Published in GRAND Magazine Issue 19 Nov/Dec 2007 pp 46-51
Born Cheryl Jean Stoppelmoor on July 12, 1951, the actress who would be known as Cheryl Ladd was raised in Huron, South Dakota, dreaming of a career in show business. She spent her childhood focused on singing, dancing, acting-and moving on. “My mother says my bags were packed from the time I was 3,” says Cheryl. “She knew I was headed for either New York or Hollywood.” While in high school, Cheryl sang with a local group called The Music Shop, which brought her to Los Angeles upon graduation. The band eventually broke up, but Cheryl stayed in L.A. intent on pursuing her dream of becoming an actress.
In just a short time, she got her first professional break as the singing voice of “Melody” on the cartoon series Josie and the Pussycats. When Cheryl was cast in the role of “Kris Munroe” on Charlie’s Angels, it catapulted her into stardom. “The onslaught of attention and instant fame was pretty overwhelming,” says Cheryl, who spent four years on the show. While still on the series, she developed and starred in the ABC telefilm When She Was Bad, which deals with the harsh realities of child abuse. “At that time, no one was saying anything about this horrific epidemic going on in our country,” says Cheryl, an ambassador for Childhelp USA, one of the largest national, nonprofit organizations dedicated to research, prevention and treatment of child abuse.
“I wanted to bring this issue to the forefront of people’s minds.” Cheryl keeps herself busy developing new projects, including a recurring role on the TV series Las Vegas. Cheryl is a terrific golfer, and her 2005 book, Token Chick, describes her experiences as a leading celebrity golfer. She has also written a children’s book with her husband of more than 20 years, Brian Russell. The book, The Adventures of Little Nettie Windship, teaches children the value of good citizenship and championship. That children’s book is going to come in handy now. Cheryl just became a grandmother for the first time, as a stepgrandmother. Lindsay, who is Brian’s daughter from his previous marriage to singer/songwriter (nominated for Broadway’s The Color Purple) Brenda Russell, had a baby boy earlier this year. The baby boy is the apple of Cheryl’s eye, and she was thrilled to tell GRAND all about him.
I am a first-time grandmother, and it’s a little more complex than that because I have my daughter, Jordan, and my stepdaughter, Lindsay. My daughter Jordan was 5 1/2, almost 6, when we got married, and Lindsay was 4 1/2. It is Lindsay, my stepdaughter, who has had the baby. It’s my first grandchild, nevertheless,” says Cheryl in an exclusive interview with GRAND Magazine.
Cheryl remembers the chaotic day of the blessed event as if it were yesterday.
It was amazing. On the morning of Lindsay’s due date, I was working in Los Angeles. I don’t live in Los Angeles; I live in the Santa Barbara area. I was there working on Las Vegas. And my husband calls and says Lindsay is in labor and in the hospital. I am freaking out because I want to be at the hospital. And he was driving like a madman to the hospital in Los Angeles. So I keep telling everybody, “Oh, my daughter is in the hospital. She is having a baby, and we’ve got to hurry up!” I was pushing everyone like a maniac to get their scenes done. I said, “Come on, Jim [James Caan], we have to get this done. My daughter is having her baby. Come on, let’s go, let’s go!” So I finished the scene, and I got the call that she had the baby and everything was okay. She and the baby were doing brilliantly well. I was so relieved. They said Lindsay had had an 8 pound 9 ounce baby with no drugs of any kind. She did it all naturally. She had done all the classes, and she was just amazing. I am so proud of her.
When Cheryl met her grandson, it was love at first sight.
When I first laid eyes on the baby, I just wept; I absolutely fell apart. I just wept at this precious little thing. You could clearly see both the mommy and the daddy in the baby. I saw my stepdaughter Lindsay the day after she was born practically, and all the pictures we have of her remind me of that. As soon as I held Nehemiah in my arms, memories came flooding back to me of holding my daughter Jordan in my arms for the first time. It was so overwhelming. And it’s really funny, because immediately while I was holding him and standing up, the rocking began. You don’t even realize you’re doing it. You just immediately coo and rock. And of course everyone laughed at me because I didn’t realize I was doing it. It’s organic. It’s just so natural. You just can’t help it.
Cheryl says little Nehemiah has a great personality. She also admits she’s been called on from time to time for diaper duty, and that’s okay with her.
He’s only seven months old [at the time of the interview in August 2007], but he has this great belly laugh. He’s at this wonderful age where you can just crack him up, and he’ll howl with laughter at you. He’s got a ton of hair, and he’s absolutely gorgeous. His parents are wonderful with him. Lindsay is a wonderful mother. She sings to him, she stimulates him, and jokes around with him. I’m loving every minute of being a grandmother. And I’m proud to say that I was one of the first people to change his diaper. I get to do all the fun things. Now it seems like every time we’re in a restaurant together, he decides this is a perfect time to do his thing, and I of course volunteer to change him. Lindsay says, “Oh, I’m really sorry.” But I say, “You know babies; they’ll ruin your dinner any chance they get when they’re in diapers.” They get stimulated from the aroma of the foods or something. The way it works is that I grab him and spend half the time when we’re at dinner in the bathroom with him and his poopy pants, but I don’t mind it a bit.
Cheryl says she’s been preparing for her role as grandmother from the moment she heard that Lindsay was pregnant.
