book reviews, celebrities, TV

Repost: A review of Surviving Cissy: My Family Affair of Life in Hollywood

Just found a book review from February 2016 that I never got around to reposting. It appears here as/is.

Although I was not yet born when the television show Family Affair was originally broadcast, I had heard about the show from people who had watched it when it aired from 1966-71.  I think I might have seen a couple of episodes at some point, though I was much more of a Brady Bunch fan.  Family Affair was about three orphaned kids– “twins” Buffy and Jody (played by non twins Anissa Jones and Johnny Whittaker) and Cissy, the fifteen year old big sister (played by Kathy Garver, who was actually a young adult and student at UCLA at the time).  The three children’s parents die in a car accident and they descend upon their Uncle Bill (Brian Keith), a confirmed bachelor who travels the world, and his gentleman’s gentleman butler, Mr. French (Sebastian Cabot).   

The theme song for Family Affair. It sounds straight out of Lawrence Welk.

Kathy Garver’s role of Cissy made her famous, even though as a child of the 70s and 80s, I couldn’t have told you who she was before I read her recently published book, Surviving Cissy: My Family Affair of Life in Hollywood.  To be honest, I think I bought this book because of the picture on the cover.  It looked like it was going to be a sordid tale and I am a sucker for sordid tales.  Well, I just finished Ms. Garver’s book and it’s definitely not a sordid tale.  Indeed, it reads a little like a Christmas brag letter.  Kathy Garver seems awfully proud of her long career in show business and the many important and notable people she’s met along the way.

Although I usually like show biz memoirs, this one was a bit of a struggle to get through.  Garver has a formal writing style that is technically mostly correct, but comes across as stilted and affected.  It also felt like the book was a little too long and could have been edited down somewhat.  Garver has had a few trials in her life, but none that merited the amount of “airtime” they get in Surviving Cissy.  She writes about her house falling down a hill during a rainstorm, her house catching on fire,  breaking her leg, having her one and only son at age 44, and her husband overdosing on potassium that she purchased off the Internet from a company in Vietnam.  The rest of the book is mostly a breathless and saccharine accounting of all the things she’s done and how wonderful she is.

On the positive side, the few chapters about some of the challenges Kathy Garver has had to face were somewhat interesting.  And I did also learn a little bit about Family Affair and what it’s like to be a child actor, or at least what it was like in the 60s and 70s.  Garver was a child actor before she was on Family Affair.  She had a supportive family who helped her in her career and fostered her development into an adult actor.  She writes that many child actors have parents who do everything for them except recite their lines on camera.  Garver was able to learn how to do her own legwork.  Also, since she looked young for a long time, she was able to play roles that were written for children.  That worked to her advantage, since as a young adult, she wasn’t limited by the child protection laws designed to prevent exploitation of minors.

While some readers may be interested in reading about Kathy Garver’s many wonderful friends and ex boyfriends from show business, real estate, law, and school, others will probably find this aspect of the book pretty dull.  To me, it came across more as Garver’s showing everybody how special her life is rather than offering insight into her career.  Patty Duke wrote the foreword to this book.  I read Duke’s book, the excellent Call Me Anna, which was about Duke’s harrowing childhood as a child star and her struggle with bipolar disorder.  In my opinion, that book was a lot more intriguing and engaging than Surviving Cissy is.  Moreover, Garver really doesn’t explain why she needed to “survive” Cissy.  To me, it seemed like Cissy was just her defining role… and one she played long ago at that. 

Another thing I noticed is that Kathy Garver is not someone you want to cross.  She writes about suing people, even though the things she sued over seemed to be at least partially her fault.  For example, her house caught on fire because she bought a new dryer.  The dryer didn’t reach the electrical outlet, so the guy who installed it asked if she had an extension cord.  She did, but it didn’t have the capacity to handle the electrical current.  It only had two prongs instead of three.  Two weeks later, the machine caught on fire and burned down her house, which her husband had failed to adequately insure.  So she sued the department store that sold her the dryer.

She also sued her son’s Montessori school because he fell and cut his face on a radiator that was turned on.  While I’m not sure she was totally wrong to sue over that, the way she goes on about her “gorgeous” son and his marred face came across as a bit unbecoming to me.  It was in jarring contrast to the self-congratulatory tone in the rest of the book. 

