book reviews

A review of Doctors From Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans

A few weeks ago, I was reading comments on a news article about migrants at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia who had complained that they had received unnecessary hysterectomies at the hands of an OB-GYN there. The story shocked me, and I was immediately reminded of horrors such as the Holocaust and the many eugenics experiments and forced sterilizations that went on in the United States in the 20th century.

I was not the only one who saw comparisons to Nazi Germany when I read about the women in Georgia who had undergone hysterectomies without their consent. Someone in the comments section of the article mentioned Vivien Spitz’s 2005 account of being a young court reporter at the Nuremberg Trials. The book, entitled Doctors From Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans, was a full accounting of her experiences in post World War II Germany, spending day after day, listening to and recording the testimonies of people who had survived the Holocaust.

I’ve now read a lot of books about the Holocaust. Most were written by survivors. This was the first account I had ever read by an American who saw the aftermath of the brutalities visited upon many thousands of people. It was Vivien Spitz’s job to listen carefully in court and transcribe exactly what had happened as each testimony was given. She was often shocked and horrified, not just by what she saw and heard, but also by the actions of the men on trial, as well as some of the witnesses. The trials were conducted by American judges, in English and German.

Since I am currently living in Germany, it was especially interesting to read Spitz’s graphic accounts, although it’s very difficult to reconcile the Germany I “know” to the one she describes. I put quotes around the word “know” because it occurs to me that as an outsider, there is still a lot I don’t know about Germany and its culture. And while the 1940s seems like a long time ago, if you really think about it, it wasn’t so long ago. Vivien Spitz died in 2014, the year my father died and the year Bill and I returned to Germany. She could have been my grandmother. I could have known her well.

Interspersed within Spitz’s descriptions of testimonies she heard about the absolutely horrifying “medical experiments” done by supposed physicians who had ostensibly promised to first do no harm, there are stories about what it was like to live in Nuremberg right after the war. It was definitely not a pleasant experience. She describes homes with no heating and no hot water, sleeping in thick feather beds because that was the only way to get warm. She lived with two women, one French and one British, who weren’t really her friends. She describes going to operas and seeing some nearby countries, but the mood in Germany wasn’t particularly convivial. Some locals were friendly, but a lot of them saw her, and other Americans, as the enemy.

Spitz also wrote that after a year in Germany, she was ready to go home. But going home wasn’t so easy, because of the spread of communism and the mass evacuations of people. The government was not able to get her home on a plane or by ship. She eventually had to go to France to pay for her own ticket on the SS United States, a ship that voyaged across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City. She was on the ship with thousands of Czechs who were fleeing their country because it was being overtaken by communists. She writes that when they saw the Statue of Liberty, they all wept with gratitude. Spitz later billed the government the $400 she spent on her ticket and was reimbursed.

When I read the terrible news accounts of what is going on at the borders of the United States right now, I can’t help but remember that the United States was supposed to be a land of opportunity. It was supposed to welcome people who needed a home and a fresh start. And right now, some of what is going on at our borders is starting to echo what happened in Nazi Germany.

No, we’re not in a Holocaust and, to my knowledge, the blatant horrors of what the doctors from Hell did to Jews, political prisoners, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and resisters is not yet going on in America. But when I read stories in 2020 about physicians in the United States sterilizing women without their knowledge or consent, I am reminded of what Vivien Spitz heard about in court. She explained that at one point, the killings of Jewish people slowed because there was a shortage of workers. So, instead of immediately murdering the people so hated by the Nazis, the doctors from Hell came up with ways to quickly and cheaply sterilize them so that they couldn’t reproduce. And then, when they were no longer “useful” to the Nazi cause, they were exterminated. Additionally, people deemed not useful— disabled people, “idiots”, insane people, and the elderly— were euthanized, even if they were Germans.

Many of the experiments done on the prisoners were not only extremely painful and cruel, but they were pretty much of no scientific value whatsoever. People who “volunteered” to be test subjects were promised things like early release or better living conditions. Naturally, those promises were never fulfilled, and the victims were forced into unbelievable suffering and gruesome deaths. The survivors were forced to watch as their fellow prisoners languished in agony.

