Tiffany: The $5-Million Star of Stage and Court


Tiffany Renee Darwish, the pop music mini-star who goes by the singular “Tiffany,” was speaking in her throaty rasp through a forkful of banana cream pie. “My image in general is real casual,” she said.

The pie was a chaser to a dinner of chili cheese nachos and Coke. Her favorite food in the whole world was black olive pizza, she said, but this was Denny’s, not Domino’s.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. June 12, 1988 Calendar Story Excludes Suit Settlement
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 12, 1988 Home Edition Part 1 Page 3 Column 5 Advance Desk 3 inches; 73 words Type of Material: Correction
Because of early printing deadlines, “The Trials of Tiffany” in today’s Calendar does not reflect the agreement reached late Thursday between pop star Tiffany Renee Darwish and her mother, Janie Williams. Judge Richard Hubbell is expected to act on the agreement this week.
Under terms of the settlement, the 16-year-old singer has agreed to drop a petition to emancipate herself from her mother, but Williams will have only limited control over her daughter’s music career. For now, they may continue to live separately.

“My image is jeans,” she said. “An oversize sweat shirt. T-shirt. A pair of boots or sneakers. Very simple. And that’s what I feel comfortable in. I kinda got dressed up tonight because I knew I was gonna be interviewed and stuff.”


This particular night, the singer of songs about endless summers and poignant first love was draped in a slinky black dress that made her look more like a red-headed Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, than a refugee from a Norwalk high school drill team. She impresses many adults as being mature beyond her years. Black, she asserted, is her favorite color.

“She’s a trend setter, not a trend follower,” said George Tobin, the 45-year-old manager-producer for the 16-year-old singer. “She wears black in August and there’ll be 15,000 girls who decide: ‘You know what? Black ain’t so bad in August!’ ”

Out of Proportion

No doubt about it--Tiffany is a star. For one proof, her debut album for MCA Records has sold more than 5 million copies worldwide, which is not exactly black olive pizza.

But she also is starring off stage in a sometimes-bitter (and continuing) legal drama over who should have her custody. After all, star or not, she is 16 and there are laws.

In the opposite corners are Tobin and Tiffany’s mother, Janie Christine Williams, 40, a soft-spoken chain-smoker. Tobin is enormously protective of his star. He admits it. He has taken plenty of heat for it, too. He gets most of the credit for her success--but he also gets most of the blame from Tiffany’s mother for alienating her and her daughter. She claims Tobin urged Tiffany to quit school, leave her Norwalk home and devote herself totally to a singing career. Tobin denies any undue influence on Tiffany.

Three months ago, Tiffany petitioned the court for emancipation from her mother. It’s a little-used legal maneuver that allows a minor older than 14 to act as an adult in contractual and financial matters, provided that a judge agrees.


But Williams also legally challenged her daughter’s manager, alleging that Tobin persuaded her to run away from home and to bring the suit to be recognized as an adult--all so that Tobin could take over Tiffany’s entire career.

Tiffany maintains that she makes her own decisions, including the decision to leave her mother.

“I get along fine with George,” she said. “He’s not as bad as everyone makes him out to be. I think that people just get a little carried away. Now I’ve built up a sense of humor about it all because it’s gotten so blown out of proportion.”

Tiffany has hired and fired two attorneys already. She finally settled on three Loeb & Loeb lawyers who took over the case in April. They won Tiffany’s first few rounds in court against her mother’s own battery of four lawyers.

Loeb & Loeb partner John Frankenheimer persuaded one Los Angeles Superior Court judge to replace Williams as Tiffany’s legal guardian in late March. Her paternal aunt, Julie Abbas, was named Tiffany’s temporary guardian and Tiffany began sleeping at her paternal grandmother’s two-bedroom apartment in La Mirada whenever she isn’t out of town for concert performances.

Frankenheimer also persuaded another judge to remove Williams as trustee of Tiffany’s trust account in April. The Bank of California and an accounting firm were named trustees of the singer’s account. By court order, half of Tiffany’s record royalties, concert income and other performance fees must go into the account, which she is not allowed to spend until her 18th birthday. As of last week, the account totaled more than $500,000, according to the attorneys.