I have to tell you, about a week after Lindsay told us she was pregnant, I went out and bought a rocking chair. I don’t want to sound too excited about it or anything, but I went and found this beautiful antique wood rocker that has this wonderful squeak. At this point he has not spent overnight at our place, because Lindsay is still breastfeeding. We’re anxiously awaiting a time when they can drop him off at our house and go up north and have a nice vacation together. And we are so prepared. When they were up for the first weekend with the baby, they were not getting any sleep, as all new parents don’t. Even though she’s a stay-at-home mommy, the baby was still up every three and a half to four hours, so neither of them got a good night’s sleep. Every time she would feed him, then I would take the baby to help out. Once I was doing something, and my husband was holding the baby; and when I came back into the living room, there he was all stretched out on this big chair with the baby draped over his tummy-both snoring like two bears.”
Cheryl’s philosophy of being a grandparent involves knowing when to hold your tongue.
Being a grandparent is totally different from being a parent. I think the greatest difference is that it comes along at that part of your life when you appreciate how precious it is in a way you didn’t before and how precious innocence is in a way you didn’t before. I think by loving and protecting this gorgeous, gorgeous child, you realize you’re not going to be there for the rest of the child’s life and not going to be responsible for all the tough stuff. You have to know when to keep your mouth shut, but to be there and say, “I’m here if you need any help.” Thankfully, Nehemiah’s parents are wonderful. Lindsay and my son-in-law are such great parents, and that really helps. One of the joys of being a grandparent is the fun you have. We’ve already taken Nehemiah to Disneyland. We went on Small World and the submarine ride. I think his favorite thing was the parade with the floats and the characters and the songs. He squealed and yelled and looked at everything. He would jump up and down, and then he’d stop and then he’d wiggle his butt like he was dancing to the beat. He has a huge wonderful personality, and he’s so loving. He’s one of those babies who is just a love bucket.
Cheryl draws upon her own upbringing as an inspiration for being a successful parent and grandparent.
My parents laughed a lot. My mother was a teenage mom. She had two babies by the time she was 18. She and dad were in South Dakota in the ’40s. I was born in 1951. My mother had been working since she was 12 or 13 years old, and my dad did the same thing. Back then in the Midwest you grew up and pitched in and became adult right away. You didn’t stay adolescent very long. It was just the norm, and what was great about them was that they were madly in love with each other, and that translated very well to their children. They had fun together. It was a tough act to follow. My dad was an engineer on the railroad, and he would go away for three or four days at a time; and my mom, who was 19 or 20 years old, would play with us. We would dress up and play games, and she would make it fun for us. She was just a girl herself, and she brought that to parenting. Even though she was a wonderful parent, she also brought enormous fun to that role.
Cheryl took with her that sense of fun and her Midwest values when she left South Dakota to pursue a show business career.
You can take the girl out of South Dakota, but I don’t think you can take the small-town values out of the girl. All I wanted when I was in South Dakota when I was young was to be a performer. I wanted that from the time I was 3 years old. I was singleminded and focused on getting to Los Angeles and New York and getting on with my career. I knew this was where my “joy button” lived and where I wanted to do this. I saw myself doing everything I did in my life so that I was geared to being ready when I had the opportunity. You have to understand that while growing up in South Dakota, people looked at me and said, “You’re really not a wealthy girl. You’re a poor girl and living in South Dakota. What makes you think you can be somebody?” They thought I was crazy. Half the town thought I was nuts, and the other half said, “You go for it, honey.” And you know, you need a little of both. You need people to say “Yes, you can,” and you need people to say “Who do you think you are?” That helped me stay driven and focused. I was centered and grew up in a family that said, “Good for you, honey, but listen, we have to do the dishes.”
Cheryl found success in Los Angeles, but it took a little time.
My very first job in Los Angeles was as the singing voice of “Melody” in Josie and the Pussycats. I was constantly working as an actor, and I did episodes of everything from Happy Days to Ironside to Streets of San Francisco. Everyone thought I was an overnight success when I was cast in Charlie’s Angels, but the truth of the matter was that I was a sevenyear overnight success. But Charlie’s Angels was definitely my big break. My fondest memory of that time was the adventure of it all and that it was really successful and really good.”
Now, however, nothing can compare with her fondest memory of little Nehemiah’s birth.
We’re both pretty excited about being grandparents, and my husband is over the moon over little Nehemiah. We just love this gorgeous little boy.
Sidebar: Token Chick on the Links
What many people don’t know about Cheryl Ladd is that along with being an accomplished actress and a timeless beauty, she is also a leading celebrity golfer with a 14 handicap. In 2005, she wrote a book with Bob Hellman, Token Chick (A Woman’s Guide to Golfing with the Boys), an account of her passion for the game and a guide to golfing for gals. Here’s a brief excerpt of how golf helped her bond with her new co-stars when she joined the cast of Las Vegas.
“In 2003, I made my return to network television on the NBC show Las Vegas. When I got the offer to do it, certainly I was excited, but that excitement went sky-high when I heard who my co-star would be: James Caan. [Caan is not with the series this fall. Cheryl, however, is staying with the series.] It’s not too often that you get to act alongside a living Hollywood legend, let alone be his onscreen wife. Also starring on the show is Josh Duhamel. He plays Jimmy’s protégé. Token chicks probably know Josh best from the years he spent on the long-running daytime soap All My Children.”
“When I met my ‘two Js,’ we immediately found our common thread. We’re all golf maniacs.”
“Working on a television show sometimes means long 15-hour days. For actors, those hours are usually spent the same way: acting, eating and waiting to shoot a scene. I’ve got the acting part down, and I love to eat; it’s the waiting around that gets to all of us. But things are different on the set of Las Vegas. Since Jimmy and Josh both love to golf, we have practice nets behind the casino set on our show. The next time you’re watching an episode and you see a shot of people playing slots, remember that on the other side of that wall, you can usually find Jimmy, Josh or me whacking golf balls.”