Actress Tina Alexis Allen uncovers life of lies, childhood abuse in memoir
By Jacqueline Cutler
New York Daily News
January 28, 2018
|Tina Alexis Allen's relationship with her father, known as Sir John, is among the memoir's revelations. |
|The actress is known for her roles in "Outsiders" and "Moving Mountains."|
|"Hiding Out: A Memoir of Drugs, Deception, and Double Lives" is available from Feb. 22.|
|Allen was the youngest of 13 children in a conservative Catholic family and won a gold medal for basketball in the U.S. Youth Games at age 12.|
|Allen's father received a papal knighthood.|
|Daughter and father ultimately forge a strong bond based on shared secrets about their sexuality. |
Tina Alexis Allen was good at keeping secrets.
The older brothers who molested her, starting when she was 9? She wouldn’t tell. The teacher who took over a couple of years later? Something else to keep locked away.
Perhaps it was a family trait. After all, no one kept secrets better than her father —until he started sharing them with her.
Allen earned an MBA in marketing and worked in fashion until opting for a career in acting. She appeared on television in “Outsiders” and films such as “Moving Mountains,” and starred in her own one-woman stage show, “Secrets of a Holy Father.”
Her book “Hiding Out: A Memoir of Drugs, Deception, and Double Lives” hits stores Feb. 22, exposing the long-hidden tale of a tumultuous youth in which her desperately damaged family life turned ever darker.
Allen grew up in Chevy Chase, Md., the youngest of 13 children born to a conservative Catholic family. She was a great athlete, earning a gold medal for basketball in the U.S. Youth Games at age 12.
It seemed like an idyllic suburban childhood as her travel agent father peddled pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
Yet as an 11-year-old Catholic schoolgirl, she had her first liaison — with a teacher. For three years, she and the female teacher 15 years her senior “were having sex on Saturdays while the rest of Chevy Chase was pruning azalea bushes around their stately homes or attending Georgetown Prep lacrosse games.”
The teacher warned Allen to keep their affair a secret, saying no one would understand.
Keeping up appearances was also drilled into her at home.
Her father, who met with every Pope since Pope Pius XII, had received a papal knighthood. He quickly reminded people of this title, in case they neglected to address him as Sir John.
Christmas, naturally, became a special production, starting with the creche he painstakingly set up every year.
“Dad’s main squeeze seems to be Jesus — whether the baby in the manger or Jesus the man, who’s plastered on the cross throughout our house in every art form: statues, sculptures, prints and paintings,” she writes.
“Dad never gets wrapped up in our birthdays the way he does Christ’s. In fact, he doesn’t know our birthdays, only our feast days — the birthdays of the saints we’re named after.”
Her father is both firm disciplinarian and a sloppy drunk — sometimes simultaneously. And as tough as he is with his children, he’s far worse with his wife.
Allen remembers him cruelly harping on her mother’s weight constantly, even taunting her with the promise of a round-the-world cruise on the Queen Elizabeth 2 if she drops 50 pounds.
When she does, after a punishing liquid diet, he forgets his promise.
He never mentions it again. She gains back the weight.
Allen also relives, quite painfully, family dinners when Sir John raged over being given a paper, rather than cloth, napkin.
And there are cringe-inducing moments as he makes an embarrassing mess of himself at her championship basketball games, sloshing back wine.
Then there are the nights he leads the children through lengthy prayers, later stumbling off to another business meeting, another bar.
When Allen becomes old enough to join him, she sees what kind of business meetings and bars the old man was into.
Beaming church officials arrive in her father’s office, eager to talk about his latest trip to Lourdes, or tour of Jerusalem. Sometimes, they leave behind black leather briefcases. Once, after they go, Allen opens a briefcase — it’s full of money.
That explains the $100 bills Sir John passes out as tips. But it doesn’t explain why he has a secret stash of passports from other countries. Or why, when sober, he became nervous talking about the Vatican bank. Or why, when drunk, he talked about murder plots and Middle East conspiracies.
Those were secrets he held on to.
After finally realizing his youngest daughter is gay, Sir John finally reveals a secret of his own: So is he. And had been since his Army days when he fell in love with a beautiful Arab man.
Tina’s beloved godfather? A longtime lover. Those men she sometimes sees her dad talk to in bars? Hookups.
But, he quickly warns, this is strictly between them, as is her secret.
Bonded by booze and blackmail, the middle-aged Sir John and his barely legal daughter hit bars together, cruising for young men for him and older women for her.
Allen’s life — once dominated by cruelty and abuse — takes a deep dive into decadence, fueled by cocaine, champagne and Sir John’s never-ending supply of mysterious money.
Her average-looking, but well-endowed father — the family jokingly referred to his penis as “Sergeant Pepper” — slid deeper into his secret life.
He wore ever-tighter pants and chased after even younger men. Allen gives herself up to casual hookups and increasingly public sex.
Yet even as they shared this double life, confidences and amyl nitrate poppers under the disco ball, they still refused to tell some truths to themselves.
Sir John continues to kiss the rings of clergymen and proudly leads pilgrims on tours of the Via Dolorosa. But he refuses to acknowledge the hypocrisy of proclaiming his godliness in public while sleeping with his daughter’s godfather in private.
And while Allen acknowledges the pain of being abused by her older brothers, she insists her relationships with her female teachers were consensual — even though she was only in seventh grade when her homeroom teacher first took her to bed.
When her latest lover points out she was a victim of child abuse, Allen argues, “I was really mature for my age.”
“Hiding Out” is about a lot of lies, and some are the ones we tell ourselves.
Eventually, Allen started telling the truth. Weary of her mother’s constant suspicions, she mumbles a halfhearted confession that she likes girls better than boys. When her older sister Margaret questions her further, she finally fully comes out.
It’s a revelation that prompts another question. “Is Dad gay?” her sister asks.
So Allen tells another truth. And with that everything begins to unravel, including her relationship with her father, his plans for her to take over the business and her parents’ marriage.
Theirs was a union shakily built on a lie from the start, never strong enough to withstand real honesty.
Allen’s book begins to end there, although she still hasn’t quite uncovered all the deceptions. In its final chapters, set decades later, she still hasn’t. Why were all those priests bringing her father briefcases full of money? Why did he have a Jordanian passport, fear the Mossad and make trips behind the Iron Curtain?
Was he just a sort of roving unofficial Vatican ambassador — or something more sinister?
Allen never can satisfyingly answer that question. Nor does she even try to answer an even more personal one — how did she survive all that abuse, all that alcohol, all that mad family dysfunction?
How did that damaged girl grow up to become a successful actress and businessperson, a sane woman in an apparently happy, long-term relationship?
Perhaps there are some secrets we’re determined to keep forever.