drew. Not too long after my sister Bette died suddenly at forty-two, Drew called and asked if he could come live with us.
Of course Cindy and I said yes, and we’ve raised him as one of our own ever since.
What the hell? What’s one more kid? we thought.
You step up and do what’s right, as my father would say.
When I was a kid, my father was not only my dad but also my best friend. Not an easy balance to strike, believe me. I’ve known plenty of guys who have trouble walking this line with their kids. They either try to come off as the Great Santini tough guy or like some sidekick who’s just happy to be asked along. Walking in the middle of those two extremes is one of many lessons I learned from my dad—lessons that I now implement as a father myself.
My life has had more than its share of tragedy, and my family has been through painful periods. Still, I feel like the luckiest man in the world. I’ve been a soap opera star for over thirty years, the last eight on the most-watched daytime drama on the planet, The Bold and the Beautiful. I love my job. It has given me a life beyond my wildest dreams. And yet what I do for a living is a distant second to the love I have for my—very LARGE—family.
For most people, the 1950s television version of a perfect family doesn’t exist. It certainly doesn’t in my house. We live in a world where the very concept of family is constantly being redefined. In the best of circumstances, the crucial factor is love. Beyond that, you step up and deal with whatever life throws at you, and try to have some laughs. With seven boys, life throws you laughs about 70 percent of the time.
It’s the other 30 percent of the time that you want to kill them.
During my senior year in high school, I was really screwing up. I just wanted to be done with it, and that was reflected in my academic performance. That motivated my dad to sit me down and initiate a conversation about my plans for the future.
“Donald, what’s going on with you? You have to get your act together.”
“Dad, I have no desire to go to college. I’m not meant to sit behind a desk. I have this thing. This quality that people respond to.” That got an understandable “Hmmm” from Dad. I didn’t convey it, or mean it, in a cocky way. It was the observation of a seventeen-year-old kid, borne out of my various interactions in the world with friends, girlfriends, teammates, coaches, administrators, and teachers. Now, my dad knew I had a big personality and was a bit of a clown, so possibly that “Hmmm” was him thinking sarcastically, “Really? Well maybe you should run away and join the circus.” That might have been a fair comment in the moment, but he didn’t say it.
I really did believe that my greatest assets were my personality and looks, and that I would do better out in the world making connections than behind a desk or in a classroom. But looking back, I have to admit that my strategy, or lack of one, was shaky at best.
My father tented his hands like a church steeple, which was always what he did when he was thinking.
“Well, I’m glad you have this thing,” he said, fingertips tapping. “But you might want to think about coming up with a backup plan.”
My dad was not a screamer, or a drinker, or even much of a disciplinarian, at least not for my usual screwups. He let my mom handle that. Most of the time, my dad was just my buddy. But if I screwed up significantly, then he would bring down the hammer. I don’t mean physically, but he would get his point across without any ambiguity.
During our conversation, Dad made it clear that if I wasn’t going to college, then I needed to pay for my car insurance and gas, and come up with my own pocket money. In other words, I’d better get a job while this nebulous “thing” was working out for me.
I loved my dad with a passion. I don’t remember ever being mad at him. He respected my intellect and feelings. He never patronized me. Even when I was a kid, he spoke with me as though I was a worthwhile participant in the conversation.
But, above all, he made sure we laughed.
As a kid, I remember going to my father’s office in the California Mart Building in downtown LA. He had an incredibly gregarious personality. He knew everybody in there, it seemed, and had a joke for each one of them. He had this cordless phone that he’d carry in the pocket of his jacket—this was years before cell phones—and he could click something on it, and the phone would begin to ring. One day, we were in the elevator with a few other people when Dad made the phone ring in his pocket. He pulled the receiver out and, nonchalantly, put it to his ear. “Honey, looks like I’m working late,” he said. “I’m not going to be home for dinner.” The people in the elevator stood there dumbfounded, and then began to laugh, as did I.
