book reviews, celebrities, LDS, religion

Repost: A review of Faith and Fortune: A Mormon Family in Hollywood by Kimball Jacobs

I originally reviewed this book for Epinions.com in January 2006. I reposted the review on my Blogspot version of this blog in November 2014. In my previous repost, I included videos from Rachel Jacobs’ career. I am not including the videos this time, because they tend to get schwacked for copyright reasons.

A few days ago I was on YouTube, watching an old Pop-Tarts commercial from the mid 1970s. Someone asked who the little girl in the ad was.  I knew, because I was an avid fan of Diff’rent Strokes back in the day.  There was an episode in 1979 that featured a cute little girl named Rachel Jacobs as Arnold’s “girlfriend” when they were in the hospital together.

Rachel Jacobs went on to act in a number of TV shows, as did her brothers, Parker and Christian.  Their father, Kimball Jacobs, went on to write a book about his kids and their show business careers.  I read and reviewed his book.  It wasn’t good.  But I am reposting my review of Faith and Fortune anyway, because I know I have a lot of Mormon and exMormon readers who might be interested.  

Pros:  A little bit of gossip. Probably the only book about the Jacobs kids.

Cons:  Horribly written. Typos and grammatical errors galore. Preaching.

The Bottom Line: Writing this review might be my one good deed for today.

Since I am an aspiring writer, I take a strange form of comfort from the sheer suck factor of the 2002 book, Faith and Fortune: A Mormon Family in Hollywood written by Kimball Jacobs. This book is probably the worst one I’ve read in a very long time. But before I get into how hard this book sucks, let me explain who Kimball Jacobs is and why I read Faith and Fortune in the first place. After all, as I quickly found out, Jacobs’ book is not on any best seller lists– thank heavens! 

Kimball Jacobs is the father of three former child actors who worked mostly during the late 1970s and 1980s. His daughter Rachel, and his two sons Christian and Parker Jacobs, were in a number of commercials, television series, and movies. I am a child of the 1970s and 1980s. That means I remember a lot of cheesy television sitcoms from that era. Sometimes, I can be persuaded to watch re-runs of shows that aired during that time. Anyway, the other day, I was watching a re-run of Diff’rent Strokes and remembered the episode in which the character Arnold (played by Gary Coleman) gets a case of appendicitis. He goes to the hospital and shares his room with an adorable little girl named Alice, played by Rachel Jacobs. They become friends, much to Alice’s bigoted father’s (Dabney Coleman) chagrin. 

What transpires in the Diff’rent Strokes episode is not important as it relates to this review. Suffice to say that I became curious about the little girl who played Alice, so I went off to the Internet Movie Database and found Rachel Jacobs’ bio. It was there that I discovered that she had two brothers who were also in show business and she’s a Mormon. Besides being a fan of crappy 80s sitcoms, I’m also the wife of an inactive (now resigned) member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka the Mormons). Being married to Bill has led me to learn more about the LDS faith, especially since Bill’s children are still members of the church. I noticed that Rachel Jacobs and her brothers were the subjects of Kimball Jacobs’ book. I looked up Faith and Fortune on Amazon.com and found that it got two one star ratings. One of the ratings appeared to be from a disgruntled family member, perhaps his ex wife. Apparently, this book was unauthorized. Now that I’ve read it, I can see why. 

Actual review from Amazon: This is a totally unauthorized version of exploiting your own family. Each child involved feels used. Each child involved requested that it not be printed and Dad went right ahead… not only that, even if the story is interesting, it is terribly written and tweaked in its approach …Mom thinks this is unforgivable.. (This review was written by someone named Rebecca.)

Some of you might be wondering why I read this book if it got such poor ratings. Well, Bill has been out of town all week, so I needed something to do. Besides, I’ve been reading entirely too many decent books lately. Against my better judgment, I went to Booklocker.com and downloaded Faith and Fortune. Thank God I didn’t pay full price for the paperback edition. The ebook version of Faith and Fortune runs for 120 pages. Actually, that’s not an entirely true statement. It runs for about 113 pages. The ebook was 120 pages long, but for some reason, quite a few pages were left blank. As I looked at all of those wasted blank pages, I was even happier that I didn’t buy a paper version of this book. What a waste of trees! 