Anyway, I will say that this book did inspire me to watch part of the pilot episode of Family Affair.  I was surprised to find that the show was well written and genuinely funny as opposed to corny.  I probably would have been a fan had I been old enough to see it when it first aired.  I can’t say I’m very familiar with Garver’s work as an actress, despite having seen The Princess Diaries, in which she and her son had bit roles.  It’s my guess that she’s a better actress than writer.

I think I’d give this book about three out of five stars.

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celebrities, politics, social media, stupid people

My unfortunate encounter with “Audrey Rose” last night… How horrific!

Last night, I read a news article in The New York Times about why so many “moderate” Republican women have abandoned conservatism for the Democratic Party. It seems that a lot of women who ordinarily identify as moderate or conservative are really upset about the erosion of women’s rights championed by the Republican Party, and they have vowed to stop voting for Republicans. Because I am an American woman who quit voting for Republicans, I decided to comment. To the Times’ question, “Will the abortion debate keep moderate women in the Democrats’ camp?”, I answered thusly:

That’s one major reason why I am done with Republicans. Trump is the biggest reason, though.

I noticed I got a “laughing” reaction. It was from child actress turned lawyer/author/conservative pundit, Susan Swift. I had seen Susan Swift leaving outrageous right wing Facebook comments on a lot of articles posted by The New York Times. I noticed she had a blue check mark, which makes her a “celebrity” or well known person. I figured she was some kind of female Rush Limbaugh acolyte, or something. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to her comments, because I found her rude and snarky, and because I don’t agree with her opinions. I didn’t actually realize Susan Swift was a child actress, though, until I finally looked her up to see why I should care about her opinions, and why she had that blue check mark next to her name.

I was pretty shocked to find out that Susan Swift was in a movie I well remember from my childhood.

Susan Swift was Ivy Templeman in the 1977 horror film, Audrey Rose, when she was 13.

I remember seeing that movie when I was a kid. I most recently watched it when Bill and I were first together, about twenty years ago. I remember getting it from Netflix on DVD and watching it, because I remember seeing it on TV and was kind of haunted by it. Susan Swift was good in Audrey Rose, which also boasted Marsha Mason and Anthony Hopkins in the cast. I mean, Mason and Hopkins are heavy hitting ARTISTS, and Audrey Rose was a pretty decent film. It wasn’t a shitty horror flick, or anything. She’s even been somewhat recently interviewed about her acting career and came across as basically okay there.

I was disappointed when I saw that this former child actress turned right wing political pundit was “laughing” at me for sharing my decidedly unfunny opinion on a random New York Times’ article. I don’t know a lot about Susan Swift, other than she went to law school, became a lawyer and author, and was afforded opportunities that a lot of women before her didn’t have. And apparently, she strongly aligns with a political movement that would like to strip women of their rights and autonomy, and thinks it’s cool that our former president throws tantrums, admires dictators, and brags about sexually harassing and molesting women. What a shitty person she must be. I mean, even if you disagree with someone’s politics, you don’t need to “laugh” at them when they obviously haven’t said anything funny. That’s just disrespectful and rude. Before I looked her up online, I decided to block her. And I posted this:

Blocked Susan Swift, because I have seen her making the rounds. She’s one of Trump’s bullies, who thinks she needs to laugh at people because they understandably don’t want to be led by a pussy grabber who admires dictators and throws tantrums when he loses elections.

Because I wondered why she had that blue check mark by her name, I investigated her acting career, which ended in 1995. She was in a fair amount of stuff back in the day. I did truly enjoy her in Audrey Rose… what a shame that she’s turned into such a creep. I mean, a person can be a conservative and not be a jerk, right? I have conservative friends with whom I don’t discuss politics. We have basic mutual respect. I don’t know Susan Swift at all, and I know she’s a “personality”… but don’t “personalities” get popular because they relate to a lot of people? So basically, Susan Swift relates to a lot of really awful people who enjoy mocking people who have a different world view than she has… as she and her ilk speak of “freedom” from government overreach. Why don’t they see that the government is now trying to reach into the most private and personal aspect of women’s lives? Women make up about half the population!

Over the past a couple of weeks, I have found myself becoming even less tolerant of uncivilized people who feel the need to hurl abuse at others, especially when all they’re doing is respectfully trying to share an opinion. Lately, I’ve been exploring Twitter. I’ve had mixed results with it. Some people on Twitter are hilarious and witty, and it’s fun to read their comments. Others are just incredibly toxic, and they think nothing of insulting people they don’t even know for not sharing their world views. I had to change my settings on Twitter, because I couldn’t deal with the poisonous spew that came forth from Twitter users who lack common decency and decorum. It was giving me a very dystopian and distorted view of my homeland. I’ve been blocking a lot of people on social media who can’t behave decently, especially if they’re strangers.

