‘What higher honor can be conferred on a woman than to be a mother, and an American mother!’ --Dr. Norman Vincent Peale : Mrs. Selleck’s Absent Son Steals Supermom Thunder

Times Staff Writer

Tom Selleck didn’t show.

The last hope that he might fly in on the Concorde died with the announcement Monday at the Waldorf Astoria that his 64-year old mother, Martha Selleck of Van Nuys, had not been named 1985 Mother of the Year by American Mothers Inc.

Mothering’s highest honor went instead to Louise Monaco Cimino, a 61-year-old mother of 10 and grandmother of 14 from Omaha, Neb.

The media were unintrigued.

“It’s not much of a story, is it?” a reporter from Woman’s World magazine asked rhetorically as Cimino told a press conference that motherhood is an undervalued profession and that she is for the equal rights amendment but against abortion.

Ever since Selleck had arrived here on Thursday as California’s nominee for Supermom, she had, to her chagrin, drawn the spotlight away from the 47 other candidates, women who had accomplished much but had never baked chocolate chip cookies for a future superstar.


“Where’s Tom?” she was repeatedly asked.

“Tom is in London, filming a special two-hour segment of ‘Magnum, P.I.,’ ” she explained graciously each time.

Unfailingly, she added, “We have four wonderful children. We’re very proud of Tom, but we’re proud of all of them.” And then she or her husband, Bob, 64, head of public relations for Coldwell Banker, would name them all: Bob Jr, 41, of Studio City; Tom, 40, of Honolulu; Dan, 29, of Manhattan Beach, and Marti Ketchum, their only daughter, 31, of Agoura, a former model, now a full-time housewife and mother of two.

If his mother was concerned about the fuss over Tom, American Mothers Inc., the 50-year-old group that sponsored the competition, was not. The organization hired the New York public-relations firm of Edita Kaye to explain to the media that the mission of the nondenominational group is “to strengthen the moral and spiritual foundation of the home.” Kaye unfailingly told the media that the television star’s mother was one of the nominees.

Ironically, Kaye, 38, recently left her two children with their father in North Carolina to start her business. “I envy these women,” she said of the 300 unrepentant good housekeepers and shameless chauffeurs at the five-day gathering. “I wish I had the confidence in the rightness of my choices that they seem to have.”

Kaye, who supports her family, said she had never had the freedom from financial worry to consider motherhood as a full-time option, as many of the American Mothers apparently had.

Selleck confessed that she had not heard of American Mothers, a historically conservative group with a membership of about 5,000 nationwide, until she was asked to compete for the California title in 1984.

Selleck, who listed once being den mother of her daughter’s Brownie troupe on her resume, was nominated by her family church, the Congregational Church of the Chimes in Sherman Oaks.

In recommending her, senior minister Richard J. Bower, praised the fine job she had done raising her children. “She has played that vitally important supportive role in her family, encouraging them, guiding them, and loving them,” he said.

“I enjoyed it,” she said of staying home to raise her children.

That’s the spirit American Mothers encourages and rewards. In choosing the Mother of the Year, the single most important criterion (counting for 60% of the total) is the influence of the mother as reflected in the achievements of her children.

According to the official guidelines, the candidate’s accomplishments outside the home count for 15%, active participation in a religion, 5%.

“Love, understanding and discipline,” Selleck said, when asked her formula for parenting. Although all the children were closely supervised, they were also encouraged to make independent decisions--even wrong ones but not if they were too dangerous. Thus Tom’s teen-age bid for a motorcycle was vetoed.

In the Sellecks’ Waldorf Astoria suite, which the management kept stocked with huge chocolate-covered strawberries, Ketchum recalled how her parents had allowed her at least one mistake.

“They let me straighten hair,” she said, in mock horror, tossing back thick, dark, curly hair of the sort of adolescents, and only adolescents, despise. “I put Curl-Free on it, and I ironed it. It’s never been the same.”

The Sellecks drew the line, however, when she was a tall eighth-grader, dubbed “Marti Celtic” (after Boston’s professional basketball team) by her classmates, who looked up at her older brothers--Tom was 6 foot 4, Bob was over 6 foot 6--and panicked.