Faith and Fortune starts off with Kimball Jacobs explaining how he and his first wife, Rebecca, met at Brigham Young University’s drama department. In his very affected writing style, Jacobs explains that it was his older brother, David, who introduced the two, because David felt he was too old for Rebecca. Kimball and Rebecca Jacobs were married and they moved to Ririe, Idaho to embark on their lives together. Kimball Jacobs got a job as a teacher and wrestling coach and his wife became a teacher’s aide.

It wasn’t long before Rebecca Jacobs gave birth to their first child, Rachel, the adorable little girl I saw on Diff’rent Strokes. A year and a half later, Christian Jacobs was born. Then, the family moved to Ogden, Utah, so that the Jacobs’ family could try their hand at running a restaurant, an adventure that lasted a year, during which time Parker Jacobs was born. It’s at this part that I’m starting to think that perhaps the exuberance of youth had gotten the best of the Jacobs family. Here they were with three young children, trying to launch a restaurant, a stressful venture under the best of circumstances. It sounded like a recipe for disaster and apparently it was. But Jacobs doesn’t dwell too much on this part of the book. He has bigger fish to fry. 

While Kimball and Rebecca Jacobs were trying to launch their restaurant business, they remained active in local theater. Little Rachel showed a talent for acting, so her parents started looking for an agent who could launch their cute daughter’s acting career. They got in touch with Hollywood child star agent, Mary Grady, who told them that they should be living in Los Angeles for best results. The young family left their safe Utah haven for Los Angeles, literally living on prayers. They used their formidable connections within the church to secure an apartment in Los Angeles. Then Jacobs got himself a minimum wage job, while his wife got their three children hooked up with Mary Grady, the Hollywood agent. In fact, the whole family started looking for show biz work in Hollywood, but the kids saw more action. 

What follows is Kimball Jacobs’ story of how his three older kids (youngest son Tyler was born after Rachel, Christian, and Parker had become established actors) became child actors. I won’t call them stars, though, because none of them ever really made it big. Jacobs points out that at one point, all three kids were regulars on network series, but that success was short-lived. 

In my opinion, Jacobs really comes off like a stage dad. It looks like he was really wanting his kids to become big stars and perhaps, ride on their coattails. This book reads like a poorly written resume, with Jacobs’ kids accomplishments listed and little else besides a gratuitous amount of self-important preaching.  Faith and Fortune is also riddled with typos and grammatical errors. Jacobs uses awkward sentence constructions and seems to have a particularly irritating penchant for writing in the passive voice. It’s clear to me that this book was never edited by a professional or even its author, for that matter. 

Faith and Fortune does not include any pictures, which would have made this book a little bit more worthwhile. Instead, it’s full of testimony bearing for the LDS Church and moralizing. Jacobs continually states that he and his family have high conduct standards and were constantly butting heads with agents and Hollywood types over the lines their kids would say, the products they would endorse, and how they would dress. I don’t really fault them for having standards, especially when it comes to how their kids were portrayed, but I got the feeling that Jacobs was expecting his family to make it big. And they weren’t willing to play by Hollywood’s rules in order to achieve that end. As it stands now, none of the Jacobs kids are still working in Hollywood (ETA: As of 2014, it looks like Parker and Christian may be back in the biz). What’s more, I got the impression (though I may be wrong about this) that the Jacobs kids were completely financially supporting their parents!

Faith and Fortune does include some interesting gossip about other kid stars from the 1980s. Jacobs dishes a little bit about Ricky Schroder, who apparently had a crush on Rachel. He shares a little bit about jobs that his kids had on popular sitcoms like Family TiesGrowing PainsSilver Spoons, and the short-lived All in the Family spinoff, Gloria. But the information that he provides is not very worthwhile and it is, very much, gossip. It’s not even firsthand gossip, either, since most of what he writes about are things that he heard about from his kids. 