Anyway, I know that actors and actresses are people too, and one can like an artist’s work and not like them as a person. For years, I’ve loved watching The Brady Bunch, but I had to unfollow Susan Olsen on social media, because I couldn’t take her racist screeds against Muslims and pro Trump rallying cries. And I know I have a lot of former friends and family members who don’t follow me because they don’t want to be exposed to my opinions. At least most of them were decent enough to take action quietly and without mocking or outright abuse. My Uncle Ed is an exception… he actually cussed me out, called me a “liberal nutjob”, and reminded me of some of my dad’s most horrible verbal abuse tirades after one of his frequent benders. I don’t have to abide that from strangers at all, and certainly not from a former child actress turned Republican flunkie.

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book reviews, celebrities

My thoughts on Out of the Corner: A Memoir, by Jennifer Grey…

I remember the very first time I saw the actress, Jennifer Grey, practicing her craft. She was in the 1984 right-wing propaganda film, Red Dawn, with the late actor and dancer, Patrick Swayze. I was 12 years old when that film came out. Red Dawn has a couple of things to distinguish it. It was the very first film to get a PG-13 rating, and it was also widely regarded as the most violent film of its time and was even listed in the Guiness Book of World Records for a time. As a 12 year old, I loved Red Dawn. I remember it got me all fired up about being American. Now that I’m almost 50, have lived in a formerly Soviet country, and have now seen Russia invade Ukraine, I see Red Dawn for the conservative agenda bullshit that it is.

Jennifer and Patrick in Red Dawn.

In Red Dawn, Jennifer Grey played a teenager named Toni Mason. She and her sister, Erica (played by Lea Thompson), were members of a group of teenaged guerillas who fought back against invading communists in an effort to save the United States from Godless Russia. Having just read Grey’s life story, Out of the Corner: A Memoir (2022), I know that politically speaking, Jennifer Grey is a liberal. She’s also very Jewish. I’m sure it’s bizarre for her to realize that she took part in making a film that, back in 2009, the National Review considered one of the best “conservative” films. Three years after she was in Red Dawn with Patrick Swayze, the two would reluctantly meet again in a low budget film called Dirty Dancing. They would play very different roles in 1987’s Dirty Dancing— and although they hadn’t been friends on Red Dawn, they would emerge from that film as forever memorable. That movie and its famous line, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” would propel Swayze and Grey to 80s era superstardom.

The show stopper!

I decided to read Jennifer Grey’s book after I read an article about an uncomfortable conversation she once had with Matthew Broderick’s mother, Patsy. The article was based on a passage in Out of the Corner about Grey’s long relationship with Matthew Broderick, whom she’d worked with on the classic John Hughes film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). Jennifer was caught alone with Patsy, whom she describes as someone who couldn’t abide lies and was a straight shooter to the point of being unbearably blunt. Patsy told Jennifer that her famous father, Broadway star, Joel Grey, was gay. Although it was not necessarily a secret that Joel Grey’s sexual orientation was that of a homosexual, Jennifer Grey hadn’t realized it. So, when Patsy broke the news to her, Jennifer was legitimately shocked. Not long afterwards, her parents were divorced. Joel Grey officially “came out” in 2015, when he was 82 years old.

Jennifer Grey has been in show business her whole life. Her parents were successful actors, so she spent her youth living in either New York or California with her parents and her adopted brother, Jimmy. Grey was born on March 25, 1960, which makes her 62 years old today. It’s hard to reconcile that with the young actress I knew in the 80s. It doesn’t seem like the 80s were that long ago. And yet here I sit, a week before my 50th birthday! I can hardly believe how time flies. Grey’s first professional gig was in the late 70s, when she was in a classic Dr. Pepper commercial, working as a dancer!

There she is, a nameless teenager who would eventually be known for “Dirty Dancing”.

One thing Jennifer Grey was well known for, especially back in the 80s, was her prominent nose. That nose made her unique, and she writes at the beginning of her book that she hadn’t wanted to get it “fixed”. She finally decided to have it refined a little bit, but told the surgeon that she wanted the effect to be very subtle. Even though Jennifer’s parents had both had nose jobs before Jennifer was even born, she was very proud of her proboscis. Grey was very satisfied with the results of the first surgery. Unfortunately, she had to go under the knife again when a sliver of bone was visible on her nose. When she went to have that corrected, the surgeon performed a more extensive reconstruction that made her almost unrecognizable.

