Memoir: Found: A Daughter's Journey Home by Tatum O'Neal
William Morrow, £16.99
Published 24/09/2011 | 05:00
Ryan O'Neal had been estranged from his daughter, Tatum, for nearly 25 years when the veteran actor tried to pick her up at his lover, Farrah Fawcett's, funeral.
Nervously lining up to give her condolences to the man she hadn't seen in years, her long blonde hair whipped across her face by a sudden gust of wind, Tatum (47) was taken aback when her father grabbed her by the waist and pulled her towards him in an intimate embrace.
"I had no idea what to expect," Tatum says in her memoir, Found: A Daughter's Journey Home, "but he said, 'Hey, baby, got a drink on you? Want to get out of here?' Was it possible that my own father did not recognise me? It had been a pretty long time."
In the pantheon of dysfunctional Hollywood celebrity families, there are few to rival the tortured relationship of Ryan and Tatum O'Neal.
Tatum was just seven, and living with her mother following her parents' bitter separation, when her father swooped into her life and made her into an Oscar-winning child actress. Several years later -- at just 15 -- Tatum was abandoned by Ryan when he left the home they shared to move in with his great love, Farrah Fawcett.
Now, with years of bitter acrimony, substance abuse and rehab behind them, father and daughter are trying to rebuild their broken relationship in the most Hollywood of ways: a reality TV show, on the new Oprah network.
"She [Tatum] felt I had abandoned her and gone on off with Farrah which is somewhat true," Ryan has explained. "I was so in love with Farrah that I was blind, and so yeah, she got left at the curb but I always said just stay at the curb, I'll be back."
He's now 70. His maternal grandfather came from Ireland and he was always known in Hollywood as a hotheaded Irishman. The star of Love Story and Peyton Place admits that Tatum got her own back when she moved across America to marry another famous and temperamental Irish American, tennis player John McEnroe.
Following the demise of her parents' marriage in 1966, Tatum and her younger brother, Griffin, went to live with her mother, actor Joanna Moore, an alcoholic and drug abuser who neglected both children.
"My mother had a 16-year-old boyfriend, who beat us with switches cut from the fig tree," remembers Tatum. "We were locked in the garage for so long that we ate dog food to quell our hunger. We were unsupervised and wild."
Tatum first got drunk at the age of six when she passed out in her mother's bathroom. By then, she had already been sexually molested twice.
A year later, in 1971, her father spirited her away and put her in boarding school where she developed a severe stealing habit. On a visit to the school Ryan found her living in a room with infants, "because there was nothing I could steal from babies".
Soon after, Ryan heard of a movie script with a role for a little girl. When she won the starring role, "my dream finally came true" she said when Ryan pulled up to the school and took her away to live with him in his Malibu beach house.
That role starring opposite her father in Paper Moon would make Tatum the youngest ever Oscar winner at just 10 years old. She and Ryan became an inseparable duo, gracing Hollywood soirees. By 11, she was the highest-paid child actor ever, earning $350,000 for Bad News Bears. By 12 she was smoking pot, and by 15 she had graduated to coke.
But when Ryan fell madly in love with poster girl Farrah Fawcett, the little stability that Tatum had ever known came to an abrupt end. In 1979, "feeling saddled" with his children, Ryan moved in with Fawcett. When Tatum called her father to complain about his absence, Ryan said, "What? You're 15. What's the problem?"
Left alone, the two teenagers smoked pot and watched a lot of TV. Mostly they sat around and tried to "figure out why we had been abandoned by the parent who was supposed to be our saviour".
In 1986, Tatum fled Los Angeles to marry tennis ace John McEnroe. Then the No 1 ranked player in the world, McEnroe "didn't trust Ryan as far as he could throw him", remembers Tatum. When the couple didn't invite O'Neal to their New York nuptials, the rift between father and daughter widened.
After eight tumultuous years and three children together, the couple divorced in 1994 and Tatum fell into a spiral of heroin addiction and lost custody of her children. The drug was the "only way I had found to feel inner peace. Yet it was running everything: my career, my relationship with my kids, my life".
In 2008, on a lonely Sunday afternoon in Manhattan, after many years of sobriety, Tatum left her apartment, strolled around the corner and tried to buy crack cocaine from a street dealer.
The move landed her in jail and on the front cover of the tabloids. The press mocked her for lying to her arresting officers that she was researching an acting role. Sick of the coverage, she moved back to LA.
And then in June 2009 her old nemesis Farrah Fawcett died, and the process of reconciliation finally began.
"It's been heartache after heartache, and it wasn't until the greatest heartache of all -- losing Farrah -- that Tatum came back," said Ryan.
Now under the ugly glare of reality television lights, the father-daughter duo are taking a tentative step towards a new beginning, although the publication of her memoir in which she reveals his poor parenting has caused further strain.
"It's challenging but it's worth it to have her back in the fold," Ryan says of his daughter. "She's still my little girl."