Welcome to this week’s free story from The Maclean’s Archives.
David Foster, a renowned Canadian record producer, raised eyebrows when he and former prime minister Brian Mulroney serenaded Donald Trump with a rendition of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” at the President’s Mar-A-Lago “Winter White House” residence in Florida. We look into the archives and found proof of his flair for the theatric in his then-new autobiographical TV show, “Princes of Malibu”. Learn more about Maclean’s Archives or sign up now for your 30-day free trial.
IT’S ANOTHER SUNNY day in Malibu, inspiring David Foster, his wife, Linda Thompson, and her two sons, Brandon and Brody, to break into song as a four-person golf cart transports them from their hillside mansion to the front lawn for a photo shoot. Brandon plays guitar, Brody makes up lyrics, Foster sings harmony and Thompson looks on lovingly. But the idyllic family moment passes. Soon Brody, the baby at 21, is frowning. ‘I want to go out surfing,” he says. “But I’ve got responsibilities.” Brandon, 24, wearing a T-shirt that reads, “My mother says I’m a catch,” won’t stop playing the guitar, which annoys the others. Thompson is mostly concerned with her hair. Record producer Foster ignores his family—and oozes arrogance. What brings them together is publicity for their “reality” show, The Princes of Malibu (premiering July 10 on Fox/Global), which ratchets up the long-standing conflict between the self-made Foster, 55, and his layabout stepsons (from Thompson’s first marriage, to U.S. Olympian decathlete Bruce Jenner), whom he’s lived with for nearly two decades.
But they are, for the moment, dwarfed by their surroundings—a 22-acre, $70-million estate called Villa Casablanca. From the front yard, which is the size of two football fields, you can see tennis courts, pools and a recording studio. A train trolley leads from the lawn up to the main house—a palace with 10 bedrooms, 20 bathrooms, five kitchens and a full gym. In one wing, Foster has been known to house young go getters—like fellow Victoria native Brant Pinvidic, the producer of Princes of Malibu. “Brant is a guy who’s young, aggressive, Canadian,” says Foster. “I just had a feeling he was going to do well. Fie was hungry, reminded me of me years ago.”
In other words, the polar opposite of his stepsons. “By the time I was 20,” says Foster, who quit school in Grade 11 to play keyboard in Chuck Berry’s band, “I was trying to figure out a way to buy my parents a house. My kids are trying to figure out a way for me to buy them a house.” Sitting in his studio, the Warner Bros, executive vice-president and winner of 14 Grammys—best known for producing Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Bryan Adams and, most recently, Michael Bublé and Josh Groban— momentarily drops the ego and ponders whether he’s a bad parent. After all, it’s not just Brandon and Brody living on his dime; Foster’s five daughters (with three different women) all got cars and condos from dad.
While Foster wishes all the kids had his work ethic, he concedes he’s made life easy for them. “They were born into affluence. With my oldest daughter, Amy, I started this rule, ‘I’ll buy you half of any car. If you can afford half of a Rolls-Royce when you’re 16, I’ll buy you the other half.’ By the time she was 18, she’d saved $1,600, so we bought a $3,200 car and it was a piece of shit. Then I thought, I’m putting her at risk by having her drive the freeways of L.A. in a beat-up old Honda. So I acquiesced—and from there I’ve acquiesced a lot in my parenting.”
Brody and Brandon also don’t lack for vehicles—a gold Mercedes-Benz four-by-four is their current ride—and Thompson lets them live in her old Malibu cottage down the road. But they seem to prefer the playground at Casablanca, much to Foster’s dismay. For years, he’s been harping on them to get a job. And they finally have. Inspired by their neighbours and friends—the Osbournes, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, Britney Spears and Kevin Federline—they came up with the idea to film a TV show about their luxurious playboy life, which happens to include an irate stepfather.
The networks responded to the five-minute clip they put together, and Fox offered them a $2.8-million deal. From there, the producers proposed a more focused, albeit less real, premise. In the semifictional series, Foster insists they get jobs and pay $4,000 a month rent between them. So Brandon and Brody embark on a series of get-rich-quick schemes using Foster’s house and possessions—including setting up a drive-in movie theatre on the lawn, renting out his studio without his knowledge, and holding an Elvis convention in which fans pay to talk to their mom, who was Presley’s girlfriend for the last five years of his life.
It’s hard to tell whether Foster is feigning anger as he happens upon each new scenario. But it’s perversely entertaining to watch him freak out—even at something as minor as leaving the lights on. “David loved being in this show,” says Brody. “He loves playing an angry person, and he does it well.” While Fox bought only six episodes to begin with, the boys are still filming stuff and thinking of new ideas. “I want to do a show called Hotel Casablanca,” says Brody.
“I’m going to paint a line in the middle of the house and say, ‘Dave, this is your half and this is my mom’s half. I’m going to live on this half with my homies.’ I’ll take the side with more bedrooms and rent them out.” In the course of our conversation, Brody— who has no visible tan lines even when his surf shorts are riding shockingly lowbounces a big exercise ball, chases after a dog, talks to other shirtless friends who happen to be roaming around the house, and grabs food from a tray that’s being carried by. Brandon is also a multi-tasker, working out the chord changes to Edgar Winter Group’s Free Ride as he answers questions. Both have dropped out of college. Brandon is getting serious about making music— his band Big Dume will release its debut CD this month. Brody plays drums in a local band but seems most inspired by making the TV show. Deep down, they might even appreciate the push Foster’s given them. “When the day is all over,” says Brody, “he’s been with us since we were 2 and 4.
He’s been there more than my real father. I love David, even though he’s crazy as hell.” Foster reciprocates. “They’re good kids and they’re fun,” he says. “Brandon is working hard on his music. I take pride in that because his father was an athlete and they both have tremendous, natural athletic skills. But they chose music—it must be the difference between nature and nurture.” Thompson, 55, takes a somewhat different view of relations between her man and her boys. “I think actions speak louder than words,” says the one-time Miss Tennessee and former Flee Flaw regular. “I feel he does love them, but there is definitely a competitive spirit on David’s part. And there’s resentment that he has to share his home, his space. He’s a bit of a curmudgeon at home, an Archie Bunker.” Thompson, who’s wife No. 3, met Foster at the Grammys in 1984, when he tied for best producer with her good friend Lionel Richie. A couple of years later, Foster moved into Thompson’s Malibu cottage with her and the boys. “I certainly wasn’t going to leave my kids and run off with a piano player,” she says, “no matter how talented he was.”
From the start, says Thompson, Foster would rather have had her all to himself. “I would be downstairs helping Brody with his homework, and David was like, ‘Why aren’t you sitting next to me watching television?’ And the boys were great: they’d say, ‘Go be with Dave, he wants you to watch The Practice.” And it’s not just the boys Foster has a problem with. According to Thompson, he’s also jealous of her pets, not to mention the dead. “David truly hates for anybody to mention Elvis,” she says. “The man has been gone for almost 30 years. I don’t think that he’s going to rise like Lazarus and come back and reclaim me.” As willing as she is to badmouth her husband in conversation, Thompson didn’t want his behaviour caught on tape. “For the kids to go, ‘We’re going to have cameras all over the house, we’re going to show how angry David is and what a miserable guy he is to live with’—I was horrified.”
Foster says he agreed to the show because he didn’t want to say no to the boys, but the other family members roll their eyes at that. “David’s been trying for eight years to get a television show going,” says Thompson. “And now he’s happy as a pig in slop, because he’s got all this attention. Brody is going around saying, ‘Dave owes me, he owes me big.’ ” As if 20 years of footing the bill weren’t enough.
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