According to Out of the Corner, Grey has been through other health issues in her life. In 1987, while she and Matthew Broderick were still in a relationship, they went to Ireland, where Broderick’s parents owned a cottage in County Donegal. While they were there, Broderick’s mother called and said she was going to come visit them. Grey writes that the relationship was already on the skids, but she also didn’t want to have to deal with Patsy again– remembering how she’d insensitively outed her father. So she made plans to go back to the States and prepare for the premiere of Dirty Dancing. On the way to Dublin, where Grey planned to spend the night and then catch a plane back home, she and Broderick were involved in a terrible car accident. Matthew Broderick was badly injured, and two local women– a mother and daughter– died. Jennifer was less so injured… or so she thought at the time. Years later, it was revealed that she’d suffered extreme whiplash as a result of that accident that had almost internally decapitated her. In 2010, she would have spinal surgery as she was about to appear on Dancing With the Stars. She’s also had thyroid cancer, gave birth to a daughter, and had an embarrassing interview with Johnny Carson.

All of these subjects and more are covered in Out of the Corner. Grey writes pretty well, occasionally using creatively constructed phrasing to tell her story. On two occasions, she also incorrectly uses the word “jettison”; I think she was confusing it with the word “rocketed”. In her book, Grey uses “jettison” as if it means to “blast off”. The word “jettison” actually refers to casting off things from a vessel in order to lighten the load. But that’s a minor quibble that will be easily missed or overlooked. Overall, I found Out of the Corner to be an easy page turner. Grey is very forthcoming about her story, and includes some juicy tidbits about well-known actors she worked with or knew as friends or lovers. Apparently, Grey was quite the partier back in the day, too, but she’s since cleaned up her act… at least when it comes to drinking and drugging. Her language, on the other hand, is pretty salty. I don’t mind that at all, though. I like cussing, too. But if you’re sensitive to cursing, Out of the Corner might not be a good book for you to read.

The style in which Grey shares her story is, to use a musical term, a bit staccato. Each chapter within the three parts of the book reads like separate stories. The book isn’t strung together in a continuum, which may bother some readers. Personally, I didn’t mind it too much. There were a few parts of the book that were a bit slower to get through than others. Once I got to the 80s and Jennifer’s career was taking off, the pacing of the book accelerates. I got into it yesterday and couldn’t put it down… and in fact, I even watched Dirty Dancing and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off during the afternoon! That was a hefty dose of nostalgia between allergic sneezes (another reason I stayed home).

Some readers who remember the 80s may find themselves forming new opinions about people like Matthew Broderick, Penelope Ann Miller, Johnny Depp, and Helen Hunt. I could tell that Grey and Broderick had a very intense relationship in which there were also a lot of painful memories. Unfortunately, Broderick wasn’t the most faithful boyfriend. On the other hand, although Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze hadn’t been friends on the set of Red Dawn, they later understood each other better. I enjoyed reading Grey’s comments about Swayze, especially since she writes that he wasn’t her type. I understand how that goes… yes, he was a very handsome man and a brilliant dancer, but I can understand why he didn’t ring her chimes, in spite of their incredible on screen chemistry.

I enjoyed reading Out of the Corner. I would probably enjoy knowing Jennifer Grey. I don’t care that she cusses. I enjoyed remembering the 80s, not just by reading her book, but by watching the films Jennifer Grey has made. Hell, I’m even watching her on Dancing With the Stars now, completely amazed by her dance skills. And now she can call herself a writer, too. She’s truly a woman of many talents!

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book reviews, celebrities, mental health, psychology

My review of River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope, by Naomi Judd

It’s hard to believe that a month ago, country music legend Naomi Judd, the maternal half of country music mother-daughter act, The Judds, was still among the living. I was in Italy at the time, enjoying an eagerly anticipated vacation. I was shocked, like so many others were, when I heard of her sudden death on April 30, 2022. Although they weren’t saying it at the time, it was pretty clear that she took her own life. It came out that Naomi Judd had suffered for many years with terrible, untreatable depression and anxiety. And, although she and her daughter, Wynonna, were to be honored for their musical achievements the very next day, Naomi simply couldn’t face life anymore.

Megyn Kelly interviews Naomi Judd about her depression, and her book, River of Time.