I think that Kimball Jacobs could have written a decent book, had he taken the time to expand his story a bit, added some pictures, and included more insight into his experiences as a Hollywood dad. I do think that this book is more about his experience as a Mormon Hollywood dad than it is about his children’s experiences as child actors. And, while I’m not knocking Jacobs for having great faith in his religion, I do think that he pushed it a little too much. I think he could have written about his faith without constantly beating his readers over the head with it. 

Yes, Faith and Fortune: A Mormon Family in Hollywood has a high suck factor. Fortunately for you, dear readers, this book takes some effort to find. It’s not likely that you’d buy this book by mistake. I’m offering my opinion so that anyone who might be curious about reading it on purpose will think twice about it. Unfortunately, it’s garbage like this that give print on demand books a bad name.

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book reviews, celebrities

Repost: A look at Linda Gray’s The Road to Happiness Is Always Under Construction

Here’s an as/is repost of a book review I wrote for my original blog. It appeared on February 6, 2017. I was reminded to repost this review after watching The Love Boat, yesterday. Juliet Prowse was a guest star and they showed off her fabulous legs. I was reminded of Linda Gray, writing about her “stems”.

Lately, I’ve been watching old episodes of Dallas.  They offer a flashback to my youth, a time when I didn’t care about things like politics.  I was very young when Dallas first started airing and a young woman when it finally went off the air.  So, I guess for that reason, Dallas is a comfort.

Many people know that actress Linda Gray played a pivotal role on Dallas.  She was Sue Ellen Ewing, J.R. Ewing’s long suffering alcoholic wife.  Later, Gray starred in Models Inc., an Aaron Spelling spin off of the 90s hit Melrose Place, which was itself a spin off of Beverly Hills 90210.  Models Inc. flopped and was cancelled after one season.  But in 2012, a reboot of Dallas came along and Gray was able to be Sue Ellen again for three seasons.

I like life stories, so that’s probably why I decided to download Gray’s 2015 book, The Road to Happiness is Always Under Construction.  I finally got around to reading it and finished it yesterday while in my sick bed.  It’s basically Linda Gray’s life story mixed with the odd recipe, cute anecdotes, and Gray’s self help philosophies.  I understand the book was written to commemorate Gray’s 75th birthday.  She still looks good.

I learned some new things when I read this book.  I never knew that Gray had polio when she was a child.  She spent several months in bed and almost ended up in an iron lung.  Fortunately, that treatment ultimately wasn’t indicated and Gray eventually recovered.  Gray is also the daughter of an alcoholic.  Her mother, who was apparently a very talented artist with a great sense of style, drank to numb the boredom of simply being a wife and a mother.  I’m sure growing up with an alcoholic mother gave Gray some cues as to how she should play alcoholic Sue Ellen.

There are a few anecdotes about Dallas, as well as a couple of funny stories about Larry Hagman, who was one of Gray’s dearest friends.  Gray also writes about how she came to capture the part of Sue Ellen.  Although she’d been a model and commercial actress for years, at the time she got her big break, she was married, 38 years old, and the mother of two kids rapidly approaching adolescence.  Her husband had not wanted her to work, but Gray was finding life as a housewife unfulfilling and boring.  She went against her husband’s wishes and soon became a star.  The marriage fell apart, but Gray finally found a purpose other than being a mother and a housewife.  She thrived.

I did take notice when California born and bred Gray wrote about learning how to speak like a rich woman from Dallas.  She writes that she met Dolly Parton, who told her to just emulate her.  Gray said Dolly didn’t sound “Texan”.  She asked Dolly where she was from and claims Dolly said “Georgia”.  Um…  Dolly Parton is not from Georgia!  She’s from Tennessee!  I guess Gray isn’t a fan of country music.  Gray ended up finding a voice coach who taught her some tricks.  She also hung out at Neiman-Marcus in Dallas a lot, to see how rich women from Dallas behaved.