In the meantime, legal fees are mounting. Billings from Williams’ lawyers alone totaled $14,009.10 as of March 31. By the middle of last week, attorneys in the case estimated the legal bills had totaled more than $250,000.

When the dust clears, both sides agree, Tiffany will probably have to pay for all of it.

A Passion for Shopping

Though her mother has argued repeatedly that Tiffany is not getting her fair share of the $5 million that the singer has generated, Tiffany is doing better than most high school juniors.

She may only have her learner’s permit to drive, for instance, but a $30,000 red Saab convertible is on its way to Norwalk this month (Tobin picked it out for her) so that she will have something to cruise around town in as soon as she gets her driver’s license this summer.

“I shop all over. I love to shop,” said Tiffany. “I don’t have, like, a certain store that I’m dying to go to. A certain shop or chain. For instance, I was in Portland, Me., and I went to a lot of stores that I never heard the name of. But, to me, what makes me happy is having a best friend and occasionally going shopping.”

Her passion for shopping is one of the things that worries her mother. Williams recalled one of her daughter’s road trips when Tiffany left her hotel without a coat and Tobin simply bought her another one for $300. Since her album has become a hit, she has opened her own checking account. It makes the mother even more apprehensive.

“I do not think she has the basic math skills to balance her own checkbook,” said Williams. “Tiffany does not use good judgment about spending money. I recognize that the clothing that she wears performing is quite costly, but she has no skill in recognizing the value of money. She does no comparison shopping.”

Tiffany is neither disrespectful nor deferential about her mother’s criticism. Lately, she says she is just numb, like any daughter who has been ordered for the hundredth time to clean up her room or take out the trash.

“This whole court thing in some people’s eyes has been made out to be such a bad thing, but it’s really reality,” said Tiffany. “I mean, everyone has problems and it’s not so bad. A lot of people have worse problems than I do. Kids my age fight with their moms. Maybe not to the extent that they are a personality and they’re making lots of money, but in other ways.”

Tiffany vows that she won’t go home again, but not because she hates her mother.

“I love my mom and my mom loves me,” she said. “We’ll overcome this. Hopefully I’ll be emancipated. I still want to be emancipated and have not at all changed my mind. But I don’t think my mom at all is saying, ‘If you get emancipated I’ll never talk to you again.’ That’s just not my mom.”

Her life has changed, she must take charge of it and her mother simply does not understand, Tiffany argues.

Short Term Investment

The real focus of the court fight is not so much the mother-daughter split as it is Tobin’s 1986 record and management deal with Tiffany. It is because of that deal that Tobin encouraged Tiffany to leave home, Williams has alleged.

The seven-year contract with Tobin called for a 50-50 split of record royalties after expenses, most of which were to be borne by Tiffany.

Williams and her daughter also signed a management contract with Tobin and his former partner, Brad Schmidt. It called for a 20% cut of all Tiffany’s non-royalty revenue--money from concerts, personal appearances, merchandising and endorsement deals.

Williams now says she made a mistake in letting her divorce attorney--and not an entertainment lawyer--approve the agreements before signing them. Tiffany is going along with them even though the bulk of her substantial earnings goes to Tobin.

As her mother puts it, Tiffany may have the stage presence of an adult, but she is still only 16. Mrs. Williams is a tense, timid, menthol-cigarette addict with bleached hair and a thin, wan face that she masks with much makeup. She has grown so nervous lately that, she related, she broke out in hives. She very nearly broke down last week when she was told that her daughter wanted her banned from attending Tiffany’s concerts. She speaks about her daughter almost in a whisper:

“Unfortunately, she does not appreciate that those she meets in her work may be more interested in her as a short-term investment rather than in her long-term growth and development both as a person and as a professional.”

Tobin defends the recording and management contracts as standard for a new artist. He also holds that he has always had Tiffany’s best professional interests at heart. For nearly two years, Tobin said, he and Schmidt marketed a commodity nobody wanted.

“I went to 10 different labels,” he said. “Nobody wanted a 14-year-old, no matter how much talent she had.”

They got MCA Records to take a chance after Tiffany showed up along with her demo tapes to belt out in person the songs that Tobin had mastered in his studio. As little as a year ago, however, not even MCA knew what it had on its hands.

