Monday, July 22, 2013

Rock-a-Bye, Royal Baby

When I heard that the Duchess of Cambridge (aka Kate, wife of Prince William) had gone into labor, my first thought was relief that my own childbearing – though it certainly created excitement in my family circle – did not require an international media watch. But of course I was not on track to produce a royal heir to the throne of Great Britain.

I know nothing about the protocol of videotaping a 21st century royal birth for posterity. But back when various guys named Louis reigned over France, it seemed urgent to ascertain that there were no baby-switching shenanigans in the birth chamber. So if you were a royal consort like Marie Antoinette, you could expect the bedroom at Versailles to be packed with blue-blooded onlookers. Just one more reason I’m glad I’m a commoner.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I published in the Los Angeles Times an article about pre-natal services. As research, I visited one of those trendy new birthing centers where you’re promised a home-like atmosphere. The head of the place (a man with a healthy crop of dandruff, as I recall) showed me a bedroom and proudly explained how you could invite any visitors you chose to watch you suffering through the throes of labor and delivery: your mother, your previous children, your videographer. No, I wasn’t tempted.

Ron Howard, though, gave in to temptation. Wife Cheryl became pregnant in 1980 while Ron was directing a TV movie called Skyward, in which most of the action is set at a Texas airstrip. The Howards’ redheaded daughter, Bryce Dallas – now a successful actress in her own right – was born on March 2, 1981. (Her middle name was chosen in honor of the city of her conception). Among Ron’s old friends from the time when he directed his very first film, Grand Theft Auto, at New World Pictures, word circulated that the expectant father, a filmmaker to the core, had personally picked up a movie camera and documented Bryce’s arrival. The folks at New World were definitely taken aback by this news. After all, movie blood is one thing, but actual blood is something else again. I strongly suspect New World’s boss, Roger Corman, was far too squeamish to record the birth of  his four offspring.

Lots of babies are born in Hollywood movies. Long ago, the whole messy business of childbirth was kept off screen, with most of the focus on the hustle-bustle of those in attendance. See, for instance, Gone With the Wind, in which the birth of Melanie’s child is upstaged by Prissy’s tragicomic admission that  “I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies.” And countless kettles have been put to boil in old movies, prompting my younger self to wonder exactly how all that hot water figured into the birthing process.  

Leave it to Judd Apatow, devoted father of two, to want to put the real thing on screen when making Knocked Up. There’s a story floating around that Anne Hathaway, cast in the female lead, dropped out when she discovered Apatow planned to get up close and personal with her mons veneris for the climactic hospital scene in which she delivers Seth Rogen’s baby. Her replacement, Katherine Heigl, bravely bared all, and her screaming match with a testy doctor comically captured the real-life tensions of the delivery room. I’m also happy to say that the newborn baby who finally emerged didn’t look like the two-month-old that is usually cuddled in such scenes. (I do wonder, though, about the mom who allowed her precious little bundle to get screentime, Hollywood style.)   


  1. Really? Anne Hathaway was a first choice for Knocked Up? Can you confirm this rumor?

  2. No -- you're just going to have to trust the Internet on this one. Sorry.

  3. An update, the product of exhaustive research . . . apparently in an interview in Marie-Claire she explained that she turned down a film because it required the showing a stand-in's vagina (not her own). Those who've seen the film probably remember an hilarious shot of the baby's head emerging from between the mother's legs, as witnessed by one of Seth Rogen's dorky friends. I'll try to add the link here:

  4. It's a boy - and they just announced the name: Monty Python Windsor!


    I didn't see Knocked Up - so I missed all the shenanigans about Ms. Heigl's shenanigans. However, I'll have you know that around Wilmington NC in the 90's we didn't go for two month olds in our birth scenes - oh no! The local casting house had a bevy of young parents on speed-dial and when a birth scene came up they would literally call in the youngest baby they could get. For a birth on TV's American Gothic I think the baby was three days old? And for another birth scene on Dawson's Creek we used six day old twins (twice the on-set time!)

    Admittedly that would be trumped by an actual live birth on film...

  5. I believe the Knocked Up scene was not a genuine birth scene, and I'm glad of that. It certainly looked convincing, though.