When my father was growing up, he wanted to be a farmer. Not all that unusual except for the fact that he lived on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. However, he explored his childhood yearnings in Hightstown, New Jersey, where he spent his summers with his cousins. He told my oldest sister, Elena, that when he milked the cows, he sometimes aimed the udder into his mouth and drank right from the tap. Later, he attended an agricultural college for a few semesters, but marriage and family would preempt his vision of life on Green Acres.
Though he would never actually fulfill his dream, for much of his life he kept it right outside his car window. In the years before I was born, Dad worked as a traveling salesman. He sold a line of boys’ clothing throughout the upper Midwest and was on the road for weeks at a time in Idaho, Montana, and South Dakota. While Dad was on the road, Mom, Elena, and, later, my brother Jack lived with my mom’s parents in Lido Beach, Long Island. Although my father loved his family and missed them while he worked, the miles and miles of corn and wheat enthralled him. He told me stories about outrunning tornadoes and flipping his car over on a deserted country route. He also ran into anti-Semitism in America’s heartland.
Elena tells this story about Dad from his traveling salesman days.
One Saturday evening he called on a customer at his home in very rural Wyoming. He mentioned that he was staying at a hotel in a nearby town.
“Nonsense,” the customer’s wife said. “You’ll have dinner with us and stay for the night.”
Later, when my father excused himself to go to bed, the woman asked what time she should wake him for church.
“I don’t go to church,” my father said. “I’m Jewish.”
“Stop kidding, Albert,” the woman said. “You don’t have any horns.”
Still, Dad was fond of the people of the Midwest, and his customers trusted him.
“Al, you write the order; we don’t have to know,” they’d tell him.
“You don’t screw people over because you can only do it once,” Dad would say. “It’s not only unethical; it’s stupid.”
Albert Jack Feinberg, or AJ as I sometimes called him, was a good man, and his nature was to help others. Not too long ago my son Alexander and I went to visit Elena in New York. While we were there, we met an old neighbor of ours from when we lived on Long Island. Now in his eighties, the neighbor told us a story of a night when he and my father rode a Long Island Rail Road train home together from the city. It was snowing hard that night, and when they stepped off the train at the station, the neighbor saw that his car had a flat tire. “I was going to call AAA,” he told us. “But your father said, ‘Don’t be silly.’” Dad then pulled off his sports coat, rolled up his sleeves, and changed the man’s tire in the snow.
Though far from an overnight success, my father worked hard and was able to provide for his family. When I was born, we lived in a town called Long Beach on a barrier island off of Long Island. As the children’s clothing line became more and more popular—and because Dad worked his butt off—he was able to buy my mother’s dream house not far away in Lido Beach, a more affluent town. Even before my parents finished moving in the furniture, however, the company’s executives called Dad into their central office in the Garment District in Manhattan.
The company that my father worked for was called Donmoor. The Isaacson brothers, three of them, owned Donmoor and treated Dad like a son. In the office that day, the Isaacsons offered my father a promotion to vice president in charge of sales on the West Coast. The company’s Los Angeles office wasn’t performing up to company expectations, and they wanted Dad to help turn it around.
Though Mom’s dream house might have been in Lido Beach, when Dad told her about the job offer in California she couldn’t pack fast enough. My mom was a sun worshipper. So when Dad asked if she wanted to live in San Fernando Valley or on the West Side of LA, Mom asked, “Where is it warmest?”
I was three years old when we moved from Long Island to California. I grew up in a ranch-style house in Sherman Oaks at the end of a private drive and on the slope of a hill that overlooked the whole San Fernando Valley. My father was great at working with his hands, a gift that he did not pass on to me. Even the most mundane tasks with my dad were a show. He had beautiful handwriting. And watching him eat was like watching artistry: the way he cut his food, and the way he never left a thing on his plate.