These days, the gruff, glib, heavy-set Tobin says he is looking for a “male” Tiffany so he can start putting them together on vinyl and video--sort of the Travolta and Newton-John of the ‘80s. What he had and has are vision, Tobin says. Vision that the major record companies lack.

What Tobin and Schmidt understood--and nobody else in the record business seemed to realize--is that millions of young and preteen girls who stalk the nation’s shopping malls had no role model younger than Madonna, now 29.

No Skateboards Please

Tobin offers no apologies for spurning Williams and controlling Tiffany’s career.

Under his tutelage, he said, Tiffany is a success. In the record business, the tall, burly son of a New York cop has the reputation of an often charming, often funny--but often an almost ruthless control freak. Everything must be his way. Tobin doesn’t deny that reputation.

“You have to be that way in this business,” he said.

He is a character in a business rife with characters. His dimples, wide-set facial features and hunched over 6-foot frame make him look like a teddy bear. Even his harshest critics agree that Tobin can be a charming and witty practical joker.

But he becomes deadly serious when it comes to money and success. He tells the story of his father whom he reveres as “the most decorated police officer in New York Police Department history.” His father once ordered little George Tobin to jump into his arms, then dropped them to his side, letting George crash to the ground. Then he admonished his son never to trust anyone, not even his own father.

Tiffany likes George and the way he does things. He is a Leo. She is a Libra. They make a terrific team, tilting against an establishment that Tobin sees as “very narrow-minded people” and that Tiffany sees as “people who just have a lot more experience in everything than me.”

She and Tobin have a kind of sixth sense that works between them, she said. Last year, they were doing a photo layout for Rolling Stone and the photographers wanted her to pose with a skateboard and a Carmen Miranda fruit hat.

“I hated that idea,” she said. “I mean, me sitting there with a skateboard makes no sense. It’s like, they’re saying, ‘Look, she’s 15!’ It had nothing to do with my career! I mean, even 15-year-olds aren’t 15-year-olds, OK? I mean, so they have me standing there with a skateboard or whatever, and my fans are gonna go, ‘That’s nice. What is she trying to prove ?’ They wanted me to wear a little hat with fruit on it. That’s not me. I’m jeans and boots and long sweater and long hair. Very natural.”

She tossed her head indignantly and the ends of her long hair landed in her plate. Tobin spoke while she daubed off the banana cream pie with a napkin.

“We kind of look at each other and know,” he said. “We did a fashion layout for a publication early on in her career and they gave her some clothes to wear and I said she wants to wear black. They said it was gonna be for the spring issue and nobody wears black in the spring.”

Tiffany finished with her hair and stared straight across the table at Tobin who had just finished his stir-fried seafood (“The only decent thing on the menu,” said Tobin.) Their sixth senses were at work. He stared right back at her a beat before finishing his story.

“I said it was not really going to work for her and they said, ‘She’s only 15. What does she know?,’ ” Tobin said. “I told ‘em, ‘She knows enough to leave.’ ”

Missing-Person Report

If this year is anything like last year, more than 6,000 teen-agers will leave home in Los Angeles County and wind up in missing-persons files, according to the Sheriff’s Department. All but about 150 of them will eventually come home.

If Tiffany has her way, she will count among the 150.

The teen-age millionaire with the red hair and blemish-free face left her mother’s Norwalk apartment March 8. She was on her way to Tobin’s North Hollywood recording studio to lay down some tracks for the sequel to her debut MCA album, “Tiffany.”

But Tiffany never came home that night. Instead, she had her attorneys file a court motion under Section 61 of the California Civil Code, calling for her emancipation from her mother.

Williams said she occasionally hears from her daughter. She calls home from Pennsylvania or Germany or Scottsdale, Ariz., or some other stop on her tour schedule. They both say that their conversations are cordial, if strained.

But they have rarely seen each other outside of the courtroom since March 9, when Williams filed her missing-person report on Tiffany with the Norwalk Sheriff’s Station.

Tiffany hasn’t done her school homework in a year, according to her mother. She can’t spell simple words and can’t calculate simple math percentages. Her on-the-road tutor is the drummer in her backup band. She doesn’t eat right, throws her vitamins in the trash, keeps long and late hours and does not know how to manage money, Williams said.

