By Stacy Jenel Smith
So Angelina Jolie
is planning to adopt a third child. She told People magazine "It's a very special thing. There's something about making a choice, waking up and traveling somewhere and finding your family."
She was at a benefit in Manhattan for the Worldwide Orphans Foundation, where she announced she is joining with the organization to build a pediatric AIDS center in Ethiopia, homeland of Zahara, whom she adopted this year. As Angelina watchers are well aware, she also has Cambodia-born Maddox, age four.
While the Oscar-winning actress, Good Will Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Philanthropist and tabloid favorite is clearly a one-of-a-kind adoptive parent - make that a one-of-a-kind person, period - you'd better believe her actions are influencing others.
In fact, the popularity of adoption among celebrities has been credited with helping to broaden the general public's definition of what constitutes a desirable adoption. That includes looking beyond the comparatively limited prospects for finding notoriously high-in-demand, healthy white infants.
A number of celebs - including Michelle Pfeiffer, Rosie O'Donnell and former couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman -- have adopted children of different racial backgrounds than their own.
Veteran actress Valerie Harper's daughter was already almost four when she and husband Tony Cacciotti adopted her.
Filmmaker Steven Spielberg and wife Kate Capshaw are the parents of seven children, including two African-Americans adopted through the public Child Welfare System. They've also been deeply involved in an L.A.-based campaign to find permanent homes for the tens of thousands of adoptable children currently in foster care - a process that can be far less expensive and faster than private adoption.
Celebrities -- such as James Caviezel and his wife, who adopted a three-year-old Chinese boy named Bo -- have also been at the forefront of adoptions when it comes to children from foreign lands. Many heed the call of need from places ravaged by war and natural disaster, leaving countless orphans.
In 1974, when she and husband Blake Edwards adopted two orphaned Vietnamese girls (Amy and Joanna, now 30 and 31), Julie Andrews was asked why she didn't adopt a European or American orphan - a question that, in itself, shows how attitudes have changed.
"It goes back several years to the time when Blake and I were members of the Committee of Responsibility," replied the long-time supporter of charities that help refugees. "It was organized to bring children who were victims of the Vietnam war to the United States for medical attention and treatment they couldn't receive over there. Hundreds of youngsters were brought to America, treated, and returned to Vietnam. We had an opportunity to see some of those children" - and they were enchanted.
"There was another element that encouraged us to adopt a Vietnamese child," she added. "Andre Previn and Mia Farrow are close friends of ours and they adopted such a child. We also are friends of the Yul Brenners, who adopted two Vietnamese children. So we decided to go through the same agency in Saigon that helped them."
Mia Farrow, who had four biological children, reached out to adopt ten more from all around the world, some with disabilities. The most famous of them, Soon-Yi Previn, went on to have an affair with Mia's then-significant-other, Woody Allen, as a teenager. Then Woody and Soon-Yi married and adopted two children themselves.
It's not all altruism and sunshine in the celebrity adoption world, of course. Stories of stars who've been objects of attempted blackmail by what amount to baby sellers - including babies' parents - are out there. Sadly, the late Nell Carter, already then the mother of two adopted sons, found herself in a bad predicament after attempting to adopt a daughter, and finding the birth parents at her door asking for money before they'd sign the papers. The adoption did not go through.
Another down side: People enduring long waits to become adoptive parents are often aggravated by the seeming speed and expediency of celebrity adoptions. It's a money issue, insist many involved in adoptions among famous people, not one of preferential treatment. Stars are often at a huge economic advantage - having the ability to get help from multiple agencies and attorneys. Rosie O'Donnell told People magazine in 2001 that she had "retained five lawyers and paid them anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000 each" to locate birth mothers.
One hears rumors about certain actresses who've sought to adopt because they wanted to avoid the toll pregnancy takes on a woman's body - but no one's about to admit that publicly. In fact, celebrities' reasons for adopting children are as varied as those of non-famous folks:
JoBeth Williams and her husband, director John Pasquin, turned to adoption after years of unsuccessful fertility treatments and several miscarriages.
Kate Jackson and Calista Flockhart are, like Angelina, among the single women who adopted to become mothers. So is Diane Keaton, who adopted a baby girl in 1996 and a boy in 2001. George Lucas, who adopted daughter Amanda with his ex-wife Marcia, went on to adopt two more children - Katie and Jett -- as a single dad.
Lionel Richie and ex-wife Brenda adopted daughter Nicole, the biological offspring of his band member Peter Escovedo. Nicole started living with the Richies from the age of three for what have been called "financial reasons."
O'Donnell, who's a lesbian, chose to go the adoption route to start a family, though her long-time partner Kelli Carpenter later gave birth to daughter Vivienne Rose via sperm donor.
Kirk Cameron and Chelsea Noble chose adoption to expand their family; they have four adopted kids, along with two biological offspring.
Of course, as Julie Andrews put it, "After all, children are children no matter what their background." And love is love.