Dad could fix anything and loved to work with wood. He put up the paneling and molding in our house and built a gazebo in the backyard. He had a green thumb, too, which was not included in the genetic makeup he passed down, either. He planted the whole hillside around our house with fir tree saplings so the roots would hold the soil. Maybe his crowning achievement was a jacaranda tree that grew from a hole right in the middle of the patio. Each spring, the jacaranda would bloom in the most beautiful purple flowers.
My dad always drove Caddies or Lincolns. I’d wait for him to wheel the big boats into our cul-de-sac and then up the rise into our driveway. When I was in Little League, I’d meet him with our baseball gloves. Dad would roll up his sleeves, grab the catcher’s mitt—which I still have—and I’d pitch to him until Mom called us in for dinner. He’d never take off his tie—I used to think he wore it to bed with his pajamas. In my memory, his tie is flipped over a shoulder as he squats in a catcher’s position. I don’t remember him ever saying that he was too tired or didn’t feel like having a catch that night. I think he would have let me pitch to him until the sun went down if I wanted.
AJ was a very gregarious guy and would make the dumbest puns and pull adolescent pranks. But coming from him they were hilarious. Dad was the king of malapropisms and would say things like “the whole famdamly.” Or we’d all be riding in his car and he’d fart, then lock the window.
Dad sometimes called me “Deeb.” My middle name is Bruce, and Deeb is a sort of mashed-up version of my initials, DB. Sometimes he’d put a Jewish spin on it and call me De-bala. He’d walk into my room and say, “Deeb, pull my finger,” then he’d fart, then turn around and leave. I was a willing participant in the ongoing fart jokes—it didn’t skip a generation. The same goes on with my kids. You can just imagine what poor Cindy has to go through in a house filled with boys where the fart jokes are alive and well.
The reason I think he was so good at being both a friend and father was that he never lost touch with the kid he used to be. That’s where our friendship formed: the kid in me and the kid in him. The same holds true for my boys and me. Cindy still says that I’m the biggest kid in the family.
One Saturday morning, just before my sixteenth birthday, Dad told me to jump in the Caddy, that we were going for a ride. I don’t think there’s a better bonding experience between a father and a son than just driving along together. I do it all the time with my kids. But on this day, the ride with my father was more special than usual. When he pulled into the Pontiac dealership, my eyes got big.
That he was about to buy a car for me didn’t come as a complete surprise. He had bought a Volvo for my sister Bette (pronounced Betty, like Bette Davis), when she turned sixteen, four years earlier. Still, when I’d ask him when it was going to be my turn, he’d string me along.
“Maybe we should wait until you’re eighteen,” he would say, his eyes twinkling conspiratorially.
When we walked into the dealership, a gold 1979 Trans Am sat right in the center of the showroom floor. A couple of years before, a movie had come out called Smokey and the Bandit that starred my favorite actor, Burt Reynolds. It also featured a tricked-out black Trans Am. I liked the movie a lot and thought that Burt Reynolds was very cool. But I loved the car even more.
Dad, however, didn’t have the same emotional attachment to Smokey and the Bandit and Burt Reynolds’s Trans Am that I did. Besides, he had bought Bette a Volvo to keep her safe. With me, he knew the apple didn’t fall far from the tree—Dad and I were both pretty aggressive drivers. AJ believed that having that much power in my hands would be dangerous. And he was right. Trans Am or no Trans Am, I could still feel my heart pump in my chest. For a kid anywhere, a first car is a massive occasion. For a kid growing up in LA, however, it’s arguably the most important event of your life.
Back home, and now the proud owner of a brand-new 1978 burgundy Pontiac Firebird with burgundy wheels and a burgundy interior, I was in heaven. My best friend Duane and I meticulously applied pinstriping to the car, and I installed a Jensen stereo. The next time I rolled into the parking lot at Brentwood School, my high school, I did so with Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” blaring from the speakers. Soon the car would be known, endearingly to some, and not so much to others, as the “disco mobile.”
