Teri Hatcher, whose acting career was revived by her turn as a desperate housewife on secrets-laden Wisteria Lane, has carried a dark secret of her own for 35 years, revealed this week in a Vanity Fair cover story by contributing editor Leslie Bennetts.
Hatcher, 41, said she was sexually abused by her uncle, Richard Hayes Stone, for three or four years, starting when she was 5. Her parents, she said, never became aware of what was happening, though her mother seemed to sense something amiss after Hatcher "went ballistic" when her uncle and aunt were invited to dinner when she was 8 or 9.
Her mother, she said, "felt like something weird was happening, and she removed me from the situation, but she never asked me about it. After that, I didn't see my aunt and uncle." Hatcher told no one of the abuse, Bennetts writes.
In 2002, before "Desperate Housewives" relaunched her career, she was helping her parents move from Sunnyvale, Calif., to Laguna Beach. Hatcher's mother handed her some recent newspaper clippings: Stone had been arrested and charged with three counts of sexually molesting the daughter of a neighbor. His victim, Sarah Van Cleemput, had killed herself, leaving a note that said, "You're probably thinking a normal person doesn't do this, well ask Dick."
After agonizing about whether to come forward, she contacted prosecutors, whose case had been stymied by a lack of evidence. Prosecutors believed that Stone, who had only admitted to a passionate kiss with Sarah, had abused three other girls, but were unable to persuade any to come forward.
"Without Teri, this case would have been dismissed," Santa Clara County prosecutor Chuck Gillingham told Vanity Fair. "But she volunteered to talk about the most heinous thing that could happen to a child, with no upside for her.... She is a damn good person."
Stone pleaded guilty to four counts of molestation and was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Hatcher, who had worried about the fallout from publicly testifying against Stone, had expected that her uncle would deny the accusations and was relieved by the guilty plea, which eliminated the need for a trial.
"Here's what I anticipated," Hatcher said. "He did this, he gets off and Teri ends up on the cover of a tabloid." Hatcher, writes Bennetts, "couldn't bear the idea that cynics might accuse her of going public with her story to get attention and resuscitate an expiring career."
Thanks to Stone's plea, Hatcher's involvement in the case was not made public. She had not planned to discuss the story with Vanity Fair either (which may explain her jarring choice of attire on the magazine's cover, given her revelations -- barely there bikini bottoms). The magazine was featuring her because she is about to publish a self-help book called "Burnt Toast" in May. (She does not mention the abuse in the book.)
She decided to talk because the burden of such a secret is a heavy one, because no one could accuse her now of trying to promote her career from it and, most important, she tells Bennetts, because she has a young daughter.