I was not a huge fan of The Judds, during their heyday. I do enjoy their music very much now, and I have a few of their greatest hits compilations. I read Naomi’s first book, Love Can Build A Bridge, which was published in the 90s, when Naomi was forced to temporarily retire due to her diagnosis of Hepatitis C. I also saw the made for TV movie based on that book. I also once saw Wynonna perform at a U.S. Army Birthday Ball. But, I am not a super fan of The Judds’ music, and wasn’t following news about them when Naomi died. I didn’t know about Naomi’s struggles with mental illness, and until my friend and fellow blogger, Alex, mentioned it in a comment, I also didn’t know that in 2016, Naomi published a book about her experiences with severe depression and anxiety. Although Naomi’s story clearly turned out to be less victorious than the book’s title, River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope suggests, I decided to delve into it.

I read Naomi Judd’s book for several reasons. First off, I too, have suffered from clinical depression and anxiety myself, and I understand why it seemed so hard to beat it, because I remember how it made me feel. I was fortunate, in that my depression was treatable with talk therapy and Wellbutrin SR. It does, on occasion, rear its head again, but for the most part, I am much better than I once was. Secondly, I am a musician. No, I am not a “star”, and at this point in my life, I will probably never be a star… and frankly, I probably would not WANT to be a star, anyway. But I do make music, and I admire Naomi’s talents as a singer and songwriter. Thirdly, I come from similar, salt-of-the-earth, family stock. I didn’t know it when I started reading River of Time, but I could really relate to a lot of Naomi Judd’s comments about her family, and how people in her family made her feel. I’ll get more into that as this review progresses.

River of Time reads as if it comes straight from Naomi, but in fact, it was ghost written by author, Marcia Wilkie. I appreciated that this book really seemed to come from Naomi Judd’s heart, and I never noticed an intrusion by a professional writer. Some people felt that the book “jumped around a lot” and was “repetitive”. Personally, I didn’t find that an issue, but again, it did seem to me that this was a book coming from Naomi, rather than Marcia Wilkie. I see that at this writing, the book is offered on Kindle for $1.99, probably because ultimately, Naomi succumbed to her depression and committed suicide. I still think it’s well worth reading, for MANY reasons. So here goes…

Naomi Judd’s early years never suggested the great heights she would eventually reach…

Naomi Judd was born Diana Ellen Judd in Ashland, Kentucky on January 11, 1946. Naomi describes Ashland as a “grey”, ugly, industrial city. Her parents were poor, and not at all loving or demonstrative. Naomi made excellent grades in school and was a talented pianist, but her parents barely noticed. However, whenever she got any negative feedback from school officials, her father was quick to get out his belt and “whip” her. Naomi writes that she used to “borrow” her mother’s stiff rubber girdle when her father wanted to use the belt. She’d go to the bathroom, put on the girdle, and let him go to town, while she “hollered” like she was in pain. Apparently, he never caught on to Naomi’s ruse.

In this book, Naomi never refers to her original first name, or Wynonna’s. Wynonna was born Christina Claire Ciminella, although Naomi’s husband at the time of Wy’s birth was not her biological father. Wynonna was conceived when Naomi was seventeen years old, during Naomi’s very first sexual experience. She had a one night stand with a football player, she’d known in high school, a man named Charles Jordan. Naomi explains that she and Jordan got together for their tryst, because Naomi’s brother, Brian, was dying of leukemia. Naomi was very close to Brian, and she was feeling alone and vulnerable. As a lot of young girls do during their teen years, Naomi must have felt that connecting with a young man would make her feel loved and valued. Unfortunately, Charles Jordan abandoned Naomi, as soon as he found out about the pregnancy. Naomi quickly married Michael Ciminella, Ashley’s biological father, because Naomi’s mother, Polly, kicked her out of the family home.

Michael Ciminella’s family was sort of well off, and they lived a more comfortable lifestyle than Naomi’s family did. But Mrs. Ciminella was extremely obsessive about cleanliness and order. Naomi writes that when Wynonna was a baby, her mother-in-law had totally sanitized the whole house, and insisted that everyone wear masks and gloves before handling the baby. Even Naomi was expected to comply.

Naomi and Michael eventually moved to Los Angeles, California, where Ashley was born in April 1968. But the marriage didn’t last, and Naomi was soon raising her young girls by herself, with almost no help from Ciminella. After the divorce, Naomi reclaimed her maiden name and took the opportunity to change her first name, too. She enrolled in nursing school and eventually became a registered nurse. Unfortunately, when she was 22, Naomi was stalked by a violent, ex-con heroin addict, who beat and raped her. Still, somehow Naomi persevered and managed to launch her career in nursing. Meanwhile, she and Wynonna developed their musical chops, and eventually moved to Nashville, where they finally got their big break. Wynonna was eighteen years old when The Judds were on their way, but she and Ashley had still experienced a hardscrabble childhood, as their mother did everything she could to ensure their survival.