Vivien Spitz paid a price for her service in Germany. She writes that when she returned to the United States, she suffered tremendous culture shock. Life was going on as usual in the States, but she was haunted by what she’d seen and heard in Europe. It took three solid years before she stopped having nightmares. And then, she got married, had two sons, and enjoyed a long, prosperous, and prestigious career as a courtroom reporter in the United States. Unbelievably, as she still heard people denying the Holocaust and became outraged when she read one accounting of a German teacher at a Denver school refer to it as the Holohoax. The teacher was fired, but sued because she believed her right to free speech was violated.

I will warn that this book is not easy reading. Spitz describes the experiments in harrowing detail. She includes photos from the proceedings, mainly of people involved in the trial, but there are also some very graphic pictures that might stick in one’s head. A picture of amputated arms and legs, forcibly taken from prisoners to be “transplanted” to wounded German soldiers comes to mind. Also, it’s very sobering to read that the Nazis had more regard for dogs who were used in experiments than people. Many things that were done to prisoners in the Holocaust were not allowed to be done to dogs because it was considered too inhumane!

I can’t say I “enjoyed” reading this book. I’m glad I’m finished reading, although Vivien Spitz comes across as a warm, delightful person with fascinating tales. I do think it’s an important book to read, particularly during the dark times we’re in right now. Remember, the horrors of the Holocaust didn’t start with the medical experiments, mass murders, and deportations. They started with a charismatic leader polarizing the people and influencing them to take an “us versus them” attitude. There has been a lot of violence this year in the United States and many people with hateful ideas are emboldened to plotting things like kidnapping governors and gunning down political protesters. I think Doctors From Hell is an important look at what can happen when a division of the people can go on too long. We stop seeing each other as human beings, and it becomes “acceptable” to some people to murder and maim in the name of a cause and their own prejudices and outright hatred of those who aren’t like them.

An interview with Vivien Spitz.

One last thing… I mentioned that this book was published in 2005. Vivien Spitz died in 2014. Toward the end of her book, she writes:

When we are born in the United States, we are born with blessings we just take for granted. We will not be arrested, bludgeoned, tortured, and exterminated solely because of our race, religion, or political activity. Born into freedom, with free will in the human story, we innately know the difference between right and wrong. We must each wage a personal war against obedience to unethical, immoral, and illegal evil authority. We owe our responsibility and accountability to humankind.

Spitz, Vivien. Doctors From Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans (p. 292). Sentient. Kindle Edition.

I’m sorry to say that it seems like many Americans are forgetting that our society is supposed to be about freedom and fairness for everyone. I think it’s never actually been that way for everyone– but Spitz points out, to be born in the United States is a privilege. Or, at least it has been until recently. Vivien Spitz was a white woman, and probably made her statement about our “privilege” to be born American through the lens of a woman who never had to worry about being killed by the police. Sadly, as we all know, not everyone in the United States “will not be arrested, bludgeoned, tortured, and exterminated solely because of our race, religion, or political activity.” And that is becoming more true by the day.

In the next paragraph, she writes:

In genocides there are four categories of human beings: the perpetrator, the victim, the silent bystander, and the rescuer. What is the guilt of the silent bystander? Do we ordinary people have the courage to be rescuers, at the risk of personal safety, and sometimes the loss of life? We have proven that we can be rescuers.

Spitz, Vivien. Doctors From Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans (pp. 292-294). Sentient. Kindle Edition.

Americans can’t afford to be “bystanders”. I hope those who are American and reading this review will remember that on Election Day. I won’t tell you whom to vote for, although I’m sure if you have read this blog, you know that I hope it won’t be Trump. What’s most important is that you do your part and fulfill the responsibility to vote. I truly hope you will, especially this year.

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book reviews, nostalgia

Repost: Michael J. Fox’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future…

Here’s a book review I wrote for my original blog on January 23, 2019. I am reposting it as/is.