I mostly enjoyed Gray’s book.  It looks like she wrote it herself, with no help from a ghost writer.  I think she did a fairly good job, although there are a few small snafus like the one I mentioned in the previous paragraph.  I liked that Gray came across as very normal and approachable. 

On the other hand, toward the end of the book, she offers some advice to her readers that I don’t think she herself takes.  For instance, she writes about how off putting it is when people brag.  She kind of does some bragging herself.  Not that I wouldn’t have expected her to brag somewhat; she is a famous actress who has had an unusual life.  But it does seem disingenuous when an actress tells her readers about how annoying she finds braggarts right after she writes about her “come hither” eyes and “amazing stems” (legs).  Acting is not exactly a profession for people who aren’t a little bit self-absorbed (although I am sure there are exceptions).  Self help advice from a celebrity often rings hollow anyway.  A little bit goes a long way. 

At the end of the book there are pictures.  Many of them are too small to see, at least on an iPad. 

I probably could have done without the self help sections, with the exception of Gray’s life “principles”, which were cleverly conceived and included funny anecdotes.  She also includes a couple of recipes– one for a conditioner she uses on her hair and another for some kind of meat pie she made for her kids, which doesn’t seem to jibe with her advice to eat clean.

I give this book 3.5 stars on a scale of 5.  It’s not bad, and parts are interesting and enjoyable.  But self help advice usually puts me off, anyway.

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Repost: What’s it like to be Arnold Jackson’s best friend? Shavar Ross gives us the scoop on being “Dudley”!

Here’s a reposted book review from March 6, 2018. It appears here as/is, as I consider what the subject of today’s fresh content will be. Lately, I’ve been watching tons of 80s era sitcoms. I find them oddly comforting.

Today’s title probably only means something if you were around in the late 70s and early to mid 80s and watched TV.  That period of time happened to be during the prime years of my childhood, when we had no Internet and TV was the thing rotting everyone’s minds.  I was a big fan of the sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, which was an enormously popular and successful show during that time period.  It’s been really sad for me, and for a lot of my peers, to watch the cast of that beloved show die off, one by one.

As of 2018, Conrad Bain, Dana Plato, and Gary Coleman are all dead.  So are Mary Ann Mobley, Nedra Volz, and Dixie Carter.  But we still have Todd Bridges, Janet Jackson, Danny Cooksey, and Shavar Ross, who played Arnold Jackson’s (Gary Coleman’s character) best friend, Dudley Johnson.  To this day, the only other Dudley I know of is Dudley Moore.  I don’t think “Dudley” is a very popular name these days.  According to Shavar Ross, his character “Dudley” was named after someone on the Diff’rent Strokesproduction crew.  I learned that little tidbit and a handful more when I read Ross’s book, On The Set of Diff’rent Strokes.

The theme song for the famous sitcom that Gary Coleman so hated…

Ross published his book in 2007, when Gary Coleman and Conrad Bain were still alive.  Nevertheless, the cast of Diff’rent Strokes did seem to have a bit of a curse.  Dana Plato died of a drug overdose in 1999, having previously fallen into an abyss of drug addiction, porn, and crime.  Nedra Volz, who played housekeeper Adelaide, had died years earlier of old age.  Todd Bridges is still living, but he had some serious problems with drugs and was even tried for the attempted murder of Kenneth “Tex” Clay, a Los Angeles area drug dealer.  And Gary Coleman just plain seemed pissed off at the world.

At the beginning of Ross’s book, he explains that the book isn’t about all of the scandals that plagued the cast of Diff’rent Strokes.  Instead, he focuses on his experience getting cast in the role of Dudley.  He also explains that he likes to write the way he speaks, so the book won’t be as grammatically correct as it could be.  That made me twitch a little, but it’s fair enough, I guess.  I only spent about $3 on the book, anyway.