Tiffany’s mother wants her home for the sake of her education, her health, her financial security and her future.

Tiffany, who has a strong, confident presence on and off stage these days, maintains that she is the best judge of her future. She loves her mother, she said, but her future is not in Norwalk.

“It’s every 16-year-old’s fantasy: Tell your parents to go to hell and become an independent grown-up overnight,” said Doug Marks, an entertainment law specialist and one of Williams’ attorneys.

“But how many 16-year-olds have a million bucks to do it with?” he asked.

Views of Reality

The reality of Tiffany’s life is a far cry from the carefree stone-washed denim fantasy that her music videos portray. In her own candid court declaration opposing Tiffany’s emancipation, Williams painted a different portrait:

“I can appreciate that Tiffany must feel a marked contrast between ordinary people like her parents and the wealthy and powerful people she meets in connection with her work,” she said. “I am a recovering alcoholic. Her father has a criminal conviction . . . .”

Tiffany’s father, James Darwish, 52, separated from Williams in 1972 when Tiffany was 14 months old, according to the declaration. In 1977 she married Tiffany’s stepfather, Dan Williams, 46. It was during that rocky seven-year marriage that Tiffany began her career as a pint-sized Patsy Cline.

“There’s a little country-and-Western bar there in Norwalk, right by the American Legion hall. That’s where she had her first public performance,” Dan Williams recalled recently.

She was an irrepressible 9-year-old moppet in 1981, but not irrepressible enough to impress the boys in the band.

“The band had this flatbed truck and they wouldn’t let Tiff up there. They made her sing down on the ground,” Williams said. “But she sang the song so good they brought her up on the flatbed. And she sang three, four songs and they took up a collection: $235. We used it to buy an outfit for her the next year.”

Tiffany recalls it slightly differently.

“The first time I ever got in front of an audience, I collected $300 just by passing the hat around,” she said. “I think it changed someone’s point of view. It opened somebody’s eyes. This wasn’t just for fun anymore. This could pay my stepfather’s rent.”

Williams, now a supervisor at a Skippy dog food plant in Paramount, is a hatchet-faced Oregon minister’s son with a rural drawl, a passion for country music and a hot temper. His major goal in life is to drive a Mercedes, he said. He admits to pushing Tiffany’s career after that day they passed the hat seven years ago. He immediately hired her first manager, Terry Janssen, a promotion executive for San Diego country radio station KSON.

“I set up a little tour in Alaska where she made $3,000 singing up there in several clubs,” Janssen said. “Then I sent her to Texas to sing with Jerry Lee Lewis and George Jones as an opening act. She did good. I thought she was maybe about ready to be introduced in a major way, but then all of a sudden, Tiff was not showing up. Her mom was not showing up. She was always sick. Alcohol.

“And Tiffany did not feel comfortable going with Dan alone. She wanted her mom to be there to do her hair and all that.”

Tiffany’s mother’s drinking got to be too much for him, said Janssen. He quit in 1983.

A Bad Habit

Undaunted, Williams found his stepdaughter another manager: Ronald Kent Surut.

“He told us to come up and we’d talk business. It sounded pretty good because we didn’t have nothing. So we go over there, me and Janie, and we have a meeting. There are no contracts. Nothing’s signed. And I tell him I didn’t have a job. I was out of work and didn’t have a place. He said, ‘Well, here’s $2,500. Go find yourself a house.’ Just like that.”

For the next year, Surut “paid for everything, 100% of everything,” according to Williams. In addition to Tiffany’s music lessons, vocal coaching, publicity costs, recording expenses, travel and even her telephone bills, Surut picked up the mortgage payments on a four-bedroom Simi Valley home that the Williamses bought, according to Williams.

“Ron must have put $400,000 to $500,000 into us,” Williams said.

Though Tiffany dropped Surut as her manager over two years ago, he has surfaced since the success of her record album. His attorney, Richard Davidoff, sent a letter to Tiffany’s attorneys demanding more than $100,000 in reimbursement for his expenses while Surut was managing her career.