For the past week or so, I’ve been binge watching Family Ties.  If you were around for most of the 1980s, you no doubt know what Family Ties is.  Debuting in 1982, this was a sitcom that aired every Thursday night on NBC.  It was “must see” TV, much like The Cosby Show was.  Unlike Bill Cosby’s show, Family Ties has not been scandalized by the leading man’s sexual perversions.  In 1982, one might assume Michael Gross, who played family patriarch Steven Keaton, was the “leading man” of Family Ties.  However, after airing just an episode or two, it became clear that the star of the show was none other than Michael J. Fox, who played Alex P. Keaton for seven years.

I am about a year older than Tina Yothers, who played youngest daughter, Jennifer Keaton. I also happen to be named Jennifer (although no one calls me that) and as a kid, I looked a lot like Tina Yothers (and even blogged about it).  Even if I hadn’t been Tina’s long lost sister from another mister, I would have loved that show.  As I am discovering once again during my binge sessions, it’s very well-written and still funny, even though it was canceled thirty years ago this year.  The cast was extremely talented and had chemistry.  There was a very impressive array of guest stars, to include Tom Hanks, River Phoenix, and Geena Davis, just to name a few.  And Michael J. Fox, who would become a huge movie star in his own right, was undeniably charismatic and funny.

A couple of months ago, I downloaded Michael J. Fox’s 2010 book, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future: Twists and Turns and Lessons Learned.  Amazon tells me he’s written several books.  This is the first and only one I’ve read.  I breezed through it relatively quickly, as it’s not a particularly long book.  In fact, although Fox dropped out of high school to pursue acting, it reads a bit like a commencement speech.  Indeed, new graduates are apparently the intended audience for this book.  I haven’t been a new graduate in almost seventeen years myself, and that was for my graduate programs.  However, as someone who didn’t really launch, I can still glean wisdom from Fox’s writing.

This book is written in a personal style, with Fox addressing his readers as if he’s sitting down with them.  He offers anecdotes about his climb up the ladder of success.  It’s not an exhaustive look at his career, but it offers plenty of important details about the milestones he reached, as well as some touching comments about his family members.  To some people, it may seem like Michael J. Fox (whose real middle name is Andrew) has always been a star.  But in this book, he explains that he was a starving actor when he auditioned for Family Ties.  He had really needed the part and was not expected to become such a huge star.  

Gary David Goldberg, who wrote and produced Family Ties, had originally wanted Matthew Broderick for the part.  In fact, Fox’s audition hadn’t even impressed Goldberg.  It was another staffer who had liked him and convinced Goldberg to give him a chance.  And then, once he had that second chance, Fox had to be “sold” to NBC network executives, who weren’t convinced he’d be successful in the role.  Several years ago, I read and reviewed Gary David Goldberg’s book Sit, Ubu, Sit.  I think I remember reading the same tale about how Fox was a hard sell for the role that made him so famous.  Unfortunately, I reviewed the book on Epinions.com and it never got reposted on this blog.  My review is no longer accessible.  Maybe I’ll reread the book someday and write a new review.

In any case, Goldberg turned out to be a great mentor, friend, and boss to Fox.  In 1985, when Steven Spielberg approached his friend, Goldberg, about letting Fox play Marty McFly, Goldberg had allowed it.  He did so, knowing that Fox could end up being a great success and want to leave the sitcom that had put him on the map.  But although Fox did become a movie star thanks to Back to the Future, he remained loyal to Family Ties.
Before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, Michael J. Fox was always freakishly youthful and energetic.  As I’ve been watching him on Family Ties, I’ve been reminded of the late John Ritter who played Jack Tripper on Three’s Company.  The characters are not similar, but the actors are both masters of physical comedy and delivering witty lines.  I almost wonder if Fox didn’t study Ritter a bit.  He doesn’t mention it in the book, and may not have ever had any dealings with the actor.  It was just one of my observations.  

Michael J. Fox also includes an insightful section on alcoholism.  For years, Fox drank to excess, especially after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at age 30.  He would take medications to deal with the physical symptoms of the disease, but then drink alcohol to drown the emotional pain he was feeling.  He finally gave up drinking.  I would have liked to have read a bit more about that, but then, this book is really meant for graduates… it’s like a speech.  A speech would not be the place for a long story about alcoholism.

