It’s something to hear the guy who created “The Dating Game,” “The Newlywed Game” and “The Gong Show” teeter on the edge of tears. As he starts talking about his new book Della: A Memoir of my Daughter, Chuck Barris’ voice starts cracking with emotion. Not a sobbing fit, but tinged with the whispered hesitancy of a man speaking about a pain usually described as ‘unspeakable.’
Written by the author of the literary cult classic Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (in which Barris straight-facedly claims he was a contract assassin for the CIA during his TV producing years), Della marks a confession of a different sort—that of a grieving father who lost his only daughter to a drug overdose when she was 36. The book chronicles Barris’ struggle to juggle his television career alongside his parenting responsibilities after winning sole custody of Della when she was in her teens. Soon after, Della descended into the proverbial Hollywood rich kid hell of sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and more drugs—a descent that Barris claims he did not try hard enough to stop.
Calling from his home in Manhattan, Barris spoke candidly about his late daughter, his mistakes as a parent … and cites Della as a handbook for how NOT to raise a child.
What was your main motivation in writing this book about your late daughter?
Catharsis. This book is certainly different from what I usually write about, and it will be very difficult to talk about it. But I’ve written it, so I have to talk about it. Writing (Della) was a big problem—I started it and stopped it many, many times over the years because it was just too painful to write.
Do you think there is such a thing as a child who is “born bad?”
That’s a very, very good question, and I’m going to have to think about that more. I think in Della’s case, she wasn’t really born bad, but I think she had a bunch of bad breaks. I would have thought differently back then if I had thought Della had simply been born bad, but I don’t. I think it was really a series of bad breaks in her life—and I think I was one of those bad breaks.
As someone who took a lot of heat for the content of his television shows, you’re uniquely qualified to answer—do you believe TV, movies, or violent video games leads to antisocial behavior in kids?
I don’t know. I don’t think my shows necessarily led to any antisocial behavior in kids, but with the way television is today, I think I might be edging towards “yes.” What I see on TV now is very snide and always very mean-spirited in its approach. It seems like all of the contestants are looked down upon and the show is almost rooting for them to lose. But I really don’t know the total answer to the question.
What advice would you give to a parent who is dealing with a child who is abusing drugs or committing crimes?
First and foremost, stick with them. Show that kid an inordinate amount of affection — something I never did enough with Della. Also, keep the kid in one school. That was a terrible mistake I made with Della. She kept changing schools and I know that ultimately gave her a strong inferiority complex because it’s so hard to make friends in the middle of the school year when you’re the new kid. And parents need to remember that you cannot love your children too much.
What’s next for you? Any possibility of any of your other books being turned into films? (Ed.—Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was adapted into a critically acclaimed, George Clooney-directed film in 2002)
That’s a difficult question. To get Confessions adapted into a film took lots of luck. I don’t think any of my books will be made into films, but I’d love to see my first book, You and Me, Babe turned into a film. Back in the ‘70s it was optioned—(Twentieth Century Fox producers)David Brown and Richard Zanuck made me an offer for $185,000. Being as the book was a bestseller, I asked for $250,000. So they then passed on my book and they made “Jaws” instead. So if another opportunity like that comes along, I’m not passing it up.
Della: A Memoir of My Daughter is now available from Simon & Schuster in