The Monster Who Tried to Destroy Melissa Francis

Melissa Francis of Fox Business grew up a free-market conservative in Los Angeles.  As told in her 2012 book Diary of a Stage Mother's Daughter, her engineer father tucked her into bed the night the family gathered to watch her first appearance on Little House on the Prairie.

"Yes, you can be the first lady president. Or whatever you want. Whatever makes you happy. That's what is so great about our country. It's a free society with a free market …

"Someday I will tell you about Adam Smith and The Wealth of Nations[.] … [I]t's about the Invisible Hand."

Missy Francis worked from age one through high school as an actress.  At Harvard College, she earned $25 an hour as a tech assistant at the business school, but not before making do with a food prep job in the kitchen beneath Eliot House.  She never worked less than 40 hours a week her junior and senior years.  Chopping veggies and teaching MBA kids about the internet, and a paid internship at PBS, resulted in a substantial $15,000 savings when she left college for the $6.10/hour entry-level world of TV news in Maine.

The economic path from Little House to TV news is partly the subject of Missy's book.  On the surface, hers is a story of determination.  But as the title says, there's an antagonist.  Mom is a monster, "the queen of slamming down the phone," as she did when Missy called home to tell Mom she had gotten a coveted unpaid summer internship at NBC in Washington, D.C.

"Absolutely not. Let me get this straight. You want to spend the summer living with your boyfriend a million miles away … instead of going on auditions, and I'm footing the bill for the whole thing? Ha! You've got a lot of nerve!"

And with that, the phone went dead.

Getting to know the monster's explosive anger – she seized 13-year-old Missy by the shoulders and threw her downstairs, headfirst – is just the beginning of understanding the conflicts in this story.  We never really know why Mom wants to destroy her daughter, but the struggles Missy endures to finally escape the villain are worthy of classic literature.  The final act reveals an unspeakably vicious crime that Mom commits against her family.  To call her a stage mother is an act of kindness.

Melissa Francis wrote this book after writing fiction, without publishing success.  This true story flows in skillfully written prose, made better, no doubt, by her earlier fiction attempts.  Her detail is astonishing.  She surveys her new workplace deep in the basement of her college dorm:

Half a dozen women and one lone guy stood at prep stations around the room, quietly chopping, mixing, and sorting. In the center of the room, an island of burners held pots big enough to boil naughty children one by one. Blue flames licked the bottoms of the pots as white foam bubbled to the surface. On the far side, a wall of ovens radiated heat and cooked the room. A sharp scent of antiseptic cleaning fluid overpowered anything that might smell like food.

Fox News stars write books, but this is bound in authenticity, thus helping to define the star herself and bring interest to her writing skill.  Her camera records everything.  The extreme close-ups are raw, the editing fast.  The stage mother's daughter sails through her prepubescent successes buoyed by Mom, both on top of the world.

"When Mom and I worked together, we were an unbeatable team. 'The other kids wasted their gas' was the rallying cry I invented for auditions."

Fading slowly in the background is her older sister, beautiful and smart.  The monster claws both girls.  Missy is badly injured but survives; her sister claws back and doesn't.  One circle of family conflict hell is how to prevent the monster from digging too deep.  Another is how Missy tries to save her sister once she sees that the wounds have damaged her sister's underlying young adult mentality.

The other sphere of conflict is with Dad, the third victim.  Though a voice of common sense when the girls are little, he becomes dependent on their presence as a shield against Mom and helpless as they all are against the ferocious onslaught.  A self-made man from the South Side of Chicago and successful entrepreneur, he is defeated, but eventually he recovers.

To watch Melissa Francis challenge, cajole, tease, and charm her TV colleagues and guests, one would not think "Valley Girl."  Viewers may be surprised that her upbringing was in Porter Ranch, deep into the San Fernando Valley; in the studios and lots and on locations for LA shoots; in Thousand Oaks, where she rode her chestnut mare; at Magic Mountain; in her brand new red BMW convertible, a 16th birthday present.  In the conflict between personal consumption and personal achievement, we know the outcome for her: straight As, career success, family of her own.

How did she get free-market religion?  It's not the subject of the book, but economic survival hovers over everything, as does the commercial imperative behind TV programming, the benefits and pressures of industriousness, and playing to win.  What gives this book its edge is the evil consequence that comes with money in the wrong hands.  There is real psychological and financial danger in families.  The book's life lesson is that family conflict can make you strong if you can handle the pressure and have the confidence to achieve your goal of escaping.