Naomi’s life heads south…

The Judds were wildly successful in the 1980s. They had fifteen #1 hit songs, and won dozens of music industry awards. Things seemed poised to continue in that direction, when Naomi started feeling ill. She went to a doctor, who told her that she had contracted Hepatitis C. She was told that her liver was “almost cirrhotic”, and that she had about three years to live. Fortunately, the medical establishment was wrong about her prognosis, but the diagnosis did force Naomi to retire in 1991. The Judds did a huge pay per view concert, which was a very successful event. Naomi eventually remarried in 1989, this time to Larry Strickland, a member of the Palmetto State Quartet, and former backup singer for Elvis Presley.

Although Naomi Judd had achieved great success in music, and also found the love of her life, she experienced extreme episodes of depression that left her feeling suicidal. So she did what wise people do when they feel sick. She saw a Nashville area psychiatrist. The psychiatrist did what a lot of psychiatrists do, when it comes to treating depression. He put her on antidepressants. She went through a huge list of them, and at times, she was never properly tapered off before the next drug was tried. Her doctor also prescribed the anti-anxiety medication, Klonopin. I took Klonopin myself at one time. Fortunately, it did nothing for me, and I quit taking it with ease. A lot of people get addicted to Klonopin, and other benzodiazepines. Naomi did, as did Stevie Nicks. Both women said that the drug destroys creativity and ambition.

The psychiatric drugs, and their lack of efficacy, along with the lack of talk therapy, made Naomi’s situation worse. She eventually landed in a psychiatric hospital at Vanderbilt University to be weaned off of the psychiatric drugs using IV phenobarbital. That was the first of several stays at mental health facilities, to include the psych ward at UCLA, as well as some posh rehab centers. She describes these experiences as if they were all horrifying– even the really plush, luxurious psych hospital was oppressive and terrifying. Eventually, she was able to get treatment from Dr. Jerrold Rosenbaum, a renowned psychiatrist at Mass General, in Boston. However, it was in Boston that she had electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which used shock waves to improve. A lasting side effect from that treatment was the destruction of her ability to enjoy the taste of food. While ruining her sense of taste helped her lose weight, it also made one of her passions, cooking, a lot less enjoyable. She couldn’t even eat the treats she would make for others, because it all tasted “putrid”.

Still, Naomi Judd did find help when she discovered dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which is a technique discovered by psychologist, Marsha Linehan. Naomi explains how the technique helped to center her and improved her mental health. DBT is a technique that is often suggested for people who aren’t helped by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a well-known method for treating depression. As of 2016, Naomi did seem to be very edified by DBT. Unfortunately, we now know that the help she received from DBT was temporary. She never lost her urge to end her life.

Naomi also writes a lot about her family of origin. There was a lot of tragedy in her personal history, some of which came before she was even born. Some of her blood relatives were legitimately severely mentally ill, and more than a couple of folks were real criminals. Indeed, Naomi’s granddaughter, Grace Pauline Kelley, has done time in prison for drug offenses. As I read about Naomi’s grandmother, Edie Mae, who allegedly killed her husband, Howard (who had almost been killed by his own dad, when he was a child), I could definitely see a pattern.

Other people’s reactions to this book…

I took a look at the reviews on Amazon, to see what others thought of Naomi’s story about her mental illness. A lot of people wrote that they found River of Time “depressing”, and they described Naomi as engaging in a “pity party”. Some people wrote that they felt this book was a plea for attention.

Having now read River of Time, I guess I can understand why some people didn’t like the book. The truth is, Naomi’s life was depressing. She came from a family where there was a lot of mental illness and abuse. Naomi was sexually abused when she was very young, and she was not treated with love, consideration, or kindness when she was growing up. And so, it stands to reason that her true story is sad, and it should not be surprising to anyone that there are many depressing elements to Naomi’s life story. She had severe DEPRESSION, for God’s sake. What were people expecting? I do think that anyone who reads this book should NOT be expecting a chirpy book about how beautiful life is. That would be very disingenuous.

