HOLLYWOOD -- While sophisticated audiences were laughing in all the wrong places of the ludicrously over-melodramatic 'Mommie Dearest,' one of the featured players in the film appeared unruffled.
Little Mara Hobel, 10, who plays Christina Crawford as a child in the film adaptation of the author's scandalous Joan Crawford biography, was seated at Ma Maison restaurant on the cusp of Beverly Hills having lunch.
Ma Maison is the famed hangout for movie and TV stars, which boasts that it has an unlisted telephone number.
Every noon, and often at night, the restaurant is packed with producers, directors, stars, agents and other Hollywood types making deals and eyeballing the room to see 'who else' is present.
Mara was accompanied by her mother and a school teacher-welfare worker. She ordered a steak suitable for a longshoreman and french fried potatoes, all of which she dispatched with authority along with a load of sherbet.
Arlyn Hobel, Mara's mother, appeared to be unimpressed by the action in Hollywood's top celebrity eatery. Mara was less than impressed. She was unaware that moguls were making million dollar deals around her.
The fact that 'Mommie Dearest' is a laughing stock, although doing well enough at the box office, is of no moment to Mara either. She's seen the picture twice, but not in theaters where audiences laugh when Faye Dunaway, playing Crawford, beats her with a clothes hanger.
Mara is small for her age. She's perceptive and pleasant and not imbued with the bratty, know-it-all pretensions of many a kid actor.
Perhaps because the Hobel family makes its home in Westchester, N.Y., 3,000 miles from Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Ma Maison, Arlyn has managed to keep her daughter's values straight.
Mara delights in retelling the story that she and Dunaway did not meet as strangers the first day on the set of 'Mommie Dearest' at Paramount.
'I've known Faye since I was three days old,' the diminutive actress said.
'When my mother brought me home from the hospital, Faye was in the elevator of our apartment building in New York. She lived there, too. Faye told mother she wanted to hold me. And she did.
'I told Faye about all this on the set, and she remembered.'
Mara, a fifth grader at Putnam Valley Public School, gets As and Bs on her report cards and says she fits in nicely with the other kids.
She's been doing commercials (40 in all) and film work since she was four. She even has a bit part in the new Burt Reynolds movie, 'Paternity.'
Arlyn explains, almost apologetically, that it was her daughter's idea to become an actress.
'From the time she could walk and talk, Mara has wanted to be an actress,' Arlyn said. 'She just watched television and knew that is what she wanted to do. And she was positive she'd succeed.
'We tried to discourage her, but she insisted that she could do commercials as well as the kids on the tube. Finally, I gave in and took her to see an agent. Two weeks later she was doing a commercial with Dick Van Dyke.
'Mara is a good kid. I don't have to punish her very often.'
Since becoming an actress, Mara watches past and present child stars on TV and in movies.
'I like kid actors,' Mara said. 'And I like acting myself. It's better than going to school. My favorite subjects in school are lunch and recess. I would like to work all the time like Shirley Temple did.
'I can sing and dance. And I auditioned for the movie version of 'Annie.' There were eight of us left for the part of Annie or to play one of the orphans. But I wanted to do 'Mommie Dearest.''
The producers bleached Mara's brown hair blonde for the role.
'When I was playing Christina, I felt sorry for her in a way,' Mara said, then added with a knowing look, 'but I don't know if the book is true. I didn't read the things Christina wrote about her mother but I read the script.
'I met Christina on the first day of rehearsals and she visited the set a couple of times. It felt strange meeting her. But we didn't really know what to say to each other except, 'Hi!'
'Before we began the picture the director (Frank Perry) made all of the cast do homework by going to see two Joan Crawford pictures, 'Mildred Pierce' and 'What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?'
'I thought she was a kinda pretty lady and a very good actress. I liked her high cheekbones and I think Faye was good in the picture.
'Faye let me in her dressing room any time I wanted. And she gave me candy after the haircutting scene when her fingernails accidentally broke the skin.
'And Faye gave me a new wristwatch for a present. When she heard I lost my gold and turquoise ring, she bought me a new one.
'I hope we can visit Faye when we're all back in New York. She was very nice to me. So was everybody else in the movie.'
adv for ams Thurs. Oct.