And finally, one last repost for today… I originally read this obscure book in 1992 and reviewed it for Epinions in 2011. It appears here as/is.
I’ve been on a Golden Girls kick lately, so picture it, May 29, 1956, Gary, Indiana. A fragile infant daughter is born to Joseph and Katherine Jackson. As the fifth of nine children (a tenth child, Marlon Jackson’s twin brother, died shortly after birth), she will grow up one of the middle children in a powerful family musical dynasty. But on the day of her birth, her family is poor.
La Toya Yvonne Jackson would grow up watching her talented brothers form a group called The Jackson Five. She would see her brother, Michael, become “the king of pop”, and her sister, Janet, become a successful actress and pop star in her own right. And La Toya Jackson would try to branch out on her own with musical albums and television appearances. She would never match the success of her siblings. But in 1992, she would publish a book that, she claims, her family would never want the public to read.
La Toya Jackson may not have been as famous as any of her brothers or her sister Janet, but in 1992, she was in the midst of a scandal. Married, to her svengali-esque manager, Jack Gordon, from 1989 until 1997, La Toya Jackson was persuaded to publish her 1992 memoir, La Toya: Growing Up in the Jackson Family. This book has long been out of print. I picked it up at the now defunct Peoples’ Drug Store, which had an outlet in Farmville, Virginia, where I went to college. At age 19, I read this book for the first time and learned about the Jackson family as told by La Toya Jackson to her ghost writer, Patricia Romanowski. I have since read this book several more times. It’s not that I’m a big fan of La Toya’s or even the Jacksons as a whole. It’s just that this is a pretty interesting book. And it even came out before the mini series about the Jackson family that is always playing on VH1.
Family ties and the JWs
La Toya Jackson starts at the beginning, describing her parents’ histories. Katherine Jackson, nee Katherine Scruse, came from Russell County, Alabama. La Toya Jackson and her siblings called her mother’s father, Prince Scruse, “Daddy”, while they called their own father by his first name, Joseph. La Toya explains that no Jackson child could ever be spoiled. Joseph Jackson was a hardworking but very strict father. Katherine Jackson was a loving and God fearing mother.
When La Toya was young, her mother became a Jehovah’s Witness. La Toya writes that her grandparents felt sorry for the children because they could no longer celebrate Christmas, so they would buy them presents and take them to Christmas parties. Katherine Jackson permitted the holiday celebrations because she saw that they brought her children joy; other than that, everyone except for Joseph converted to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and followed its teachings. La Toya includes some interesting information about what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, as well as some interesting anecdotes about her experiences with the faith. She also writes that no one was forced to convert to the Witnesses; everyone did so voluntarily, though some of her siblings eventually abandoned the faith.
Joseph Jackson… not sparing the rod
By La Toya Jackson’s account, Joseph Jackson was a big believer in corporal punishment. She writes that she was an excellent student, but shy in class. One day, she brought home a report card that explained that her work was outstanding, but the teacher felt she was too quiet and shy and therefore wasn’t mature enough for the next grade. She recommended holding La Toya back a grade. La Toya paid for that note home with a severe beating. Joseph locked her in a bathroom and threw a book at her, ordering her to read it. Her brothers and sisters sidestepped her sobbing, bleeding body as they washed up for dinner.
The family business
La Toya Jackson explains how fame changed her family. They moved from their tiny Gary, Indiana house to southern California and purchased Hayvenhurst, the famed Jackson compound. She dishes on what it was like to be a young adult living in that house with her brothers. She sheds some light on what it was like to live with Michael at the height of his Thriller fame. She also makes some stunning allegations about Joseph Jackson and his penchant for abuse, both physical and sexual.
Brides, Prince, Playboy, and sideshows…
La Toya writes about her brothers’ marriages and romances. She includes one particularly lurid account of her brother Jackie’s romance with Paula Abdul, which happened when he was married. It may be worth the price of the book just to read about what happened to poor Paula at the hands of Jackie’s wife, Enid. She writes of the variety show the Jacksons put on in the 1970s as an answer to another big religious family’s television fame, The Osmonds. She also offers an interesting account of meeting Prince, who evidently took a liking to her and completely freaked her out.
La Toya also writes about her decision to do a spread for Playboy magazine. Given her strict religious upbringing and fastidious nature, the decision to pose for a men’s magazine was not without scandal. If you read La Toya’s book, you will get her thoughts about that experience, at least as it was in 1992.
We Are The World…
Though I am definitely old enough to remember the original recording of “We Are The World”, I did not know La Toya was a member of the choir. She includes some very interesting anecdotes about what it was like to sing that landmark song with musical legends of the 1980s, like Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Steve Perry, Kenny Loggins, Kenny Rogers, Bette Midler, Dionne Warwick, and so many others. I have to admit, I really miss the 1980s sometimes and reading about “We Are The World” before Justin Bieber sang it really kind of feeds my nostalgia.
A grain of salt…
It’s important to take this book with a grain of salt. First off, when this book was written, La Toya was on the outs with her family. She was married to her manager, Jack Gordon, whom she describes in this book as the love of her life. Years after this book was published, she later described him as abusive and exploitative. It’s hard to know where the truth lies. Secondly, La Toya has publicly recanted a lot of what she wrote in this book. There have, however, been other accounts that allege abuse and strife within the family.
I’m not too sure how seriously I should take La Toya Jackson’s book. I think it’s well written and it’s certainly titillating enough. I’m sure that there is truth to much of what La Toya writes. However, I also realize that she grew up in the shadow of Hollywood and at the time this book was written, had reason to sensationalize and embellish. It seemed to me this book was written purely to make money, both for her and her greedy ex husband, Jack Gordon.
I appreciated the fact that La Toya included pictures. It was kind of cool to see the Jacksons in all their 1970s splendor, at a time when I was too young to appreciate them. I also liked some of La Toya’s family anecdotes. She implies that she enjoyed a very close relationship with her family, until everything went south… From what I can tell, that closeness is back, now that she’s not with her former manager anymore. This book was also published right before La Toya released an album, which seems like a slick marketing move.
On the other hand, I think this book is entertaining and will probably be interesting to Jackson fans. Yes, it’s lurid, and maybe it’s not the whole truth. But if you want to get your hands on every scrap of information about the Jackson family, it may not be a bad idea to pick up this book.
If you like the Jacksons and are interested in trivia, you might want to read La Toya’s book. I’ve certainly read worse.
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