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Giving her account

Outraged by her father's bestselling memoir, Jessica Hendra decided to write her own book, saying that he left out the most sordid details.

November 01, 2005|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

JESSICA HENDRA'S life today bears no resemblance to the nothing-is-sacred bohemian chaos that marked her childhood, when there were bong hits in the living room and piles of cocaine in the fridge, when John Belushi was a family friend and weekends were for skinny-dipping. Inside the tidy Rancho Park Spanish bungalow she shares with her husband and two young daughters, just a few blocks from the Westside Pavilion, there are no reminders of her troubled past, or of her father, satirist and bestselling author Tony Hendra -- no framed covers of National Lampoon, the magazine that launched his career, no photos of him in his glory days as the brilliant young writer and hip New York scenester, chatting up Debbie Harry at Max's Kansas City.

In this house, with its colorful tile, Persian rugs and damp towels hanging in the bathroom, Hendra, once a New York theater actress who won her own modest fame (to Trekkies anyway) as Dejar on TV's "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," is a full-time mom. She's married to character actor Kurt Fuller, a regular in TV and film, whose most recent turn was as a detective on "Desperate Housewives" this season. But lately, Jessica Hendra has earned a certain media-bubble notoriety for resurrecting her family's sad history with a book of her own. In "How to Cook Your Daughter," published Oct. 4 by ReganBooks, Hendra describes how her father -- former editor of National Lampoon, a costar of "This Is Spinal Tap" and former editor of Spy magazine -- forced her to perform oral sex on him when she was 6 and when she was around 10, forced her to masturbate him on two occasions. Tony Hendra has denied that any of it is true, but Jessica Hendra is undeterred. The book bears the title of a Lampoon article that her father wrote in 1971, around the same time, she claims, the sexual abuse began.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 03, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 79 words Type of Material: Correction
"How to Cook Your Daughter" -- An article in Tuesday's Calendar section about Jessica Hendra's memoir, "How to Cook Your Daughter," which accuses her father, satirist Tony Hendra, of sexually abusing her, said that a letter critical of Tony Hendra, written by "This Is Spinal Tap" co-writer Michael McKean, was published after Jessica Hendra made public her allegations in the New York Times. In fact, McKean's letter was published 11 days before Jessica's allegations were published July 1, 2004.

Jessica's crusade started 13 months ago, after Tony Hendra earned critical acclaim and a spot on bestseller lists for his 2004 confessional memoir, "Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul." Outraged by a glowing review in the New York Times Book Review saying that Tony "spares us no details of his own iniquities," Jessica informed the New York Times that Tony had omitted his gravest sins from the book: pedophilia and incest.

The paper put an investigative reporter on the case, who found Jessica's story convincing. Next came a public editor's column questioning the need to investigate, along with much published hand-wringing, soul-searching and conflicted back-and-forth among editors and reporters from the New York Times and elsewhere.

For Jessica, a few months later, writing the memoir was a chance to present "the quote unquote evidence" of the abuse, and to give a child's-eye view of the sexualized climate among her father's 1970s satirical set. She'd kept dutiful journals, she said, that she used to map her story. A friend referred her to literary agent Sterling Lord, who paired her with USA Today's Blake Morrison, and together they wrote the book in four months. Judith Regan bought it in February and now, Lord said, a film option is likely.

But, like many childhood sexual abuse accusations, it's a story that may never have a real conclusion. For the Hendras, ready access to the media has only kept the family's ordeal more alive, hurtling forward in its own disturbing way.

For his part, Tony has called his daughter "pathological" and claimed that her memories were recovered only recently in hypnosis, which she, her mother, her friends and therapists deny. Tony declined, through spokesman Gregory Miller, to comment for this article.

"You reap what you sow to a certain extent," Jessica said, perching her slim frame on the edge of her sofa on a recent rainy afternoon. She decided to speak out, she said, only after years of urging Tony Hendra to acknowledge the abuse. "I gave him so many opportunities. This confessional book he wrote was his final opportunity to do that. And he didn't take it."

Father's bestseller

"FATHER JOE" was meant to be a kind of mea culpa for Tony Hendra's oversexed, drug-and-alcohol-fueled lifestyle in the 1970s and '80s. Rave reviews called the book, which details his lifelong relationship with a Benedictine monk, "ruthlessly" and "brutally" honest. Radio personality Don Imus insisted his audience buy it. The Catholic political columnist and former editor of the New Republic Andrew Sullivan, writing in the New York Times Book Review, ranked it "in the first tier of spiritual memoirs ever written." It shot up bestseller lists.

Three years earlier, Tony had told Jessica he was writing "a biography of sorts." At the time, Jessica said, she'd already been through years of therapy addressing the abuse. She'd even confronted her father about it, but each time, she said, he brushed it off as her problem and "no big deal."

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