I managed to read Ross’s book in a couple of hours.  The only reason it took longer than an hour or so, is because I had to take a brief nap while I was reading.  This book is only 36 pages and contains no pictures.  It starts off with a brief history of Ross’s family of origin.  He was born in the Bronx and his parents separated when he was six years old.  His dad was an actor who decided to move to Los Angeles.  His mom took Ross and his half sister to Macon, Georgia so they could be close to family while his mother went to college. 

Ross went on a vacation to California to see his father at Christmas time.  During that visit, he was discovered by a top children’s talent agent named Evelyn Shultz.  Shultz noticed him when he was watching a play starring Kim Fields, who later became famous in her role as “Tootie” on The Facts of Life, which was a highly successful spinoff of Diff’rent Strokes.  Ross writes that he was a fan of Diff’rent Strokes and had watched it in Georgia on a black and white portable TV.  When the opportunity came up for him to audition for a part playing Arnold’s best friend, Dudley, he jumped at it, beating out about 250 kids.

Ross’s first appearance on Diff’rent Strokes was on a 1980 episode called “Teacher’s Pet”.  His father was one of the extras on that episode, which was about Arnold’s dad, Phillip Drummond, asking out Arnold’s teacher after meeting her at a parent/teacher conference.  The teacher began to dote on Arnold, causing his friends to tease him.  The chemistry was good enough on that episode that Ross was asked to be a recurring character.

Basically, that’s about it for Ross’s story, which I think is a real shame.  I appreciate that he didn’t want to share any dirt on the series.  I imagine it would have been tempting to do that, since the show was so popular.  He does offer a few superficial insights about Gary Coleman and the rest of the cast, but a lot of what he wrote was stuff I already knew.  Like, for instance, Coleman loved trains.  If you watched the show, you’d know that.  He basically says Dana Plato was “nice” and Todd Bridges was “cool”.  Janet Jackson was very “sweet and shy”.  I think he could have gone into more detail without stooping to spreading gossip.

Also, while I think the book is basically well-written, especially for someone who flat out writes that he isn’t concerned with proper grammar, there are a lot of typos and some misspellings.  I understand that editing is a chore, but it really wouldn’t have taken much to polish this book a bit more and give it a more professional air.

A funny rehash of Diff’rent Strokes’ most special episode, ever.

Finally, I can’t believe Ross didn’t write more about the episodes themselves.  Anyone who watched Diff’rent Strokes knows that Ross was featured in a very special two part episode called “The Bicycle Man”.  That episode, in which the late LDS character actor Gordon Jump starred, was about child molestation.  The show handled the subject in a rather G-rated fashion, but it was still pretty shocking material at the time.  It would have been interesting if Ross had dished a bit about that episode.  But maybe it was too traumatic for him. 

I do know that Ross eventually became a pastor, so maybe some subjects are taboo.  He’s also been married for a long time and has two kids.  It would have been nice if he’d written more about his family and his life beyond his acting career.  That would have been interesting reading and he wouldn’t have been guilty of spreading dirt.  He could have written more about how he broke into acting.  The way the book reads now, it sounds like he went on vacation, lucked into meeting an agent, and *poof*, he was an actor.  I think he could have offered more details and a more accurate accounting of his time.  What did his family think of his success?  Did his mom stay in Georgia with his sister?  Did Shavar Ross live with his dad?  He addresses none of this in his very brief book.

Although I appreciate that Shavar Ross took the time to write his book, I think On The Set of Diff’rent Strokes could have been a whole lot better.  I don’t think it’s terrible as much as it is incomplete.  It’s just a very short book and doesn’t reveal much at all.  I think if a person is going to go to the trouble of publishing a book, he or she should make the book worth reading.  This book probably doesn’t reveal anything that a determined researcher can’t find online.  But, on the positive side, it’s cheap, and Ross straight up says he’s not going to dish much.  At least I didn’t spring for the paperback version, which sells for $7.95.

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book reviews, celebrities, mental health, music

Repost: Judy Collins shares her thoughts on Cravings…

And here’s a repost that was originally written May 13, 2017. It appears as/is.

