Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Christian Brando — A Hollywood Family Tragedy

Sins of the Children

Children of Hollywood stars who grow up and lead stable, successful lives far outnumber the few who seem to struggle with the fame and fortune thrust upon them by their parents' careers. But for the unfortunate few, chafing under the mantle of fame brings on self-destruction, or worse, the destruction of others.

Actor Marlon Brando & wife Tarita (AP)
Actor Marlon Brando & wife Tarita (AP)

For a notable few, ignominy is the price of their birthright. Cheryl Crane, the daughter of Lana Turner, was involved in the stabbing death of her mother's lover and struggled for years with behavior and chemical abuse problems. Griffin O'Neal, the son of Ryan O'Neal, was indicted in the manslaughter death of his friend, the son of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. Others, like Carroll O'Connor's talented actor son Hugh, fought futile battles with drugs and alcohol.

There is no way to predict how a Hollywood child will grow up, just as there is no way to guess whether any child will grow up to be a surgeon or a sociopath. Consider the brothers Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen. Both are the sons of a famous, successful and productive father, Martin Sheen. Both have successful acting careers. But Charlie Sheen has battled drug addictions for years while his brother appears to have avoided addiction.

Cheryl Crane, Lana Turner's daughter, in custody (CORBIS)
Cheryl Crane, Lana Turner's
daughter, in custody
(CORBIS)

The success of a star parent may play some role in how his or her children turn out, but probably the most important factor is the care and nurturing the children receive from their parents as they grow. An unbalanced or eccentric star likely breeds unbalanced and eccentric children. One of the most capricious stars ever is Marlon Brando, and few families have experienced more pain and suffering than Brando's. Suicide, homicide, addiction and violence have all touched the Brandos, and the actor himself takes some of the blame for how his children turned out.

In the days before the O.J. Simpson trial, in what was perhaps a dress rehearsal for that media circus, the death of Dag Drollet in the home of Marlon Brando was front page news in Los Angeles for nine months. A homicide with more twists and turns than a Hollywood potboiler, the case still ranks as one of the city's top scandals. It is a stunning reminder that fame and fortune do not automatically bring protection against tragedy.

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