Andrea Parker of NBC's "The Pretender" Volunteers To Counsel Afflicted Teens as Part of Charity
It's only coincidental that Andrea Parker portrays icy Miss Parker -- poster girl for women with attitude -- on NBC's "The Pretender" (Saturdays, 8-9 p.m. ET), but while most viewers recoil from her sleek, bad-to-the-bone character, a few cancer- afflicted teens see another Miss Parker off-camera, one who has provided love and caring friendship during their uphill battle.
Quietly, Parker has dedicated much of her free time during the past two years in corresponding with and mentoring child and teenaged cancer patients as part of her affiliation with the Glenn Siegel "My Good Friend" charity organization. Named for and inspired by the young man whose goal, before he succumbed to brain cancer, was to make life easier for his fellow pediatric cancer patients, the national charity is now run by his parents, Barbara and Marv Siegel.
"I first heard about this group while guest-starring on an episode of (NBC's) 'JAG,' when I found some information in my dressing room trailer," says Parker. "Fifteen minutes later, I was moved to tears because there was so much passion in their mission."
Parker called Marv Siegel and volunteered to join the non-profit charity's efforts to pair entertainment and sports celebrities with some of the young patients. She shared several phone chats with various teens, and helped to uplift their spirits simply by showing that someone cared, and eventually became a buddy.
After more time passed, she developed a special relationship with Sabrina, a Virginia teen, and at last flew there to meet her new pal last summer.
"The experience was overwhelming," recalls Parker. "It was so positive for everyone that we feel like family now. She has taught me a lot about strength and love and not giving up. She's a smart and passionate young woman who is a survivor.
"Since then, Sabrina writes me letters in code to see what's up on the show. The sad thing is that she really understands the pain behind (the fictional) Miss Parker's anger. She's even writing a script for 'The Pretender.'"
Parker wants to make it clear that her primary mission is to offer support for her youthful charges, not derive any false sense of self- satisfaction.
"I'm not here to get anything out of this; I just hope to relieve some pain, give love, and offer a hand to those who need it. I want to let them know that they are valued. I'm troubled by the randomness of life, where some are blessed while others are burdened. I hope if I were going through something like this, I would know that no one can do it alone. Some kids get love at home, others don't. There's got to be someone there to help.
"One of the good things about being an actor in Hollywood is that you're in a position to remind other people that there are still others who need help. It's the ultimate gratification -- it's why we were put on this earth."
Parker admits that the dubious notoriety of her well-coifed, stiletto- heeled character often precedes her when dealing with adults who spy her in public. But not so with her "Good Friends."
"Adults say with relief, 'Oh god, you're not really like Miss Parker.' Every time someone says that, I'm really flattered. They think I'm a witch, and then learn I'm not. That's totally cool!
"But kids understand more so than adults that what they see is just pretend -- if you'll excuse the pun. They haven't lost their innocence."
Presently, Parker keeps busy away from the set by visiting and signing autographs for children at local Los Angeles hospitals, as well as maintaining her relationships with her phone and pen pals.
In the meantime, she knows the value of perpetuating the myth of the fictitious Miss Parker.
"I suggest to people I meet on the street to tell their friends that I was vicious in person," she says, with an evil twinkle. "They might as well make up a big, fat, juicy story and say that I was nasty. That often makes a better story!"
Fortunately, many young cancer survivors know better.
(Glenn Siegel's "My Good Friend" is a national charity; volunteers can write to the organization at: 3587 Highway 9, No. 207, Freehold, New Jersey 07728)
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This page last updated September 25, 1999