I’d like to tell you I treated the car with the utmost care for as long as I owned it. But if I did, I’d be lying. I rocketed around LA in the Bird like Mario Andretti, but without anything close to the Formula One legend’s ability. Suffice it to say, I put myself in harm’s way on more than one occasion. I did doughnuts on the street, burned rubber when lights turned green, and raced down Santa Monica Boulevard. There was one street near me that was exceptionally broad, and when it rained, water always gathered in one spot. I would hit the pool going full on, and then put the car into a 360-degree spin. I also remember driving in reverse at 50 miles per hour and then pulling the emergency brake, which sent the car into an 180-degree spin. It was the epitome of stupidity, and I’m lucky to be alive.
I did have my share of accidents, however, and I have a photo of my dad standing in front of a huge dent in my car and throwing money up in the air. The photo was for artistic purposes only. I paid for the repair.
To succeed as the father of seven boys, you have to be tough. Sensitive as well, but tough. You have to know when to lay down the law, and you have to let them know that you’re wise to the crap they constantly try to feed you. In retrospect, my dad should have come down harder on me. I kept my boys on a short leash when they started driving. I told them, “There is nothing you can do or think about doing behind the wheel that I haven’t done.” When my son Lauren rear-ended a car that was stopped at a red light, he insisted he wasn’t texting. “So you just didn’t see the huge yellow Hummer just sitting there?” I asked.
What I’ve learned is that love can come in various forms. Sometimes it’s a hug, and sometimes it’s a foot up an ass. Both actions originate from the same loving place.
In that regard, I had the greatest role model anyone could want. My dad rarely missed any of my games in high school and was, for the most part, the type of vocal fan most fathers are, except for this one occasion when I was playing basketball at Brentwood School. For some reason, the refs that night were calling a very uneven game. All the calls were going against us. It was so one-sided you would think they were wearing the other team’s uniforms. Our coaches complained. Some of the people in the stands began to boo. Then, after one particularly egregious call, I heard the bellow of a familiar voice above all the rest.
“Let the kids play! Let them play the damn game!”
I had to look up, and yup, it was my dad.
“Call it both ways!”
My dad let the refs have it. And then they let him have it and threw him out of the gym.
“You’re ejecting me?” AJ said indignantly on the way out. “You oughtta be ejected!”
The crowd applauded him. Even the coach gave my father a nod.
And that’s the bar Dad set for me: When it comes to being there for your kids, sometimes you just have to get thrown out of the gym.
Most of the big moments in my life seem to have been scripted beforehand and appear to come out of nowhere. The path to my becoming an actor is a prime example of this. I certainly hadn’t set my sights on acting. If I had a dream as a kid, it wasn’t to be on the stage or screen but the hardwood floor. I played basketball incessantly. I spent hours and hours out in the driveway practicing. AJ even put up a spotlight so I could shoot at night. I would play Around the World or H.O.R.S.E. or some other shooting game with my dad when he came from work or on the weekends. Most of the time, however, it was just my imagination running away with me. I would play Jo Jo White or John Havlicek. And I wouldn’t be me; I’d be Jerry West or Gale Goodrich or Oscar Robinson. I would throw the pass, catch the pass, and, of course, make the shot.
Though I was a multisport athlete and loved tennis and baseball, basketball was my passion. And I could play ball. Though I was getting attention from colleges, pursuing basketball beyond high school wasn’t in my plans, and neither was a continuing academic education. College wasn’t an option. I had ADD, and I don’t mean that euphemistically. At that time, the diagnosis didn’t exist. So, typically on my report card, the teacher would write, “easily distracted,” or “Donald has trouble keeping focused,” or “he relishes being the class clown.” The truth was, I did try. But I just couldn’t concentrate on my work. Fortunately, I found ways to compensate and get by. I got my high school diploma by the skin of my teeth and, once I did, I knew I wasn’t going to spend another day in a classroom.
