An overprotective mother and pen pal

Special to the Los Angeles Times

Like many boys, Adam Chester’s most embarrassing moments occurred in middle school, courtesy of his dear mom. He was changing gym clothes alongside his buddies when he heard a familiar, shrill voice from beyond: “AAADAAM!” In through the locker room door barges his mother, with the coach and Adam’s 13-year-old crush following. In his mother’s hand she was waving a piece of clothing. “You forgot your sweater!”

“We lived in Miami and it was going to rain that day and when it rains it pours,” said Joan Chester in her defense. “I didn’t know I was committing a crime.”

Out of this humiliation Adam began plotting an escape from his mother’s eccentric and overbearing ways. A getaway came when he moved from Miami to Los Angeles to attend USC. It was then, in 1981 that his mother began writing him wacky and occasionally inappropriate letters two to three times a week.


Chester saved nearly 1,000 of those letters and compiled the best into his memoir, “S’Mother: The Story of a Man, His Mom, and the Thousands of Altogether Insane Letters She’s Mailed Him.” The book was published in May, and Chester recently signed a deal with Jack Black’s production company, Electric Dynamite, and Reveille to create a sitcom based on the book.

“Who saves letters from their mothers?” asked Joan who was at first mortified that her private missives would be published. “I know they may have been a bit weird but writing the letters was therapeutic for me.” And proof of years of therapy for Adam.

His mother’s correspondence arrived in the form of Advice (“Grapes are very good for bowel movements. I didn’t see any grapes in your house”), Warnings (Don’t go to Mexico because they are kidnapping Americans and cutting off their heads!!!”), Imperatives (“Enclosed find this insurance document in case my plane crashes. You get $300,000. Use it well.”) and Randomness: a lone, dirty 1994 quarter taped to blank piece of paper.

Adam’s California freedom was fleeting. During his sophomore year, he was in a serious car crash. “As soon as I heard, I headed for the airport with no shoes or luggage,” recalled Joan, who moved into her son’s dorm for the remainder of the semester along with his three roommates.

“I admit, I’m an overprotective Jewish mother, so what?” said Joan. “I was being responsible and if that’s overprotective, then shoot me. I don’t care!”

Adam’s father, Elliott, died from cancer when he was 8. His mother took a job as a social worker for the juvenile courts in Miami to pay the bills.

“I know she loves me but she drives me crazy,” said Adam. In addition to frequent reminders to get tetanus shots, dry his dishes and life insurance updates, his mother often enclosed cash to buy groceries or lunch. Always with a word of caution such as: “Please don’t eat Sushi.” An attached newspaper clipping explained: “Worms in Sushi Startles Surgeons.”

Joan continues to write to her only child, now 48, married and the father of two young boys, four times a month despite living just 20 minutes away.

“I refuse to give her my cellphone,” said Adam, a composer and singer-songwriter who describes himself as the official “surrogate Elton John,” rehearsing the star’s band before gigs. While he was a struggling musician his mother, like any concerned parent, offered career advice.

“…send a tape to Barbra Streisand, Malibu CA and the postman will deliver it to her as he has her address. You have nothing to lose.”

Adam and his mom will be reading few of her letters at 7 p.m. Friday at Barnes & Noble on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. Davey Johnstone, guitarist for Elton John’s band, will be joining Adam for some original mom-related tunes. Asked about comparisons to the bestseller “S#*! My Dad Says,” a book of rantings from a 73-year-old man tweeted by his roommate/son that was made into a CBS sitcom starring William Shatner, Chester notes,” “My book is more about our relationship. My mom never really swears or acts gruff. She’s just a mother who treats me like an 8-year-old boy who happens to be in imminent danger at all times.”

Just last month, unbeknown to Adam, his mother, concerned about finding the perfect writer for the TV show, sent a letter to his agent at William Morris Endeavor. In it she offers her assistance.

“I can help call these people. I could work out of a conference room. No one would have to know.... I also wouldn’t mind hanging out in the hallway — maybe I would run into Jackie Mason. I dated him 30 years ago in Miami.”