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by Cary O'Dell

What can I say?  I like to read. 

I especially like to read books that are show biz-related.  Some of them are by the famous and some of them are by the infamous.  Some of them are fun, some are informative, some are dishy, some are forgettable, a few are overly boastful, and some are—believe it or not--very, very good. 

And in them--in some of those aforementioned very, very good ones--there is often, maybe surprisingly, some great eloquence, great insight, and some hard-won knowledge.

In the excepts below, I share some of those passages that I came across and found to be interesting, illuminating, thought-provoking, funny, and even profound.  I hope you do as well.

Brett Butler bookFROM BRETT BUTLER:
Comic and actress Brett Butler (TV’s “Grace Under Fire”) wrote her book, “Knee Deep in Paradise,” in 1996.  As she begins, she wonders about the point of autobiography and the fallacy of memory:

Surrendering an autobiography before the age of forty is best left to geniuses or martyrs.  Since geniuses are too busy and true martyrs never speak of it, that leaves celebrities.  On the other hand, I always reckoned that my life was interesting even before I “amounted to anything.”

Unlike recollections that are privately sentimental, writing about one’s life and the people who inhabit it can be a perilous thing.  It’s tempting to describe a cloudy day as sunny, or a confused soul as a cruel one.  But thirty-seven years of breathing somehow creates proportion, and truth ends up typing itself.  Minimizing the outrageous or magnifying the mundane is not caprice on my part.  Sometimes I just remembered things that way.  All of it is important and none of it is.

In his memoir, “I’m Your Huckleberry” (2020), Val Kilmer talks about meeting with and forever being inspired by his acting hero, Marlon Brando.  At one point, Brando admonishes Kilmer, “You can’t call yourself an actor until you’ve done a Western.”  In the excerpt below, Kilmer tries to understand the Western-related advice of his great mentor:

I presume the “why” has to do with basic Americanism.  One way or the other, Americans have to deal with the West and its glorious, sordid and sadistic past.  Marlon knew that the West represents both our territorial salvation and our mortal sin, our gain and our greed.  We fought lawlessness to create an even more lawless law, one that excused and perpetuated genocide.  Even today, this gun-obsessed national that we love remains enmired in a dilemma centered on pistols and rifles with romantic ties to our murderous past.  We love Westerns.  We learn everything from Westerns and yet learn nothing from them.

When television arrived, radio’s Fred Allen tried to make a go of it, but floundered in the new medium.  In his 1954 autobiography, “Treadmill to Oblivion,” he had this to say about it:

The radio listener saw nothing:  he had to use his imagination.  It was possible for each individual to enjoy the same program according to his intellectual level and his mental capacity. With the high cost of living and the many problems facing him in the modern world, all the poor man had left was his imagination.  Television has taken that away from him.

MTV bookKevin Seal was one of the second generation of MTV’s “VJ’s” back when the channel was wall-to-wall music videos.  In 2011, he was one of the interviewees in the “oral history” of the cable station, “I Want My MTV,” published in 2011.  In one of his passages, he recalls the less-than-glamourous behind-the-scenes story of one of MTV’s “Spring Break” on-air “parties”:

They set up huge klieg lights around the pool, so it looked like it was sunny, and kids pranced around in their bathing suits every time a floor manager cued them.  We’d cut away to some video and they’d stand there, shivering.  It was a bacchanal.  The Daytona Police converted a Safeway parking lot into a temporary jail, with chain-link fences.  Scores of kids in zip cuffs stood around, shouting at their friends.  There were reports in the paper about kids who plunged off a hotel balcony and hit the deck.  I dreaded it.

There was the sense of young lives being wasted, which was sort of a pall that hung over my time at MTV, generally.  Not only with the audience, but perhaps in my own life as well.

Though not that well known today, Ilka Chase had a long career as an actress, author and socialite.  In any field, she was known for her glamour and wit.  In her memoir, “Past Imperfect,” (1942), she relates an amusing incident about a “wedding gift”:

A month or so after Julia married my ex-husband [Louis Calhern], I was playing in Chicago, and in going through a trunk which had been sent to me from New York, I found a box of calling cards engraved “Mrs. Louis Calhern.”  They were the best cards—thin, flexible parchment, highly embossed—and it seemed a pity to waste them, and so I mailed the box to my successor.  But aware of Lou’s mercurial marital habits, I wrote on the top of one, “Dear Julia, I hope these reach you in time.”

Before Isabella Rossellini began her acting career and even her legendary modeling career, she worked as a journalist for various European publications.  In the early 1970s, she interviewed the great Muhammed Ali and later, in her book “Looking at Me” from 2002, spoke of the odd kinship she now felt with the immortal boxing champ:

Boxing is the maximum expression of masculinity and modeling is the maximum expression of femininity.  Both professions involve primarily one’s physique rather than one’s mind and both fields share the unpleasant reputation of being filled with not so intelligent people.

Mim Kennedy bookFROM MIMI KENNEDY:
Many years ago, Mimi Kennedy, known for her work on “Mom” and “Dharma & Greg,” published her 1996 autobiography, “Taken to the Stage.”  In one of the final pages of the book, she contemplates the “mass” in mass media and her role in it:

Bilocation, I’d learned as a child, was an attribution of the saints.  Reports of appearances and interventions by physically distant persons was a strong testimony, in church, for canonization.  All of us have this potential now, because of the mass media.  We can travel through the world in word and picture and we haven’t had to develop one iota of spiritual discipline beforehand.  If our appearances, messages and interventions lack saintly wisdom, or beneficence, they nonetheless proceed apace.  Actors have been in the vanguard to this proliferation; friends have reported seeing me on their hotel television sets in Cairo and Beijing, in years-old episodes of “Family” or “Dance Fever.”  Each project took a day of my life.  They were fine entertainments, but I’d never pictured them circling the globe for decades, reaching people in distant, hard-to access places.  Knowing they do… has given me a sobering respect for even my smallest and silliest involvements…. People are ultimately responsible for the images they cast into the world; actors’ go further and last longer than some of us might have imagined. But the facts are incontrovertible; the images persist and have effects.


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