Calendar attempted and failed to reach Surut through his attorney.

“This is a very common occurrence in the music business when someone becomes a big hit,” said attorney Marks. “Everyone who has been connected with a career comes out of the woodwork and wants to get paid.”

Williams never questioned where Surut got the money to invest in Tiffany or how Williams would pay it back. He was that confident in his stepdaughter’s talent and her eventual ability to recoup the investment, he said.

It was not until years later that Williams discovered that Surut had a criminal record for cashing bad checks. In a 1969 Los Angeles Superior Court case in which he was characterized by the prosecution as a compulsive gambler, Surut was convicted on six counts of writing $6,825 in bad checks. His criminal record at the time dated back to 1962, when Surut, then 25, was convicted of passing bad checks in Florida. He had additional convictions in New York.

According to Tiffany, what was more important than the criminal record was Surut’s inability to get her a break in the music business.

“I have to give Ron Surut credit that he tried to do something for my career, but he couldn’t. He didn’t have the contacts,” Tiffany said. “He was another one of Dan’s ideas. He didn’t get me in trouble exactly, but there was an expense at the end of everything.”

Williams acknowledges making mistakes, but believes he should get some credit for launching Tiffany’s career. He vehemently denies wanting any of her money. Tiffany doesn’t see it that way.

It is her stepfather, in fact, that Tiffany said she is attempting to avoid by obtaining her emancipation--not her mother. The Dan Williams is no longer married to Janie Williams, but still has a strong influence on her, according to Tiffany.

“I have a stepfather who isn’t around just because he wants to be with my mother and sisters,” she said. “There’s more to it. He’s around for the money. He’s proven that in a lot of ways. And my mom loves him. And that’s not wrong.

“But when it interferes with my career and my business and becomes a threat to me there’s a problem. I can’t say, ‘Mom, you can’t see this guy anymore,’ because it’s not a daughter’s place. All I can do is make adjustments that’ll prevent him from knowing my business which he doesn’t need to know.

“She doesn’t want me to get emancipated and feels that she can deal with Dan Williams. She can’t. She hasn’t been able to. He’s a big threat to me. So I want to take every precaution that I can so he won’t be any longer.”

The Wunderkind

By the time Tiffany celebrated her 13th birthday, it looked as though her career was just as much on the rocks as her mother and stepfather’s marriage.

In 1984, Janie Williams divorced Dan Williams. She also attempted suicide and spent several weeks in a psychiatric hospital, according to court records. After several false steps and one final bender around Christmastime of 1984, she successfully overcame her alcoholism.

“I returned to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and I have not had a drink for three years and five months,” she told the court.

She has physical custody of Tiffany’s two younger half-sisters by Dan Williams and lives in the same modest two-bedroom apartment in Norwalk where she moved shortly after she and Williams separated and left their Simi Valley home. Her tempestuous relationship with her ex-husband has cooled somewhat.

Janie Williams remembers picking up the pieces of Tiffany’s career after Dan Williams and Ron Surut were out of the picture.

Tales of Ego

One of the few things that Tiffany and her mother agree about these days is that the day she was definitely headed for stardom was March 17, 1986, when she and her mother signed a contract with George Tobin.

Despite what Williams now characterizes as Tobin’s often rude, obsessive and possessive attitude toward her daughter, she agrees with her about his abilities as a record producer. Whatever else she might have to say about Tobin, Williams grudgingly credits him with turning Tiffany into a pop star.

“Tiffany is the voice,” said Tiffany. “The songs are George Tobin and the arrangements are George Tobin. All the production values are George Tobin.

“There’s a lot of times like with (her first major hit single) ‘I Think We’re Alone Now,’ I had no opinion on the song and obviously I was wrong. It didn’t sound very modern. It didn’t sound . . . I don’t know. I was kind of reserved as far as my opinion. George was the one who said, ‘Well, let me cut a new track.’

“After awhile, when I started to have to sing it for performances, I thought, ‘Yeah, it’s pretty good. It’s kind of fun and it has a good beat.’ My friends liked it. So I was wrong. So, there’s a lot of things that just comes from experience. Eventually hopefully I will have George’s experience. But I don’t now.”