Anyway… although I may not have been the audience Fox was aiming for with this book, I did nevertheless find it insightful, well-written, engaging, and wise.  I think it’s probably a great choice for people who don’t want to read long books.  It’s long enough to mostly cover important subject matter, but short enough not to be boring or overwhelming.  Fox has a number of life lessons to share with people who are starting out in the world, even if this book is already nine years old and Fox isn’t the mega star he was thirty years ago.

As a child of the 80s, I must endorse A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future, although maybe today’s youth should watch a few episodes of Family Ties first.  They’ll probably think it’s funny, too.  Hell… my generation watched The Brady Bunch.  Maybe later generations should watch the vastly superior Family Ties for a shot of television nostalgia.  I dare say Michael J. Fox is more inspiring than Barry Williams ever was.

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book reviews, celebrities

Repost: Reposted review of Florence Henderson’s life story…

Yup… this review was reposted on the original blog too, having originally been posted on Epinions.com. I am restoring it to public view for your pleasure, as/is…

I know it’s my third post today, but I just found this book review of Florence Henderson’s life story.  And I want to keep it alive, so I’m reposting it for your perusal.  Hey, at least I learned that despite her encounter with crab lice, Flo is not as earthy as Shirley Jones is.

Florence Henderson shares her life… 

Like so many others, I grew up watching re-runs of The Brady Bunch. And like so many others, I’ve always had sort of a mild obsession with the show. I’ve seen every episode many times and could probably recite lines from each show. Perhaps because of my affinity for all things Brady, I had to read Florence Henderson’s brand new memoirs, Life Is Not a Stage: From Broadway Baby to a Lovely Lady and Beyond.  This book was just released last week. I downloaded it to my Kindle and read it in a matter of days. I have to admit, Florence Henderson has led a remarkable life… one that encompasses so much more than The Brady Bunch. 

Florence Henderson’s humble beginnings

Florence Henderson grew up poor, the youngest of ten kids born on Valentine’s Day 1934 to Elizabeth and Joseph Henderson of Dale, Indiana. Her father was hardworking, but an alcoholic. Her mother was a bit of a free spirit who left her husband when Florence was young. Florence writes that her father called her “Gal” because he often couldn’t remember her name. I guess that’s understandable, given the fact that the man had ten kids and a drinking habit. Florence Henderson grew up Catholic and was very devoted to her faith.

A star is born 

Florence Henderson left Indiana when she was barely 17 years old. She wanted to make it on Broadway and had enrolled in dramatic school. She got lucky early and landed a role in a Broadway show not long after her arrival. That first role led to larger roles, notably Oklahoma!Fanny, and Wish You Were Here. She worked with many Broadway legends, including Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers. Her work took her to both coasts and places in between, like Las Vegas and Chicago. She got roles on stage, in films, and on television, and of course, she also enjoyed a successful singing career. And she’s never been ashamed to do commercials, either. She likens her spots pitching Polident denture cleanser, Tang powdered drink mix, and Wesson cooking oil as 60 second movies with her as the star. Incidentally, Florence Henderson does not use Polident; she is fortunate enough to still have her teeth.

Florence Henderson, wife and mother 

In 1956, Florence Henderson married Ira Bernstein, a man with theater connections. Though Ira Bernstein was Jewish, the couple was able to marry in the Catholic church. They had two sons and two daughters together, though the union wasn’t particularly happy. Florence engaged in several affairs, one of which left her with an unpleasant creepy crawly memento. And Ira wasn’t particularly keen to make the move to Los Angeles, despite his connections in show business. Consequently, he was in New York during the week and flew to L.A. on weekends, leaving Florence to juggle a hectic career and their four children, as well as everything else that comes with family life. 

Fortunately, Florence and Ira were able to part somewhat amicably in 1985, freeing Florence to marry her second husband, Dr. John Kappas, in 1987. Florence and John Kappas were married until his death in September 2002.

