Julie Mannix was born into the kind of home most of us could only dream of. Surrounded by wealth and power, she and her family were at the center of one of the most affluent locales.
Her father, Daniel Mannix, was (among other things) the author of Fox and the Hound — and the story was based on some of the critters the family had roaming the grounds. The family was eccentric: Daniel had also spent time as a circus performer.
Yes, they had a fox named Tod, but the zoo also included a cheetah who had free reign in the house. Plenty of images featuring the family also star the family’s numerous exotic pets.
When Julie was of age, her debut party quickly gained fame as one of the most lavish of its kind. It was circus-themed (surprise!) and no expense was spared.
Despite what seemed like a carefree childhood, Julie’s later teenage years were dark. When she was 19, she met a man named Frank von Zernick, 23, while in Long Island.
After carrying on together for a while, the 19-year-old discovered she was pregnant — but not the way most people would find out.
It was during a normal checkup that her doctor realized she was with child. Instead of discreetly letting the teenager know, the doctor immediately informed Julie’s strict Catholic mother, and chaos ensued.
Despite her strong religious beliefs, Julie’s mother was adamant that carrying the child publicly would ruin the family’s auspicious reputation. Desperate for a solution, she tried to convince Julie to get an abortion.
At the time, abortions were illegal and could only be performed if the mother were in an unstable state and birthing the child would endanger her life. Not so easily deterred, Julie’s mother had the doctor diagnose her daughter with depression, to warrant the illegal procedure, and Julie was taken to a mental ward.
But Julie refused to approve the pregnancy termination. This child was the product of two people very much in love, and the thought of ending their baby’s life was unthinkable.
So she spent six months in a psych ward, surrounded by patients who were certifiably insane. Her isolation was only made worse by the fact that she had found out Frank was already a married man, and had lied to her. She waited out her time in the hospital, abandoned by everyone she’d known and trusted.
It was a very disturbing time for her, and her ordeal wasn’t over yet when she finally made it through the pregnancy, went into labor, and was rushed to a Catholic Charities hospital.
She saw her child, who she named Aimee Veronica, once. She recognized her own features and Frank’s features in the young girl’s face before they took her away and brought papers for her to sign instead.
“As I signed the adoption papers, my heart ripped apart,” she later said. “I put down the pen, turned away, and, on shaky legs, I left my baby behind.”
What she failed to realize was that during her time in the hospital, Frank had divorced his wife and tried to get into contact with Julie. Her mother struck again, though, intercepting the communication and making sure Julie didn’t find out about his inquiries.
In spite of her mother’s meddling, Julie and Frank reconnected and were married on Jan. 15, 1965. They never forgot the daughter they’d never known, though, and had her birth date engraved on the inside of their rings. As the years passed and they had two more children who grew up and became actors, they still celebrated every year on her birthday.
Then, one day, Julie got a letter. It was addressed to her and her husband, and tentatively asked for information regarding an adoption that took place so many years ago.
“How do I begin a letter like this? Well, I think I’ll simply just start with: I was born on April 19, 1964, in Philadelphia. Based on the documents Catholic Social Services provided me, I find it plausible that you may know some information concerning my birth family.
“It is not my intention to interrupt their lives; I simply want to connect on any level they feel comfortable. Please, at your convenience, let me know if you can assist me with additional information.”
The woman who had sent the letter, whose name was Kathy, was in fact the girl Julie had given up 44 years prior. And in November 2008, Julie finally started to get to know her firstborn daughter.
Frank was overwhelmed with gratitude as well, telling Kathy during their first phone call that they’d never forgotten her: “Julie and I cried when we read your letter.
“We married after you were born. We had your birth date inscribed in our wedding rings, and we’ve celebrated every one of your birthdays. I just want you to know, you were loved all along.”
Kathy was thrilled, having wondered about her birth parents for years. She’d lost her adoptive mother to cancer when she was only six, and finding Julie and Frank opened a whole new world to her.
“I never imagined I would feel like a daughter again, and yet here I am, cherished by two strong and thoughtful parents who worry when my kids are sick and who call for no reason,” she related. “I feel as though we have never been apart. It’s as if we have been dropped into the concluding chapter of a fairy tale — and we all know how fairy tales go.”
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