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Actors and Others  Writing Memoirs
by Cary O'Dell

A few weeks ago, TVparty posted a handful of short excerpts--some of my favorite passages, insights and reminisces—from some of my favorite stars’ memoirs.

And now I’m doing it again.  The ones below (like that earlier set) were things I read and which struck me and stayed with me.  I share them, now, with you.

Before her untimely death from cancer in 1990, actress Jill Ireland wrote two luminous books—“Life Wish” (1987) and “Life Lines” (1989).  The first largely dealt with her battle against breast cancer played out amidst her busy life as an actress, film producer, as Mrs. Charles Bronson, and as a mother to the couple’s extended brood of children.  Her second book continued this great family saga and detailed the difficulty of her adult son’s, Jason’s, battle with drug addiction.  (Sadly, Jason would die of an overdose in 1989, shortly after the publication of “Life Lines.”)  Near the end of “Lines,” Ireland, who was also looking after her aged parents at this time, wonders about the contemporary state of mothers, daughters, women:

I find myself now parent to my three sons and two daughters, and in many ways parents to my parents.

Am I fated for eternal motherhood?

Where, I wonder, do I fit in?

Who is mother to me?

Am I pondering the problem of all women of my generation, the historical, traditional destiny of womankind, I wonder.  Or is it unique to the twentieth century?  Thanks to the intervention of medical science people are living years longer.  In my grandparents’ time one rarely dealt with the question of elderly parents….

By prolonging the adolescence of our children and the longevity of our parents my generation finds itself caught like Peter Pan in Never-Never Land.

Making room for our own space in time is becoming increasingly difficult.

When is it our turn?

How do we fit into life as our future, past and present tug at us desperately in different directions?

Where is our time for peace?  Our time for us?

Maybe we are the true lost generation?

I always feel as if I know what’s best for my aging parents and my robust offspring.  And, on paper, I do.

The Lost One:  A Life of Peter LorreFROM VINCENT PRICE:
In his 2005 biography, “The Lost One:  A Life of Peter Lorre,” author Stephen D. Youngkin included Vincent Price’s 1964 eulogy for his friend:

Peter had no illusions about our profession.  He loved to entertain, to be a face maker, as he said so often of our kind.  But his was a face that registered the thoughts of his inquisitive mind and his receptive heart, and the audience, which was his world, loved him for glimpses he gave them of that heart and mind.

If the admonition that it is more blessed to give than to receive to be believed, surely the actor is blest, for he succeeds only in so far as he gives and what he receives can never compensate for what he gives, for he gives fully of himself and receives at best only a part of others…and yet in touching the lives of others, if only in passing, he can never wholly know what great and unexpected good he may have done—relieved some living pressure in making one man laugh, or through interpretation of the great truths of poetry or prose made another think and mend his mind.  This is enough and any actor knows it is enough, for talent is the rarest gift and even if it given greatly only to a precious few, that talent must be greatly given always…to all.

Peter held back nothing of himself.  He shared his wit, his curiosity, and yet he always seemed to be exploring you.  The aura of devotion that surrounded him made all men glad to be his friend, to feed and be fed by him in turn.

Judy Collins Trust Your HeartFROM JUDY COLLINS:
Legendary folk singer Judy Collins has published several books including two volumes of memoirs.  Her first, “Trust Your Heart,” appeared in 1987; her second, “Singing Lessons,” was published in 1998.  Notably, her second tome appeared after suffering the death by suicide of her only child, her son, Clark.  In “Lessons,” Collins relates the first days of her impossible grief:

And then, suddenly, it was midnight on my watch, and it seemed the sun, moon and stars were blighted out.  There were few signs with which to guide me and my family and Clark’s friends on our perilous journey, and we held each other close.

Consoling friends called, wrote to me.

“What is the opposite of life?” one friend wrote.  “Death?  No, birth is the opposite of death.  There is no opposite of life.”

It helped me, that day.

To survive, I knew I had to go to the center, right to the very heart of the pain.  That way, no matter where I turned, I would be healing from the inside out.  How could I do that?  How does anyone go on, knowing he or she will always be a suicide survivor?

I wanted to sleep and sometimes I wanted to die.  I didn’t want to drink, for if I drank, I knew I would follow my son.  But there were other ways:  step into traffic, jump out the window, take a gun to my head, to my heart.  But I don’t have a gun.  I threw out the pills, anything I thought might be there for me in a weak moment when I reached into the medicine cabinet, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the day, in the middle of the morning, in the middle of the afternoon.  I got all the booze I had kept for guests out of my house.  I couldn’t let myself complete my first suicide attempt.  One of us had already done that.

I prayed all night and all day sometimes, and tried to eat three meals a day, tried to remember to breathe.

In 2011, actress Portia De Rossi published her book, “Unbearable Lightness,” addressing her struggle with disordered eating.  In the book, the actress also considers a very graphic love scene she was asked to perform while co-starring on the FOX-TV series “Ally McBeal”:

I shot the scene and awaited the verdict.  I didn’t have to wait long as it aired within a few weeks.  Of course, when shooting a scene like that, some of the feedback is immediate.  The energy of the crew changes, and no matter how professional you are, you still feel exposed, cheapened, paid to show your body.  Or at least that’s how I felt.  And in that scene I was no longer a brilliant attorney who could make the firm more money than it had ever seen.  I was stripped of that ability and the respect that comes with it when I stripped down to my heart-covered bra and panties.