Florence Henderson’s dear friends 

Evidently, Florence Henderson has enjoyed the love and companionship of many good friends. A lot of them were show biz friends, but quite a few of them were people who worked for Henderson. In one entertaining chapter, she writes of the many bizarre domestic helpers she went through before she finally found one who was able to stay for the long haul. And her second husband was actually her therapist before they married. Florence Henderson was even best friends with her doctor.

My thoughts 

I was pleasantly surprised by Life Is Not a Stage. I will admit, I haven’t really seen Florence Henderson in anything not Brady related, except for her turn in the classically campy film, Shakes The Clown. But I learned from reading her book that her career has really been long and amazingly successful. And yet, even though she really is a big star, Florence Henderson maintains a very warm tone in her book. It reads as if she’s an old friend, talking about her life. I think my favorite part of the book was the beginning, where Florence writes about her childhood. Her writing made it easy for me to picture her upbringing and I found her stories of her girlhood surprisingly interesting.

Florence Henderson is very candid in her writing and includes some tidbits that aren’t necessarily flattering. There are a couple of things in this book that, for some readers, may verge slightly on oversharing territory; but ever the lady, Henderson very kindly warns sensitive readers and marks off the potentially offensive sections with asterisks. Personally, I didn’t find any of her revelations too offensive.

For those who are curious, yes, there is some dishing about The Brady Bunch. Most of what Henderson writes about her most famous role, however, is not exactly earth shattering news. She references books written by both Barry Williams and Susan Olsen. I did find some of her comments about Robert Reed (Mike Brady) kind of touching. Apparently, the whole “Bunch” still keeps in touch. 

Florence Henderson also writes quite a bit about her experiences with hypnosis. Her second husband, Dr. John Kappas, was an experiened hypnotist and he helped his wife get through some traumas that were holding her back professionally and personally. When Kappas was dying of cancer, he asked Florence to learn how to hypnotize him. She learned the craft and apparently, it’s changed her life and enriched the lives of others.

Henderson includes some photos in her book. I’m happy to report that they were easy to see on my Kindle and the captions were easy to read. 

Overall

I liked Florence Henderson’s book. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in Broadway legends, hypnosis, or Florence Henderson’s life. Note: Florence Henderson died on November 24, 2016, several years after I posted this review on Epinions in 2011, and reposted on my original blog in September 2015.

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book reviews, celebrities

Repost: Shirley Jones is “earthy”…

Here’s a repost of a book review I originally wrote for Epinions.com. I reposted it on my original blog in 2013, and am reposting it again here, as/is, because I mentioned it in my review of Florence Henderson’s book and I want to repost that, too. This review was written as we were moving from North Carolina to Texas. I was exhausted, sore, and bitter.

Back in 1996, I met a man who described me as “earthy”.  I had never heard that term before then, but it probably fits me pretty well.  The way he meant it implies that I’m “coarse and unrefined”.  In all fairness, I think that’s an accurate description of me.  Having just finished Shirley Jones’ memoir, I can say there is at least one person in the world who is earthier than I am.  See below to read my review, which probably wasn’t as scathing as it should have been.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with earthiness… although Shirley Jones is shockingly forthcoming about subjects I never would have expected to read about in a memoir written by a 79 year old woman who built a career on being pretty and refined.

In her book, Shirley Jones actually comments on the size of her sons’ (and stepson’s) junk, saying that they all inherited impressive “equipment” from their philandering, bisexual, bipolar father, Jack Cassidy.  A lot of folks were taken aback by that, but imagine how people would have reacted if Shirley Jones were a father commenting on the impressiveness of his daughter’s genitals.  There would be outrage aplenty.  What kind of an editor thought that including that tidbit in a book was advisable?

She also writes about her favorite methods of masturbation, her ex husband’s cruel treatment of Cole Porter, having a threesome with said husband and some girl in their Vegas show, and being invited to swing with Joan Collins.  Collins has demanded that the swinging story be struck from Jones’ book.  I read it and it wasn’t that shocking… not compared to some of the other subject matter in Jones’ memoir. 

Anyway, I’m glad to be done with this book.  Now that I’m finished, I can go back to reading Pat Boone’s much cleaner book about hygiene and moral standards. 

