Laurie Gelman – Class Mom
by Jim Slotek
Ex-entertainment reporter, erstwhile Canadian VJ and Manhattan mom, Laurie Gelman admits she was a little hurt when the first draft of her first novel – Class Mom – was sent back for a rewrite.
The reason: The reality-based title character, Jen Dixon, had too perfect a marriage.
“I wrote the book and gave it to the publishers and they said, ‘It’s great, except it needs one more plotline.’ They made me take this perfect circle of a story and jam in a new plot-point. The Don Burgess “sexting” thing,” Gelman said on a recent publicity visit to Toronto. The addition involved a hunky single dad with whom the heroine gets flirty online.
“What I wrote had no flirty texting. She was just happily married. And they literally said to me, ‘No one is that happily married. You have to mud up her relationship.”
I’ve known Laurie for 30 years, from when she went by the name Laurie Hibberd. So, I tease her a bit about basing a fictional “perfect marriage” on her own.
“But yeah, it kind of is,” she says. “The joy is in the journey. If it balances more on the upswing than down, you’re fine.”
Laurie happens to be married to Michael Gelman, the (some might say) long-suffering producer of the syndicated morning show Live! With Kelly and Ryan (formerly Kelly and Michael, formerly Regis and Kelly, formerly Regis and Kathie-Lee). He is often referred-to on the show, and sporadically seen and heard.
They met not long after she left Canada for a job at a Fox affiliate in Miami. “Regis (Philbin) was the grand marshall of the Fort Lauderdale Boat Parade and I was the reporter assigned to interview Regis. And I thought I’d throw in Gelman with the ponytail and the glasses as well. We’ve literally been together since the day we met.”
Was that ethical, hooking up with an interviewee? “How do you think I got all my boyfriends?” she quips back with a laugh.
Their road to marriage wasn’t novel-simple though. “Seven quick years later, he asked me to marry him,” she says. Their careers dovetailed geographically, starting with her short-lived stint co-hosting her own morning show from New York on FX with Tom Bergeron (now the host of Dancing With The Stars). She was an entertainment reporter at CBS News when, “I stared him down and he got exhausted.
“He only wanted to get married once, and not until he wanted kids.” She pauses. “He wanted… he wanted,” she says with an embarrassed laugh, perhaps pinpointing a secret of the perfect marriage.
Flash ahead, and the Gelmans have two daughters, Jamie and Misha, well into the age of, “they have a life, I have a life,” she says.
Set in Kansas City, the very funny Class Mom (published in Canada by Raincoast Books and now in its fourth printing) chronicles the bumpy ride of a kindergarten “class mom” (a parent designated to lead and organize parent-student activities, fundraising efforts, etc.). It was inspired by Gelman’s own experiences in the job when Jamie was in third grade. The hilariously sarcastic and hectoring emails “Jen” sends out are, in part, verbatim ones sent back in the day by Gelman herself.
“I was also fired as class mom because of them,” she says. The readers can decide for themselves if the firing was reasonable.
“I mean, the emails are real, things I said and did. But the actual characters aren’t. I don’t know an “allergy mom.” And I don’t know a lesbian couple that’s that much in love. I think they came out of my crazy, crazy head.”
As it happens, show co-host Kelly Ripa tried to talk her out of the volunteer gig. “I thought I’d won the lottery. ‘Yay, they asked me to be class mom.’ And she looked at me like I was head of the AV Squad or something.”
One of the first on-air personalities hired in the first year of YTV (1988), the then Laurie Hibberd was co-host of YTV Rocks, which became Rock & Talk. “I kind of was the first YTV veejay. It’s a great job, but eventually you start to wonder where you go from there.”
“But a lot of ex-VJs did pretty well. I worked with John Roberts (formerly MuchMusic’s J.D.Roberts) at CBS News. Janis Mackey, who followed me at YTV has had a great career (now Janis Mackey Frayer, NBC’s Beijing correspondent). Anything that gets you in front of a live mike and a camera is valuable.”
Besides the novel, Gelman’s stay-at-home experience inspired another reason to return to Canada, as co-host of the Canadian-produced talk series The Mom Show.
Her own choice to become a fulltime mom, Gelman says, gave her insight into one of the least-respected of important jobs. “I was the CEO of the Gelman family. I ran everything. It sounds so stupid, but the dry-cleaning, getting the kids where they had to go, the maintenance guy is coming, this guy’s coming, that guy’s coming.
“Someone’s got to be home, so I became that person. I paid all the bills and did all the banking. I never used the word housewife. I was the CEO.”
Jim Slotek is a longtime Toronto Sun columnist, movie critic, TV critic and comedy beat reporter who has interviewed thousands of celebrities. He’s been a scriptwriter for the NHL Awards, Gemini Awards and documentaries, and was nominated for a Gemini Award for comedy writing on a special. His writing also appears in Cineplex and Movie Entertainment magazines.