NEW YORK—Poor Thora Birch. The sweet-faced star of American Beauty and Ghost World is apparently trying to have a career despite the apparent antics of her father and manager, ex-adult actor Jack Birch, who is married to Carol Connors, a porn star who performed during the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Both appeared in the original 1972 version of Deep Throat.
According to news reports, the elder Birch’s reportedly aggressive behavior—on the set of a 2007 film his daughter was appearing in and now with her New York stage debut in the Off-Broadway production of Dracula, from which she was fired Friday—is threatening the career of an actress who has worked hard to fulfill the promise she showed as a child star who first appeared on the big screen at the age of six and later in such hits as Patriot Games, Hocus Pocus and Clear and Present Danger.
As a young adult, Birch received glowing reviews and several nominations and awards for her work in 1999s American Beauty and 2001s Ghost World, but in the intervening years has appeared mostly in horror films and thrillers that have achieved middling success, but nothing close to that of American Beauty, with whom she co-starred with another young beauty, Mena Suvari.
The latest blow, mere days before the play's Tuesday night opening, was the direct result of threats by her father to an actor who was giving the 28-year-old a back rub on stage at the direction of the play’s director, according to The New York Times.
According to an account given the Times by the play’s director, Paul Alexander, “Mr. Birch asked the actor why he was rubbing Ms. Birch’s back during the scene. The actor—whom none of the sides would name—said that he had been directed to do so as part of the scene. Mr. Birch objected, saying that the back rub was unnecessary, and told the actor to stop… When the actor tried to explain further what he was doing, Mr. Birch said, according to Mr. Alexander: ‘Listen, man, I’m trying to make this easier on you—don’t touch her.’”
Alexander told the Times, “I can’t have one of my actors in a situation where he is physically threatened by the father of anyone,” and following a meeting between the producers and director Friday morning, the decision was made to replace Birch with her understudy, Emily Bridges, whose father is the actor Beau Bridges.
According to both Birches, the incident was overblown and the firing unnecessary.
“I’m totally in a state of shock over this, I still can’t believe it,” the actress said. “For three weeks I was just doing my thing, and everything I hear was positive, that the work I was doing was wonderful. Maybe it’s some kind of misunderstanding. I mean, there had been no tensions, everything was going wonderfully. Then Friday they just asked me to leave the building.”
“In no way was I making a threat,” said her father. “I was trying to convey Thora’s discomfort.” He added that his daughter’s agent, who had been tasked with delivering the news to Thora, implied to him that Alexander had not been happy with her performance, a charge that surprised him, since there had been no such complaints during the entire rehearsal period.
When queried by the Times, the agent, Steve Glick said that he had not actually spoken with Alexander and declined to state any specifics for the reason why his client was fired.
The incident comes not quite on the heels of a similar occurrence in 2007, during the filming of The Winter of Frozen Dreams in upstate New York.
“The crew making The Winter of Frozen Dreams in upstate Schenectady was horrified when the father/manager of star lady Thora Birch insisted on watching the filming of her sex scenes with Dean Winters,” reported the New York Post at the time. “Even though it's industry practice to shoot sex scenes on a closed set, Jack Birch… demanded to be present as his daughter and Winters simulated intercourse last week.”
The set was ready and the director, Eric Mandelbaum, was about to shoot the first take of the sex scene when, "all of a sudden, the front door is being kicked in. Her father was threatening to kill the assistant directors. Then he threatens to pull her from the movie with three days of shooting left."
The film, which also starred Keith Carradine, was completed and released with Birch, but the actions of her father was a portent of things to come. It is not common for anyone other than crew to be allowed on the set of sex scenes, but Jack Birch, who he says his daughter has had issues with stalkers in the past, may be an unusually protective father.
However, according to the Times report, his behavior during rehearsals was deemed somewhat strange by Alexander who said “it was odd to have Jack Birch around so much, but that it hadn’t really been a problem until Thursday.”
The director added that at one point during the rehearsal that day he noticed Birch peering through a window that was part of a library set while a scene with his daughter was underway.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes and turned to a crew member and said, ‘Is that Jack Birch looking through the window at Thora?’” Later, Birch explained that he had been examining “a loose, very wobbly platform that Thora and others had to walk across.”
According to iafd.com, Jack Birch performed as Larry Sands or Michael Powers in nine adult films between 1972 and 1978, including a few non-sex roles, for such companies as VCX, Arrow Productions and Caballero. His wife, Carol Connors, appeared in about 25 adult films, including Candy Goes to Hollywood in 1979, for VCX, Sweet Savage for Caballero in 1978, and of course Deep Throat, in which she appeared in one sex scene with her husband.
[ED. NOTE: Okay, so I originally put up a photo that of course I knew was not Ms. Birch, but was the equally lovely Mena Suvari, in the famous rose petal dream sequence from American Beauty. I love the photo and thought it conveyed a certain sick familial pathology - not literally of course, as the two characters are not related, but by inference - that I thought, oh, relevant in a way. It was, as my colleague Peter gently put it, too esoteric. So I have replaced it with another photo from the film, of Thora Birch. Enjoy!)