I had to take three Advil PMs last night.  I took two at bedtime, then woke up at 1:00am and took another because my back was just screaming.  Once I fell asleep again, I slept peacefully until about 7:00.  As soon as I’m done writing this post, I’m going to get back to unpacking.  I’d like to have this moving project mostly done by this evening.  I’ve got travel plans to hatch.

Really, Mrs. Partridge? Shirley Jones’ lurid lifestyle…

Aug 11, 2013 (Updated Aug 11, 2013)

Review by knotheadusc

Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Some interesting tidbits about Shirley Jones and many relationships with men.
Cons:Vulgar, tasteless, tacky… way too much information.
The Bottom Line: Shirley Jones could have done so much better than this.

I have a serious weakness for celebrity memoirs. A couple of years ago, I read and reviewed Florence Henderson’s life story and was utterly shocked when I read about how “Mrs. Brady” had picked up crab lice and “dated” her TV son, Barry Williams. Next to Shirley Jones, however, Florence Henderson has lived a very respectable life. According to Jones’ 2013 book, co-written with Wendy Leigh, Shirley Jones: A Memoir, “Mrs. Partridge” was a hell of a lot wilder. In fact, as much as I enjoy trash, even I cringed as Shirley Jones commented on the size of her sons’ “junk”, a gift apparently passed on to them by Jones’ first husband, the late Jack Cassidy. Yes, Shirley Jones, mother to Shaun, Patrick, and Ryan Cassidy and former stepmother to David Cassidy, actually commented on how well endowed Jack Cassidy’s sons are. Keep in mind, these guys are all now well into middle age. Also, imagine what the reaction would be if Shirley Jones were a father commenting on his daughter’s “equipment”. I see by reviews on Amazon.com that people were taken aback by Shirley Jones’ comments on her sons’ packages… they would be totally outraged if she were a father talking about his daughter’s nether regions. 

Like most people born in the 70s and 80s, I know about Shirley Jones because she played Shirley Partridge in The Partridge Family, a show that originally aired in the early 70s and, like The Brady Bunch, lived on in reruns. I had never seen Shirley Jones in Oklahoma! or Elmer Gantry. I did not know she had a beautiful singing voice, though she constantly reminds her readers of that in her book, as well as all the men who made passes at her. Indeed, according to Jones, she’s been around the block a few times, though she makes it sound like other people were responsible for some of the kinkier things she’s done. 

I happen to have one of the earlier downloads of Jones’ memoir, which I understand is going to be revised because Jones accused Joan Collins and her husband of wanting to swing with her and Jack Cassidy. Collins asserts that she has never been into swinging and had a lawyer send a sternly worded “cease and desist” letter to get that part of Jones’ story taken out of the book. Folks, having read that account, I can tell you that it did nothing to change my impressions of Joan Collins, though this book certainly changed my impressions of Shirley Jones, and not for the better.

Shirley Jones: A Memoir is full of way too much information. Since I recently blogged about how much I hate it when people complain about TMI, I feel almost hypocritical in mentioning it about Shirley Jones’ memoir. But seriously, I’m not sure I really needed to read the minute details about Shirley Jones’ experience having a threesome with Jack Cassidy and some girl who was in their Vegas act. Nor did I really want to know about Jones’ favorite method of masturbation, though she was apparently delighted to share. Sex sells, but there is such a thing as oversharing. Even I, as someone who dislikes the term TMI, can admit that. 

Besides being a bit trashy, Jones’ book is not particularly well-written. It took awhile to finish it, even though it’s not really that long. Jones repeats herself a few times, reminding her readers that she enjoys a martini and a box of chocolates every day at 5:00pm. She also continually makes the point that she is very highly sexed, though apparently not as much as her first husband, philandering Jack Cassidy, was. 

Jones’ comments about Jack Cassidy are somewhat interesting. She’s pretty clearly still hung up on him, despite the fact that he was very narcissistic and treated her and his sons very badly. Jones has been married to her second husband, Marty Ingels, since 1977. But much more of this book is dedicated to her stormy years with Cassidy, who was very charismatic and apparently influenced her to do things that ordinarily she never would have done. Actually, while I have no doubt that Cassidy was toxic, based on this book, I got the sense that Jones is also quite narcissistic in her own right. She also seems to have a penchant for marrying men with bipolar disorder; both of her husbands have been affected by the illness.