Tobin has recording experience dating back two decades. He has produced records for dozens of artists, including Smokey Robinson, Robert John, Kim Carnes, Natalie Cole, Thelma Houston, Peaches & Herb. . . .

“George is as capable as anyone in this business of creating a hit,” said one industry source who goes back 10 years with Tobin. “His record-making process is to dissect the Top 10 and incorporate every hook he can find into his next record. And he’s good at it. I don’t care who the artist is: He delivers hits. That’s what he did with Tiffany. It’s just too bad that he’s a control maniac.”

There are many stories about Tobin’s ego needs. One favorite that Tobin himself reluctantly confirms is the time Tobin went to make a record deal with EMI Records president Jim Mazza.

“He had a Cadillac limo at the time and he couldn’t get anybody to drive him over, so he drove himself,” said the source. “When he got there, he pulled in so that everyone would be able to see this limo pulling up and then he jumped over into the back seat and got out so that everyone would think he’d been chauffeured.”

Tobin says that he does, indeed, want to make a lot of money from Tiffany’s career. He likes his red Ferrari, his cellular phone and the new Woodland Hills home he bought last year for his wife and five children. But he maintains that he wants to make a lot of money for Tiffany too.

“The stories that have come out about me make me sound like a thief,” Tobin said indignantly.

He isn’t, he said. He is, in fact, her best friend and her manager.

No Challenges

When Tiffany’s record began to take off last summer Tobin began eliminating those around her who had any influence over her career, beginning with Jane Bieber, the publicist/booking agent who had been with Tiffany since the singer was 11.

“George took over,” said Bieber. “He obviously wanted to produce and manage. He was the one with all the contacts. He had the finances. He runs a tight ship and he runs his own ship. So what was I to do?”

Last Christmas Eve, Tobin invited Schmidt to his house to let him know that their partnership was over. Schmidt now manages two other pop acts.

“Tiffany is very devoted to Mr. Tobin,” Janie Williams said in court. “She relies completely on his advice and direction. Whenever she even begins to question him, he advises her that her success is due to him and that if she does not cooperate he will sell her contract to the highest bidder. This threat leaves her in tears. On other occasions, he attempts to induce guilt to secure compliance.”

By the beginning of 1988, Tobin was in total control of Tiffany’s career except for Janie Williams.

“By eliminating the people who Tiffany respects and trusts, Mr. Tobin prevents any challenges to his decisions concerning Tiffany,” she said in her court document. “I believe the emancipation proceeding to be a disguised attempt for Mr. Tobin to obtain de facto custody of Tiffany, without proving that parental custody would be detrimental to her.”

Since Tiffany left home, the court battle has attracted celebrity magazine and supermarket tabloid journalists. They rarely get to see her though. Her infrequent court appearances have generally been kept secret by her attorneys who successfully argued in Superior Court two months ago that, because she is a juvenile, her court files should be sealed and the public ought to be barred from hearings.

Two weeks ago, the closed hearings policy was reversed by Judge Richard Hubbell when Tiffany’s attorneys attempted to name her aunt, Julie Abbas of Costa Mesa, as her permanent legal guardian. Whether she becomes permanent guardian or Williams resumes her role as mother will be answered soon in court, according to Williams’ attorneys. Abbas and Tiffany’s attorneys have refused to comment on the case.

But while the court proceedings are progressing, the breach between mother and daughter remains.

As of last week, Tiffany had no plans to return home.

Irregular Hours

Despite Judge Hubbell’s order to open the guardianship proceedings, most records remain sealed on family privacy grounds.

But copies of court documents filed in March and obtained by Calendar spell out Williams’ concerns about her daughter’s dramatic metamorphosis from Norwalk high school student to international pop star:

* Traveling companions: “She has frequently traveled accompanied only by men, despite my request that she have a female chaperon.”

(Since Julie Abbas was appointed temporary guardian in April, Tiffany’s aunt has accompanied the singer on several of her domestic trips. When Tiffany travels out of the country, as she did during a European promotional tour two weeks ago, MCA has begun dispatching a female company representative to join Tobin, Tiffany and the boys in the band.)

