book reviews, celebrities

A review of Sally Field’s life story, In Pieces…

Four years ago, weeks before we moved to Wiesbaden, actress Sally Field, who was then 71 years old, published her memoirs, titled In Pieces. I downloaded the book in October of that year, fully intending to read it immediately. But then stuff happened. We moved, and other books and current events came up. Sally’s book drifted further and further down my “to be read” list, in favor of other books that I considered more pressing because they covered current events or otherwise “hot” or interesting topics.

Recently, Sally Field commented about the trend of right wing politicians trying to take away women’s rights to choose whether or not they want to be pregnant. Field said in an interview for Variety,

“Those men who are doing that, and they’re mostly male governors who are doing it, are so backward, so ignorant and really just power hungry,” the two-time Academy Award winner, 75, said. “I think it’s criminal.”

“They’re so wanting to roll back the achievements and important progress for women, for Blacks, for the LGBTQ community.”

She continued:

“I can’t say enough horrible things about what I feel about those men,” she said. “If you see them coming toward me, those two governors specifically, lead me out of the way because I cannot be responsible for what I would do. [Addressing her publicist] Heidi, do you hear me? Lead me away.”

I had basically forgotten about Sally Field’s memoirs until a few weeks ago, when I read a news article about the war on abortion. A journalist for People Magazine mentioned that Sally Field had an abortion in the 1960s, when she was a young actress struggling to break into the entertainment industry. The year was 1964, and Field was just 17 years old. She had to go to Tijuana, Mexico to have the procedure, since it was not legal in the United States. The story about her abortion was in her book, In Pieces, which reminded me that I bought the book several years ago. It was because of her comments about abortion that I decided it was time to read Sally’s life story. I believe very strongly that people should have the right to have an abortion, and it’s no one else’s business.

I finally finished the book last night. I’ve always liked Sally Field as an actress, and now that I’ve read her book, I like her even more as a person. Curiously, some people on Amazon commented that this book was “whiny” and “poorly written”. I don’t agree with them. I’m not sure what would have made the book better for them. This is Sally Field’s story. Everybody has a story. This is hers. There are aspects of her story that may be distasteful for some people. Yes, she had an abortion. She did not have a good relationship with her biological father, a man named Dick Field, whom she says she didn’t enjoy visiting after he and her mother divorced. She was also sexually abused by her stepfather, Jocko (Jacques O’Mahoney), and had a difficult relationship with the late Burt Reynolds, who also had a difficult relationship with Loni Anderson, whose life story I read years ago.

In spite of all of that, Sally Field has had an amazing career as an actress on television and the big screen. She’s done everything from sitcoms to high drama, and she’s been incredibly successful. And she’s raised three sons, whom she obviously loves very much. I will be 50 years old in June; Sally’s been acting since before I was born, and one of her sons is my age. I think I’ve always liked her because she reminds me a lot of my sister, Becky.

This was way before my time…
Not one of Sally’s favorite roles.

One thing I would mention about In Pieces is that this book isn’t mainly about Sally’s roles. Anyone who picks up this book wanting to know a lot about Sally’s experiences starring on ER as a bipolar mother, or her turn as a housewife turned comedienne in Punchline with Tom Hanks, will be disappointed. She does write about some of her roles– notably Norma Rae, which was a fabulous movie from 1977– and Sybil, a made for television movie she made in 1976. She also writes about Gidget and The Flying Nun, and how neither of those roles were very exciting or challenging for her. Actually, I get the sense that Field hated being The Flying Nun, and hadn’t wanted to do that show at all. But she was advised by her stepfather, Jocko, himself an actor, that she should take the work. Sally’s mother, Margaret Field, who was also an actress, was always present in her life– kind of in an unhealthy way. They were basically enmeshed. Sally’s mom needed to live her own life, but every time she started to try to break away from Sally, something would happen. Her mom would end up depending on Sally, and Sally would depend on her mom.

People were always telling Sally what to do, and perhaps because she felt the need to please people, she did what they said… until she finally learned that she should listen to her own counsel. As someone who is married to an overly responsible people pleaser, I could really appreciate that part of Sally’s story. She ties it up nicely toward the end of the book, as she’s talking to a therapist, who turns a “light” on in her psyche and delivers wisdom in a figurative thunderbolt of insight. She got that insight in time to share it with her mother, just before her death in 2011.

Field writes about her sister, Princess, who was the product of her mother’s marriage to Jocko, and there’s a bit about her older brother, Rick, who is a scientist. Poor Rick never got along with his and Sally’s father, Dick, who was in the military and went off to fight in World War II. When he left, his wife was a homemaker. When he came back, she had a career as an actress and had taken up with Jocko. His marriage was destroyed, and his children wanted nothing to do with him. I felt kind of sad for him, but I also realized that, based on this book, Sally Field had a lot of bad experiences with important men in her life. But, based on her story, it sounds like her mother was a big part of the reason why her relationships were difficult. Her mom would do things to try to sabotage her romances, telling her that the men she wanted to be with weren’t “good” for her. It wasn’t until she was quite old that she finally told her mother what happened with her stepfather. And her mother, to her credit, took responsibility for her part… and turning a blind eye to the abuse.

One of Sally’s best performances!

I will warn readers that this isn’t a particularly “happy” story. Sally Field has had a messy life, parts of which were quite difficult. Anyone who is hoping for a positive, uplifting story will probably be disappointed. Personally, I enjoyed In Pieces. It gave me some insight into who Sally Field is as a person, as well as some insight about Burt Reynolds, who was a similarly complicated and interesting person. I see that most of the negative reviews about this book mention that Sally seems “whiny”. I guess for those who see her as a larger than life movie star with lots of money and privilege, maybe she does seem that way. But she has led an extraordinary life. I appreciated the glimpse behind her persona, even the negative reality checks about how there was a time when she needed public assistance and was signing autographs as she stood in line to get financial aid. Acting can be a very tough, unforgiving, unglamorous, and poorly paid gig. Sally made it big, and was able to provide her sons with educations at prestigious universities, but she had to work hard to get there. I see her book as a glimpse of that process, and a reminder that life as a star isn’t all hearts and flowers.

On a more personal note… I like that Sally Field enjoys swearing. Apparently, Burt Reynolds didn’t like it when she swore… one more reason to ditch him. And she uses interesting metaphors, like “flopped like a juicy fart at a family reunion”, which some people might find crude. But, of course, I found it charming. I’ll have to add it to my own personal collection of funny and gross things to say.

Out of five stars, I think I’d give In Pieces three and a half. Sally Field does present her very human side, complete with foibles and personal problems. Some people may not like that, and will think she’s confused her book with a therapy session. Some readers would rather read about her acting and roles she’s had, rather than Sally Field as an actual person. I’m inclined to give her more of a break than they did, even if I can see their point. I’m not sorry I read the book, though.

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2 thoughts on “A review of Sally Field’s life story, In Pieces…

  1. Great review!

    I have the same problem as you with “to be read” lists. I take time to plan a TBR list, create a TBR stack (usually on my desk, since I don’t have a nightstand here), and I’ll start on it. Then I’ll buy a new book, start reading that, and then other things will intervene, and I’ll just forget my original plan.

    Sally Field, in my view, is a national treasure. Great actor, and a decent person all around.

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