Obviously, I don’t know Shirley Jones personally, so I don’t know how much of this book is really the whole truth and how much was embellished just to sell copies. In all honesty, it seems very strange that a 79 year old woman who has made a life out of having a lovely, wholesome, maternal image would publish a book that paints her as being a borderline ho. Maybe she needs the money, though it seems a shame for her to get it in this way. This is a woman who has been in films, sung for presidents, had a successful TV show, and raised four sons: three of her own, and her former stepson, David Cassidy, whom she had always thought of as her own. Why would such a seemingly classy woman debase herself with a book full of tawdry, graphic anecdotes about her sexual exploits with a long line of men and at least one woman? It had to be for the money.

Anyway, I wasn’t impressed with Shirley Jones: A Memoir. I think it’s tasteless, vulgar, and tacky and given how many people shriek “TMI” in my presence, you know it’s saying something when I myself start shrieking “TMI”. Shirley Jones could have done better with this book by focusing on her successful career and family rather than the many sexual escapades she’s enjoyed with a wide variety of men. For most people, I’d say this book is very skippable.

Now to get back to Pat Boone’s much cleaner 50s era book on teen hygiene, Twixt Twelve and Twenty.

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book reviews, politics

A review of Melania and Me, by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff

Just in time for the election, former Melania Trump bestie, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, has published her tell all about what it was like to be friends with Donald Trump’s third wife. As you might surmise by the timing of this book’s release, as well as the title, the friendship has ended, and not on a positive note. In any case, I decided to read Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s book, Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady. Melania is the quiet half of the Trump power couple and I was curious about her. Also, I figured I could relate to the author. I “broke up” with my former bestie, too, and haven’t had a best “girl” friend in many years.

So who is Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, anyway?

Before she got tangled up with the Trumps, the author of Melania and Me was the director of special events at Vogue. She lived in New York City and was still working at Vogue when she met a Slovenian model then known as Melania Knauss. When Melania and Stephanie met, it was Stephanie who was better known. Melania was moderately successful, but not really super famous when she caught Donald Trump’s roving eye. Winston Wolkoff writes that when she and Melania first met, Melania was quiet and unassuming, but caring. Or, at least that’s how she seemed.

Donald Trump married his third wife, Melania, in 2005, and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff was there to see the eastern European model shaped into the First Lady she is today. Melania and Stephanie were ladies who frequently lunched. That was the way Melania preferred it, although Stephanie writes that lunching wasn’t so good because it really cut out a portion of the work day. Throughout the book, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff makes it clear that she’s a “work horse”. She works very hard, and has always had to make her own way, in part because her parents had a bad marriage and wanted their kids on their own as soon as possible (something else I can relate to, as my parents had a good marriage, but wanted me to skedaddle ASAP, too). Winston Wolkoff went to boarding school. She’s also the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, and has three much beloved children, one of whom has severe food allergies. She describes herself as a “helicopter parent”, even though she spent a couple of years working for Melania Trump… FOR FREE.

Yes, you read that right. This “hardworking”, “helicopter parent”, “Holocaust granddaughter”, “lady who lunched” did not draw an official salary as she spent about two years thanklessly slaving away for the First Lady, a woman she thought was her “best friend”. She was away from her family in New York, spending her own money on Ubers, lunches at Trump properties, and hotel rooms, helping Melania Trump choose staff members that were not budgeted for, and planning events such as the Presidential Inauguration. Winston Wolkoff complains that she was barely paid anything for her work. She received $480,000 for work she did on the inauguration, which was, on its own, a bit of a cluster fuck. Other than that, zip… as she writes it, anyway.

Why did Stephanie Winston Wolkoff work for free?

She did it for her country, as the old song from Grease 2 goes. Although Winston Wolkoff writes that she was never a voter before the Trump era, claiming she didn’t know enough about politics or the candidates, she decided to vote for Trump in 2016. She did it because Melania was her friend, and because she thought she was being a good patriot by trying to help her friend be a good First Lady.