I have loved Judy Collins’ beautiful music since I was about 18 years old.  She’s recorded so many beautiful songs over the years and inspired others as well.  Although I knew she’d had trouble with alcohol and eating disorders, I didn’t know the extent of her problems until I picked up her latest book, Cravings: How I Conquered Food.

Published on February 28, 2017, Cravings offers readers insight into what may have caused Judy Collins’ issues with booze and food.  Collins’ theories may also be helpful to other readers.  The book is also about Judy Collins’ life, so if you read it, it helps to also be interested in her life story.  I suspect a lot of younger people may not be fans of Judy Collins’ music, although I think they should be.  I should also mention that this is the first book I’ve read by Judy Collins, so I wasn’t perturbed to read about her life.  Others who have read her earlier memoirs might feel like parts of this book are reruns.

Here Judy sings “Someday Soon” with Stephen Stills, who famously penned “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” in her honor.

Collins writes that when she was growing up, she loved all things made of flour, sugar, wheat, and corn.  She was addicted to sugar and would eat sweet things constantly.  That sugar obsession later turned to unsightly pounds and a neverending compulsion to eat more.  She eventually went on to become bulimic and would binge and purge to the point of developing a vocal cord hemangioma.  It almost destroyed her voice.

And one of my favorite versions. I love the piano player on this. They made a wonderful live album from the Wildflower Festival.

As she got older, Collins took up drinking and smoking.  She became an alcoholic and, for many years, would even drink heavily before and after taking the stage.  Although she indulged in self-destructive behavior, Collins somehow knew that what she was doing was dangerous.  She sought help from doctors, most of whom told her she didn’t have a problem.

Eventually, Collins realized that there was a link between her cravings for sugar, flour, wheat, and corn and her addiction to alcohol.  She eliminated the problem foods from her diet and adopted what looks to me to be a paleo diet.  She says now her weight is stable and she know longer has such intense cravings for unhealthy foods or booze.  She also credits spending time in support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and employing the Grey Sheet Diet Plan for helping her to stop the insanity.

“Suite Judy Blue Eyes”

Aside from explaining her secrets to eating and drinking success, Collins writes about her son, Clark Taylor, who sadly died after committing suicide.  Collins herself attempted suicide, although she doesn’t delve too much into her experiences with suicidal ideation.  Before he passed, Clark fathered Judy Collins’ only grandchild, Hollis, who is now herself a mother.  I enjoyed reading about Judy’s family and can tell that she loves them very much.  She writes that not a day goes by that she doesn’t think about and miss her son.

I also enjoyed reading about Collins’ musical training.  Originally, she was trained as a pianist and she studied great and challenging classical works.  I never knew Judy Collins was once being groomed for the classical music world.  As she became a teenager, she was lured into folk music.  She picked up a guitar, learned how to play, and began to sing.  I was astonished to read that she once had a very limited vocal range.  Work with an excellent voice teacher eventually stretched her range to about three octaves, quite respectable for a singer.  I have always liked her voice for its ethereal quality.  I think my own style is kind of like hers.

Anyway… I thought Cravings was well-written and engaging.  It didn’t take forever to finish.  Because I haven’t read Collins’ other books, the material and new for me.  It’s also relevant for me personally on many levels.  I liked that she drew in interesting examples from history to backup her theories about diet, drinking, and health.  I learned something new in those passages.  And, given that Judy was born in 1939 and is still making albums and writing books, I figure she must be doing something right.  I recommend her book to those who are thinking about reading it.

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book reviews, celebrities, music

Repost: A review of Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes

Here’s a repost of my review of Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes. It was written November 20, 2017, and appears here as/is.

Last month, Tom Petty’s tragic and unexpected death left many fans saddened and surprised.  I was among the masses of people who was shocked by the news that Tom Petty, front man of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, had suddenly passed away of a massive heart attack.  He died on October 2, 2017, less than three weeks before he would have turned 67 years old.