I mentioned earlier in this review that I can relate to Naomi’s story. My early years weren’t nearly as traumatic as hers were, by any stretch. But I grew up with an alcoholic father, as she did, and my father’s method of discipline was usually the corporal punishment kind. While I think my mom was more loving that Naomi’s was, she was somewhat cold and uninterested in me, especially when my dad was still alive. Mom is very different now, but when I was a kid, she was rather neglectful. And so, I could relate to Naomi’s yearning to have some acknowledgement from her parents, and other people in her family. I think that “pity party”, “whiny”, and “attention seeking” aspect of her writing that some people don’t like, was actually a facet of her illness. Her parents were, in part, responsible for the condition was was in… and make no mistake about it, it WAS a very real, physical, and mental illness that she couldn’t help. But at least she did TRY to get better, which is more than a lot of people can say. And she was fortunate enough to be able to consult some of the biggest and most successful people in the business. She was even friends with Maya Angelou.

I think the negative comments she got in Amazon reviews came from people who, bless their hearts, just don’t have a clue! They have not experienced depression themselves, so they don’t understand why Naomi, with all she had going for her in life, simply couldn’t snap out of it and be happy. They see her as selfish and self-indulgent, and don’t understand that she experienced real torment. Obviously, that torment was what led her to kill herself at age 76, even as she and Wynonna were about to be honored again. And no, she wasn’t the better singer in The Judds, but she was clearly a big part of the duo’s success. Wynonna was probably destined to be a star, but there’s no denying that her mom helped her on her way. I can understand why Naomi felt that she was left behind, and why that would be one of the many causes of her depression. On the other hand, she also accomplished a lot on her own, and somehow, those accomplishments evidently didn’t raise her opinion of herself, or her life.

Overall…

I’m glad I read River of Time. It is a sad book, and it does have the capability of being depressing, but to me, Naomi’s story felt authentic. I could relate so much to a lot of what she wrote. My heart went out to her, on more than a couple of occasions, and I even felt a little verklempt at times when I read this. I really wish that she could have conquered her demons, and enjoyed her life until its natural end. As we all know, that wasn’t to be. Depression CAN be deadly, though, and her story is a stark reminder of that verifiable fact. It’s easy for people to look at someone else’s life and think they have no reason to be sad, or to complain about anything. I would urge people not to make those kinds of judgments. When it comes down to it, you never know what kind of hell someone might be experiencing privately. Life is tough for most people… even famous, beautiful, talented, and rich people, like Naomi Judd was. I hope wherever her soul is now, she’s finally at peace.

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book reviews, celebrities, healthcare, mental health

Repost: My review of Brooke Shields’ Down Came the Rain…

One last repost before I hang up my blogging efforts for the day. This is a book review I wrote for Epinions.com in October 2006. I am posting it as/is.

Having come of age in the 1980s, I have always been very familiar with Brooke Shields’ work as an actress. Brooke Shields has always appeared to be a woman who has it all… looks, brains, money, a successful and apparently fulfilling career, and at last, just a few years ago, she seemed to have found love in her second husband, Chris Henchy. The one thing that was missing was a baby.

Shields was having trouble getting pregnant. She had once had cervical surgery to remove precancerous cells and the surgery had left her cervix shortened and scarred. As a result, in order to have a child of their own, Shields and her husband had to undergo in vitro fertilization. Shields got pregnant, but suffered a miscarriage that was so emotionally painful that she almost decided to give up on her dream of being a mother.

But Brooke Shields found that she couldn’t forget about having a baby. She underwent IVF again and got pregnant, and this time it stuck. Nine months later in May 2003, Brooke Shields and her husband, Chris Henchy, became the proud parents of Rowan Francis. And then, Brooke Shields found herself holding a ticket into the hell of postpartum depression. That hell is what prompted her to write her 2004 book, Down Came The Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression.

I read this book partly because my husband, Bill, and I have been trying to have a baby. Like Brooke Shields and her husband, we have some issues that may prevent us from conceiving naturally. I also have a strong biological history of major depression, so I may be at risk of postpartum depression if I do have a baby. Also, I found this book used and dirt cheap at Fort Belvoir’s thrift shop. I doubt I would have thought to buy this book at its full price or even borrow it at a library, but I am glad I read it. It turns out Brooke Shields is a pretty good writer and her topic is both timely and relevant to a lot of new parents.