In hindsight, my father was correct in thinking that my “I’ve got this thing” strategy was a bit abstract, but I did have a sense of predestination in my life. People reacted to me in a positive way, and somehow I knew if I just followed my instincts, I’d be okay. Even in the classroom, for some reason, teachers would bend over backward to help me.
When I graduated from high school, I began working at the Nautilus gym in Encino. The job was a perfect fit. Along with basketball, tennis, and playing second base, I was into boxing and martial arts. On my days off from the gym, I’d head to the beach in the Firebird with my brother Jack. Girls abounded, and life at eighteen years old was pretty sweet.
Then one day I happened to be in Beverly Hills. I didn’t go there often, and, for the life of me, I can’t remember why I was there. What I do remember was the man who approached me and asked if I’d ever considered being a model.
I had done some modeling when I was a kid, runway shows for the big department stores in town. My dad had shown one of the buyers my picture, and he asked my father to ask me if I’d be interested in modeling the line.
That day in Beverly Hills was the third time someone approached me about modeling. Not too long before that, a guy came up to me when I was working at the gym in Encino and asked if I would be interested in modeling. I pretty much ignored him. But now, with another person showing interest, I started wondering: Maybe this was put in my path for a reason. When the man handed me his card and it said he was a scout for Elite Model Management, I had a feeling that “my thing” was about to pay off.
“Make sure you call me,” he said as he walked away.
I did call, and when I went to see the Elite scout things began to happen very quickly. He set up a photo shoot for me with a young up-and-coming photographer by the name of Kal Yee. Just as an aside, Kal has gone on to be an internationally acclaimed fashion, celebrity, and fitness photographer. His magazine editorial and advertisement photography has appeared in GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Playboy, and Vogue Hommes. Additionally, he has shot over one hundred fitness magazine covers, including my 1987 Men’s Fitness cover and story photos. At that point, I was on The Young and the Restless, and it was pretty cool that both of our careers had taken off. We maintained our friendship over the years, and in the spring of 2013, he shot my son Alexander’s first modeling photos. It was pretty special that the photographer who shot my first modeling pictures in 1981 was shooting my son’s first pictures thirty-two years later. I was there for the shoot and jumped in the frame at one point so Kal could take a shot of Alexander and me together. I’m glad I did, because it’s a photo that Cindy loves, and Alexander and I cherish. Though Alexander was, of course, focused on football, he thought he could make some money modeling as opposed to having to get a “real job.” Lol! In fact, on the strength of those photos, Alexander was signed to Wilhelmina’s men’s division, and quickly booked a couple of jobs. But just as quickly, modeling fell by the wayside for him. His senior season was approaching, and he gave his undivided attention to what he was passionate about: playing quarterback. That worked out well, given that he ended his high school football career as the LA City Offensive Player of the Year and was offered a full-ride scholarship to Indiana University.
Getting back to 1981, my first shoot with Kal launched my modeling career. And, I was told, if I wanted to take it to the next level, I needed to go to New York, and ultimately Europe, and do lots of editorial work (magazine advertisement) and build my book. So off to Manhattan I went!
I stayed with my uncle Bob, my dad’s brother, and my cousin Nina. Not long after I arrived, Elite called me in to meet with modeling agents from France. They ran the men’s division for Paris Planning and were choosing guys that they wanted to sign and bring to Paris. Well, they signed me. It was both exciting and intimidating. I had never even been to a sleepaway camp, never mind a trip to Europe, and now I was moving to Paris, France!
By early September 1981, everything seemed to be falling into place, just as I knew it would. Looking back, I may, in fact, have been manifesting my destiny. The successes I was accumulating reinforced my belief in myself, which I expressed in the conversation that I had with my dad. I wasn’t meant to sit behind a desk. I don’t mean this to sound conceited or cocky. I’d simply observed that I had a certain presence and way with people. It was an observation that I only shared with my dad.
- On Sale
- May 29, 2018
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Center Street