I read many comments from people who were lucky enough to catch his last concerts.  Petty was on tour from April until late September 2017.  By most accounts, he had performed as well as ever.  I never got a chance to see Tom Petty perform live, but his music was a big part of my personal soundtrack when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s.  I own a few of his albums, as well as recordings made by associated acts like Stevie Nicks.

September 25, 2017… his final concert, about a week before he died.

When Tom Petty, died I decided I wanted to read more about his life.  I downloaded Warren Zanes’ 2015 book, Petty: The Biography.  After several weeks of concerted effort, I finally finished the 336 page volume.  The fact that it took me so long to finish is not necessarily a comment on the book’s quality.  I was impressed by the work that went into this book.  Zanes has a Ph.D. in visual and cultural studies from the University of Rochester, was himself a member of the Del Fuegos, and he writes well.  I think I read more slowly nowadays because I read on an iPad and get distracted by things like Facebook.

Anyway, Zanes has written a very comprehensive book about Tom Petty’s life up until 2015.  He starts at the beginning, when Petty was a boy in Gainesville, Florida, with an abusive father who “beat the ever loving shit out of him” and didn’t appreciate his artistic bent.  Despite Earl Petty’s attempts to quash his son’s creativity, Tom Petty was destined to be a star.  He even learned how to play guitar from a fellow star, Don Felder, who is also a Gainesville native.  I knew about Felder’s tutelage, because I’ve also read Felder’s very entertaining book about his time in The Eagles.  Of course, that was published about ten years ago, before anyone knew that Petty would die so suddenly.

Zanes covers Petty’s early life, including his experiences with his very first bands and the eventual creation of Mudcrutch, the band that would preclude Petty’s Heartbreakers.  He covers how Petty and his bandmates traversed the United States from Florida to California, where Petty eventually settled.  Apparently, California was more agreeable for a man of Petty’s artistic vision.  He brought his first wife, Jane Benyo, with him and had two daughters there.  But although Tom and Jane were married for 22 years, their union wasn’t particularly happy.  Zanes does a pretty good job explaining why and remains even-handed and respectful. 

I also got a kick out of Zanes’ description of Petty’s Aunt Pearl, his father Earl’s twin sister.  Apparently, even though Earl Petty hadn’t liked his older son being so artsy, he later grew to appreciate his son’s musical success.  Apparently, Mr. Petty wore his satin Heartbreakers jacket all over town and would party with whomever wanted to come over and celebrate his famous son.  Zanes wrote that Petty was kind of disgusted by it and apparently Petty said something to the effect of, “God only knows how much pussy he got because of me.”  No, I never knew Tom Petty personally, but for some reason, I can imagine him saying something like that.  He just always seemed like that type of guy.

I got some unexpected insights reading this book.  For instance, I never knew that the 1994 album, Wildflowers, was Petty’s “divorce” album.  I also never knew that the title track, “Wildflowers”, was Petty talking to himself about his situation.  According to Zanes’, Petty’s first wife, Jane, was mentally ill and difficult to live with.  Although they had two daughters, the second one, Annakim, was born during the years when things began to get rocky.  Nevertheless, Petty loved his daughters and even briefly had custody of Annakim.  Zanes also includes commentary about Petty’s second marriage to Dana York, with whom he had a stepson named Dylan.

I was surprised to read that Zanes’ book was not “authorized”.  It seemed to me like Zanes had gotten cooperation from Petty and his friends.  I never got the sense that anything about this biography was disrespectful or scandalous, so I can’t imagine why Petty would have objected to it.  Zanes’ characterization of Petty is very sympathetic, appreciative, and complimentary.  But most of all, this book offers a detailed look at Petty as an artist.  I’m sure Zanes is now enjoying increased book sales due to Petty’s recent passing, but in my opinion, he deserves it. 

If you’ve been looking for a comprehensive book about Tom Petty’s life, I recommend Warren Zanes’ Petty: The Biography.  I think he did a good job.  Four stars out of five.

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