Yvonne Craig MemoirFROM YVONNE CRAIG:
TV’s original Batgirl, Yvonne Craig put out her memoir, “From Ballet to the Batcave and Beyond” in 2000.  It’s a charmer of a book and Craig proves herself a great storyteller.  Consider this tale from 1968:  Craig had returned to her native Texas to shoot the sci-fi film “Mars Needs Women” and, as if dealing with that film’s script wasn’t enough, she also became the victim of a mugging!  She was on her way to a dinner, walking alone down the street, when….

…it was a well-lighted area not 20 feet from the front door of a very posh restaurant.  Absolutely no alarms went off at all.  He came abreast of me, snatched my purse, and fled on foot.  I yelled, “Stop him!”  A Cadillac pulled to the curb.  The man in the passenger seat asked if I had a gun and I responded in the negative.  In retrospect, I think they were in cahoots with the purse-snatcher.  Otherwise, why ask me about a gun?  Hey it’s Texas—maybe everybody carries a gun.

Shaken, I went into the restaurant and tearfully asked them if I could use their phone to call the police.  They handed me not only their phone but a Kleenex as well.  I wondered at the time how many of their patrons arrived sobbing at the cash register (I’d not yet seen the prices on their menu).

[My friend] Warren met me at the front and waited till the police came to take the report.  This part is strictly out of a sitcom:  One of the cops had gone to high school with me and was decidedly more interested in reminiscing than leaping into this squad car and chasing down the purse snatcher!  I couldn’t seem to convince him we were wasting valuable time discussing school days while the thief got away further and further away.

claire bloom MemoirFROM CLAIRE BLOOM:
To date, Claire Bloom has authored two books.  Her first, published in 1982, is the rich, lovely “Limelight and After.”  Near its conclusion, and despite the fact that Bloom has enjoyed an expansive career on both sides of the Atlantic, she reflects on one particular peril of her profession—its lack of job security:

The worst part of it is being out of work.  When you aren’t in demand or haven’t any job in sight, you suffer a severe loss of self-confidence.  This happens to all of the unemployed, but the problem in this profession is that unemployment recurs on a regular basis.  It happens to the best actors as well as to the mediocre ones.  You can be a triumph and win all the prizes, and then you can be out of work for a year…  You work like a dog for three months on a television play and the next day you’re out on the street with nothing to do.  I think that for women it may be less difficult than for men.  Most women have a home to run, children and husbands, food and entertaining; it’s a job full of day-to-day responsibilities, and in a slack time it takes some of the pain away.  But if it goes on too long, then somehow it becomes worse, because you feel you are disappearing in the house and all your qualities are going down the kitchen drain.  It’s amazing how self-confidence returns with the offer of a job.  You don’t even have to be offered King Lear, just something decent that makes you feel necessary, and generally that will restore your faith in yourself until the next time you’re out of work.

Suzi Quatro MemoirFROM SUZI QUATRO:
Rock star and legend Suzi Quatro published her book, “Unzipped,” in 2007.  She’s very candid and very self-deprecating in the book, thanks in part to a device she employs in the memoir where she lets her younger self “Susie” also chime in from time to time.  And little Susie is never shy.  Consider this anecdote Little Susie relates about Big Suzi when she met the US paparazzi:

You were high-profile in Hollywood at this time—people were recognizing you from “Happy Days” everywhere you went.  So as you approached the restaurant you noticed loads of snappers stationed outside and mentally prepared yourself to be photographed.  Which didn’t happen.  But in you walked anyway.  It kind of bothered you all through dinner.  You had no idea that Rod Stewart was due there that evening until you ran into him on the staircase…  When you left to go home (fortified by a few glasses of good red wine, of course) again there were no flashes.  But this time you didn’t let it slide.  You turned around and shouted, “Do you guys realize who you’ve just missed taking a picture of?”  To which one of them replied, “Yes, Suzi, we do!”

Yvonne Craig MemoirFROM BOB ODENKIRK:
Former “Mr. Show” and “Better Call Saul” star Bob Odenkirk rendered his memoir, “Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama” in 2022.  In it, he recounts his youth and the profound impact that such subversive comedy as Monty Python had on him.  He says: 

Popular comedy in the early seventies was weak.[….]  It made me uncomfortable, being, as Holden Caufield would put it, “phoney,” and phoney in an extreme way.  The bulk of the comedy of that decade (when it was still sold in bulk) even had a “creepy” underside to it.  The niceness was a mask.  A cheap plastic Halloween mask of John Denver’s bland face barely secured over the horrified, rotting, post-Vietnam, post-Altamont culture.  A con job that everybody—the conned and the cons—was helping to carry on.  TV featured lots of performers “breaking” into laughter and then feigning embarrassment—which is the worst.  Everything was feigned, half-apologized for, artificial chemical substitutes for the real thing.  K-Tel and Ron Popeil products, throwaway culture that showed up already broken and disappointing.   

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