There are things to be cynical about regarding “Dear Mom, Love Cher.” The lite Lifetime documentary is about Georgia Holt, 86, Cher’s mother, but a lot of the attention is on Cher. And while the title hints at that, it doesn’t note that this filmed love letter is also from Cher’s sister, Georganne LaPiere. So Georganne is in the shadow of her world-famous sister once again, is what I kept thinking. Plus, like far too many unscripted TV projects, “Dear Mom, Love Cher” doubles as an infomercial. The climax of the special, Monday night at 10, is a plug for Holt’s new album, which includes a duet with Cher.
But, oh whatever. “Dear Mom, Love Cher” is an awfully sweet gesture, which arrives on the eve of Mother’s Day. Cher is a good daughter, and it’s pointless to resist her good will in sharing the spotlight and giving big public props to her mother. OK, so the rest of her family lives in the shadow of the glitzy, bellowing, tart-mouthed, surgically reconstituted, drag-queen-inspiring, bad-boy-loving, fashion-forward-forward, farewell-tour-addicted, mononymous, unsinkable, sympathetic, and always fabulous diva. We all live in the shadow of Cher, right?
The visual anchor of “Dear Mom, Love Cher” is Holt bookended by her two daughters on a long couch in a grand, gaudy mansion out of a perfume commercial. The three women tell stories that are clearly beloved and oft-repeated in their family. Holt was born to a 13-year-old mother in a poor Arkansas family as Jackie Jean Crouch, and she began her singing career in saloons as a child. “My pockets were so full of money, they almost pulled my pants off,” she says, one of the few bits Cher and LaPiere have never heard before. Holt won a beauty pageant, she worked in a diner, and she hung out with hipsters and hairdressers, including the first gay men that gay icon Cher ever met. She had a small acting career, with guest shots on “I Love Lucy,” and she says that during her appearance on “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet” she wondered if Ozzie had a crush on her.
Oh, and she married, and she married, and she married. She married seven times, twice to John Sarkisian, and her full-length name is Georgia Sarkisian Alcaid Southall Collins LaPiere Holt. Finally, in the 1970s, she landed with her partner of many years, Craig Spencer, who is 21 years younger than Holt and appears briefly later in “Dear Mom, Love Cher.” The only other people filmed talking about Holt are Cher’s two children, Chaz Bono and Elijah Blue Allman. Both extol the virtues of their grandmother, with Bono explaining that she was the first person he came out to many years ago, before he transitioned.
Holt always hoped to have a recording career, but life got in the way. More than 30 years ago, she recorded a country-tinged album with one of Elvis’s old bands, but Spencer felt that her label deal was unfair and the album was shelved. Recently, Cher had those tapes remastered, and then had her mother sing over the instrument tracks. Cher joins Holt on “I’m Just Your Yesterday,” and we see them singing it together.
It’s such a lovely thing — Cher helping her mother realize her dream after all these years — that I was able to let go of the special’s ulterior motive. And Holt seems to enjoy and savor her moment, as the three women talk and laugh together in her honor. Her beauty shines through. As a diva of a different stripe, Joni Mitchell, might put it, in Holt’s case, happiness is the best face lift.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.