Driving through jammed Los Angeles traffic, Liane Mark is rushing to a film production. "If they build a new roller coaster, it should have a lot of loops," she says to herself, running the line over and over again in her mind. She turns to see her eight-year-old son, Justin, in the passenger seat, oblivious to the pressure. Ah, to be young and innocent.
Liane remembers her own blithesome youth. She wins Hawaii's Junior Miss pageant in 1995, while she's applying to college. Then at Yale, she wins a coveted spot in the Redhot & Blue singing group, before being tapped to join Whim 'n Rhythm in her senior year. After graduating in 1999, with a double major in theater studies and psychology, she returns to Honolulu to compete in Miss Hawaii 2000. She chooses "helping children with divorced parents" as her pageant platform, since she grew up with her single dad after her parents divorced. Finishing as first runner-up, she steps off the stage to hug her father in the audience.
Now it's her turn to be the single parent. Arriving on the set, it becomes clear that she's anxious, not for herself, but for Justin. This is his first commercial, and he's working with legendary director Joe Pytka. Not only has Joe made some of the most iconic commercials of all time, he's an imposing figure, with a long, white mane and a reputation for being demanding. The minute they meet, however, Liane knows Justin is lucky to be in such great hands, working on such a worthwhile project. The spot is for State Farm, about rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy.
She has had her own twists of fate. After Angela Perez Baraquio, the winner of Miss Hawaii 2000, goes on to win Miss America 2001, Liane, as first runner-up, has the opportunity to step in as Miss Hawaii. She declines, wanting to win the pageant outright the following year. However, the night she wins Miss Waikiki in January 2001, her feet feel numb. She thinks it's the result of walking too much in four-and-a-half-inch heels, but the numbness and tingling spread up her body and to her hands. After five days of neurological tests, she is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at age 23.
Still, she presses ahead with her Miss Hawaii dreams and comes in first runner-up again in 2001 and second runner-up in 2002. Her platform changes to MS awareness and research. After winning Miss InterContinental 2002, she spends her year of service as a goodwill ambassador for the National MS Society.
Traveling more than 10,000 miles a month, she speaks about living well with MS, impressing audiences with her charm and vitality. While waiting at airports, she often steps into Brighton Collectibles stores, shopping for jewelry with hearts and positive messages. In her speeches, she includes one of her favorite sayings: "People are like tea bags: You don't know how strong they are until you put them in hot water."
Engaged to stuntman Alex Daniels, she prepares to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career in Hollywood. Those best-laid plans go astray when she and Alex break up. She moves to L.A. anyway in 2003 and eventually begins dating Dr. Jon Perlman. Their son, Justin, arrives in 2005. Though not together any longer, Liane and Jon remain friendly and dedicated to their roles as co-parents.
With her love life in flux and her career on hold, she focuses on being the best mom possible. "She's sacrificing a lot," says Jon, who appreciates their flexible, cooperative custody arrangement, "and Justin is also very protective of her. They watch over each other."
In particular, Liane is helping Justin's public school, which needs to raise $1 million a year to cover programs not included in its budget. Last fall, for its Halloween Fun Carnival fundraiser, she volunteers to play the school witch. She's now working on the spring auction to raise $500,000.
When Justin's State Farm commercial airs during 12.12.12: The Concert for Sandy Relief, Liane sees that he's been selected for the coveted last shot. "If they build a new roller coaster, it should have a lot of loops," he says, adorably. She can't be more pleased. Regardless of other parts she might play, Liane walks tall in her role as proud mom. She has the high heels for it.