Down Came The Rain is not an autobiography of Brooke Shields’ life, although it does include some information about her family. The information is personal, but it also has something to do with Shields’ state of mind and stress level as she embarked on her quest to become a mother. First off, Shields and her first husband, Andre Agassi, were divorced after two years of marriage. Shields doesn’t write much about their time together, except to explain that they had both wanted children, but the opportunity had never presented itself. Not long after the split with Agassi, Shields met and subsequently married Chris Henchy. Then, Shields’ father became very ill with prostate cancer. He died just three weeks before Rowan Francis was born. All the while, Shields was also dealing with insecurity about her future in show business. She had taken time off for her pregnancy and Rowan’s birth.  

Divorce, remarriage, fertility issues, childbirth, career issues, and the loss of a parent are all extremely stressful events on their own. With all of those issues combined together, it must have been almost impossible for Brooke Shields to function. Shields also had serious medical trouble during the birth of her daughter. The child had to be delivered by Cesarean section; the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. Shields’ uterus had herniated and she almost had to have a hysterectomy. Somehow, Shields and her baby survived the birthing process intact. Shields was left to recover from major surgery as she became acquainted with her baby daughter and the huge role of being a parent.

To be sure, I could empathize a bit with Brooke Shields. She’s a human being and certainly not immune to human problems like postpartum depression. Shields initially didn’t want to go on Paxil, the antidepressant that helped her get through her ordeal with postpartum depression. She didn’t like the connotations that she needed a drug to help her with her moods. I can identify with that sentiment. When I had depression, I didn’t want to take a drug to feel better, either. I liked to think I could will myself to feel normal. Once I found the right antidepressant, it became enormously clear to me that clinical depression is a very real biological problem that affects the whole body. Brooke Shields also came to that conclusion. She started to feel better and was able to function with the help of antidepressants. Like me, she became a believer in the drugs’ efficacy, despite her very famous public feud with Tom Cruise about their usefulness.  

I applaud Brooke Shields for writing this book about her very personal and painful experiences with the hell of depression and her success using antidepressants. I think it’s always helpful when people talk about personal experiences with mental illness because it helps reduce the lingering stigma. I also like the fact that Shields apparently no longer feels ashamed of her use of antidepressants. Too many people don’t seek medical help for depression because they fear becoming “hooked on happy pills”. As someone who has experienced depression and has taken antidepressants, I can affirm that the pills never made me feel “happy”. Indeed, they made me feel normal, which was a huge improvement over feeling hopeless and suicidal. 

On the other hand, as I was reading Down Came The Rain, it was very clear to me that Brooke Shields has advantages that most women don’t have. For one thing, she hired a baby nurse to help her as she was getting over her postpartum depression. Although Shields makes it clear that the nurse was temporary and she had no intention of handing over the job of raising Rowan to hired help, most women don’t have the financial resources to hire baby nurses when they suffer from postpartum depression. In fact, far too many women can’t even afford to take the antidepressants that Shields took as she suffered with postpartum depression. And it also occurred to me that some who read this book may even feel somewhat bitter about the fact that Shields was able to afford several rounds of IVF, too. That’s a procedure that is well beyond the budgets of many Americans.  

Clearly, with her financial resources, Brooke Shields can afford solutions that are well above the grasp of many women. I don’t mean to imply that Brooke Shields wasn’t right to use whatever means necessary to get past her postpartum depression; I just think that some women might resent the fact that they don’t have access to the resources that Shields does. Shields explains what she did to get over the depression, but she doesn’t offer solutions for ordinary women who can’t afford to hire baby nurses or seek out sophisticated medical help.  

Also, it’s important to know that Down Came The Rain is not the story of Brooke Shields’ life. This is strictly an account of her experiences with postpartum depression. She explains what the depression felt like, how it affected the people around her, and what she did to get over it, but that’s about it. If you’re looking for a whole lot of insight about Brooke Shields’ life outside of her experiences with postpartum depression, you might be left disappointed. There is no photo section, although there is a small picture of Brooke Shields and Rowan on the inside of the book cover.  

All in all, I think Down Came The Rain is a good personal account of the phenomenon of postpartum depression. And if after reading this book you’re left wanting to learn more about postpartum depression, Shields includes a reading list and addresses to reputable Web sites that offer information about the disorder. I think Brooke Shields has written a valuable book that will help a lot of people who are caught in the throes of postpartum depression, whether they be new mothers or the people who love them. What’s more, Shields’ story ultimately has a happy ending, since she has gone on to become a mother again. On April 18, 2006, Shields and Henchy became parents again to daughter, Grier Hammond… ironically, on the very same day, and in the same hospital, where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes had their baby girl, Suri.

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