* Health: “Tiffany has never taken any responsibility for her own health care. I have always made all of her doctor’s appointments and obtained her prescriptions. She keeps irregular hours and is not accustomed to eating regular meals. I have found her vitamins in the trash.”

During a recent concert stop in Washington state, Tiffany was losing her voice, prompting Tobin to call “a doctor who injected her with cortisone. This was done without my knowledge or consent,” according to Williams.

* Education: “Tiffany’s homework has not been done for close to a year. She is seriously behind. Tiffany needs the skills that school will give her, if she is to intelligently manage her own affairs.”

According to Williams, her daughter can’t spell words like rehearsal or the names of the cities on her concert tour. At Leffingwell Christian High School in Norwalk, across the street from her mother’s apartment, Tiffany started her junior year last fall before going on tour with math as her worst subject.

In an interview, Tiffany was asked if she preferred being on the road to flunking algebra. She answered with a giggle, then said soberly:

“I miss my friends and I miss lunch and hanging out and knowing daily what goes on with my girlfriends, but I keep in contact with them over the phone,” Tiffany said.

Just because she isn’t in a classroom does not mean she has stopped learning, however. She has a tutor on the road and speaks of stopping her tour bus at historical sites.

“Like I have my best friend with me when I’m on the road and I think I benefit from being on the road also in having a tutor with me because I learn things,” Tiffany said. “For instance, we visited Martin Van Buren’s house. We were going to Albany, so it’s kind of in the middle in nowhere land. Rather than looking at a history book and thinking about it, I’m actually doing it! Walking through. Taking a tour. It’s more interesting that way.”

Her mother continues to have her doubts. When she opened Life magazine two months ago to read an article about her daughter’s rise to stardom, Williams zeroed in on a picture of Tiffany standing next to her tutor, Craig Yamek. She recognized him right away.

Yamek does indeed have a teaching credential, but he is also the drummer in Tiffany’s back-up band.

“All I need is for you to show me how;

“Nothing can stop this feeling of forever . . .”

“OK, stop, stop!” George Tobin shouted through his rented bullhorn.

Tiffany was lip-synching the song featured in her next music video, being filmed on the beach next to Los Angeles International Airport. The two dozen members of the film crew stopped too. A jumbo jet screamed overhead, drowning out her plaintive ballad.

“All right, let’s try it again,” said Tobin.

Tiffany swayed in the sand, mouthing the words to the last single that will be released from her first album. Her recorded voice poured out of a speaker set up nearby. Behind her, the sun was setting and a cameraman caught the whole scene of a wind-swept Tiffany and her bittersweet performance.

Explained Tobin, “I got six kids here and they’re in the video and it’s basically like a campfire where Tiff’s singing.”

He yelled over the jet noise, cursing the distraction before returning to a description of the video that he was producing, directing and writing. He has already directed two of her videos and a Japanese TV commercial for M&M; candies. Directing, he said, is a snap. Directing, he said, is what he was destined to do.

“You just follow your own instincts,” Tobin said. He carried the bullhorn around the beach, calling out orders over the jets and surf and giggles of the kids around the beach blanket bonfire.

He wants a bullhorn for Christmas, he says half-seriously. Julie Abbas, hovering near her niece, makes a note of it. Tobin continues to describe the video.

“We started doing some stuff with kids walking along the beach right before dusk with all of them together talking . . . that kind of thing,” Tobin said. “It’s about a bunch of kids being together. It’s not the concept of the year. It’s not real deep. But it’ll work.”

He won’t find out until later in the week in the editing room that Tiffany has gotten too close to the fire, melting her makeup and requiring a reshoot.

“She looked like Freddie in ‘Friday the 13th,’ ” he muttered.

But on this evening, the harsh reality of the editing room and the court room were somewhere on the other side of the city. Despite the screaming jets and the withering flames of the bonfire, the illusion of the Southern California teen dream was as real as a marshmallow roast on MTV.

One of the actors fed Tiffany a browned marshmallow and she giggled, wiping some of the muck off her chin. Then Tobin shouted through the bullhorn to get ready for one more take. Obediently, Tiffany began swaying on cue . . .

“. . . Far beneath the silver sky there’s no one around to chase this night away,

“All I want, is for you to hold me now;

We can make it through the night together . . .”