“I wanted to go to UCLA for shots to stunt my growth, but they wouldn’t let me.”

“We didn’t refuse,” her mother recalled, “but we took her to her own doctor, Dr. Holland, who measured her wrist and assured her she wouldn’t be taller than 5 foot 9 or 10.” They also encouraged their daughter, now 5 foot 10 as predicted, to enroll in modeling school.

The Sellecks’ one semilegendary act as parents was to ask their children not to drink, smoke or swear until they were 21, at which time they would be given a gold watch. All four got their watches, but none received a gold Rolex, as was widely reported, Bob Selleck said.

Tom was given a stainless-steel Rolex with gold trim that cost $150.

By the time Marti came along, however, their fortunes had improved from the days of Bob and Tom’s childhood, when the steaks on the family barbecue grill were really chuck blade roasts.

As their daughter teased her parents, “I sort of stretched the watch from a gold watch to a yellow Opel station wagon with a clock inside.”

The Sellecks said the watch-giving was a family tradition, passed down from Bob’s father and grandfather. Bob Selleck said that he and Martha resorted to another family tradition when they wanted to teach the older boys an oblique lesson during junior high.

“My father took me, and I know my brothers before me, on a tour of the Detroit city jail,” said Selleck, to whom Martha repeatedly deferred as they talked.

“As part of the tour, which was really nice, just my dad and I, the police locked us in one of the regular cells, where you were on public display. It’s like you are a gorilla in a cell. Everybody’s moving all around but you can’t get out of this cage. The toilet facilities, everything’s right there in the open. That had the effect of my thinking I don’t ever want to be in jail for any reason.

“So I did the same thing with Bob and Tom. We went through the Van Nuys city jail,” Selleck said. Their several long minutes in a jail cell weren’t intended to scare them, Bob emphasized, although he suspects that was the result.

Traditional mothers are coming out of the closet, one delegate said at the meeting. They even openly swapped recipes. Selleck’s was for a lemon-lime Jell-O mold with pineapple that she serves on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“That’s the kind you make in your sleep and raise your kids on,” another American Mother sniffed about the Selleck specialty.

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, the octogenarian positive thinker, spoke at a prayer meeting for the women. ‘What higher honor can be conferred on a woman than to be a mother, and an American mother?” he exhorted.

Don Azlett, author of “Is There Life After Housework?” and head of an Idaho janitorial service, also spoke. Introduced as “the Billy Graham of the Pine-Sol set,” Azlett compared the status of motherhood to that of “toilet-cleaners” like himself. “Do the same thing for motherhood that I did for housework,” he said. “Make it visible.”

Some of the American Mothers maintain chapels in their homes as part of their commitment to the program. Some believe no atheist or agnostic can be a good mother.

Many are political conservatives. A few are not. Barbara Boggs Sigmund, who wears an eye patch as a result of cancer surgery, was the Mother of the Year candidate from New Jersey. The mayor of Princeton, she is also the daughter of Democratic Rep. Lindy Boggs of Louisiana and a liberal Democrat “without prefix, suffix or apology,” she said, quoting the late Sam Rayburn.

At 45, she has three children, 15 to 20. “You have to have earned your stretch marks in this business,” she joked.

As a liberal, she wants a share of Mom and apple pie. “Those who describe themselves as liberals have more or less abandoned these kinds of groups,” said Sigmund, whose recipe was for “some spinach thing.”

“I don’t think that motherhood with its qualities of nurturing and affirmation is exclusively the property of one political philosophy or the other.”

Selleck smiled graciously Monday when Cimino was named mother of the year.

“We were very disappointed,” said Lucille Turner of Sherman Oaks, head of the 40-member California delegation, who sat at the Sellecks’ table.”

Bob Selleck joked about what good sports his wife’s boosters were in defeat. “There weren’t any catcalls from our table. We didn’t start a food fight,” he noted playfully.

After the Cimino announcement, he briefly visited his former high-school sweetheart on the dais.

“I went to up to Martha,” he teased, “and told her not to worry. I can learn to love a loser. And I’ll still respect her in the morning.”