Through it all, Stephanie and Melania traded texts full of emojis, many of which are included in this book. Melania never had any problem asking Stephanie or anyone else for favors, but when the shoe was on the other foot, she “didn’t have time” (see my post from a couple of days ago). What Melania wants, Melania gets, according to Winston Wolkoff, who writes that she worked so hard for so long that she actually wound up in the hospital.

Want a little whine with your lunch?

While I can commiserate with Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who claims she gave up a very successful, high-powered career for someone she thought was a real friend, I did think she came off as a bit of a martyr at times. Her writing has a somewhat self-pitying, shaming tone that I found kind of off-putting. I don’t doubt that Winston Wolkoff worked her ass off, but it’s not like she didn’t have a choice. She must have known deep down that her “friendship” with Melania wasn’t very genuine and if she ever said “no” to the First Lady, the “friendship” would end. But if those are the conditions of the relationship and one voluntarily settles for that, then one is also complicit in perpetuating the fake friendship. Therefore, one can assume that one’s motivations aren’t as pure as one makes them out to be.

I do understand how it feels to be used and betrayed by someone who doesn’t share the same level of regard for you that you have for them. I also know what it’s like to work for free, seemingly for the greater good, only to have it all turn to shit.

What I don’t understand is why Winston Wolkoff– who is purportedly as family-oriented and successful as she claims to be– tolerated that treatment for as long as she did. But then… we are talking about the most powerful couple in America and perhaps one of the most powerful couples in the whole world. I’m sure that was a lure that kept Stephanie so close to Melania, even though she was never given a contract and had to enter the White House like any flunkie who never got vetted. Yes, she slept in a guest room right over the White House residence, but Melania never saw to it that her friend could get fast tracked past White House security. Best friend indeed.

Winston Wolkoff writes of being relegated to “lawn standing” at Trump’s swearing in. She managed to get a better view only because an official staffer spotted her and got her a better seat. This, even though she had helped plan the event. Melania didn’t care… and in fact, frequently took advantage of her “friend” while dissing her. Melania did send flowers on Stephanie’s birthday, at least until last year or so, when Stephanie finally told her friend, Melania, that she was resigning. After that, it seems their fifteen year old friendship was kaput. Now, all she has to show for it is this book, which really could have been better than it is.

Overall

I have a hard time feeling really sorry for Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, although I guess I can understand on a human level how she ended up in her predicament. It’s easy for someone like me to look at someone like her– close to famous people like Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley– and think she should have known better than to get involved with the Trumps (or politics in general). But although she protests to the contrary, that she really was a “true friend” to Melania and other people who helped the Trumps get to where they are right now and were kind of stiffed for their efforts, I have a feeling that the work she was doing was not just out of friendship. Surely she believed she’d get paid somehow. I’m sure she thought it would be more than whatever she makes from the sales of Melania and Me.

Some of the author’s handiwork… Judge for yourself.

I did kind of enjoy Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s commentary on Ivanka Trump (the princess), as well as some of the other Trump staffers. I thought some of her insights into famous gaffes and fashion missteps were interesting, too. Apparently, Melania doesn’t care what anyone thinks and simply does whatever is best for her and maybe her son, Barron, who is reportedly a bit of a prankster.

On the other hand, I also got the sense from reading this book that Winston Wolkoff still has some affection and admiration for her old friend, Melania. At times, she is complimentary of her and seems to miss her, which makes the book a little bit confusing. I kind of got the sense that maybe she hopes she and Melania can bury the hatchet someday and, once again, be besties who lunch. Maybe she thinks Melania will read this book and send her flowers and an apology? Somehow, I doubt that will happen.

Anyway, I’m not sorry I read Melania and Me, but I am glad I’m finished with it. I hope Stephanie Winston Wolkoff has had a nice rest, recovered her health, and is enjoying those three children and her husband that she left over for over a year to work for free, serving the worst U.S. president in recent history (in my opinion, anyway). I do somewhat empathize with her. It’s bewildering when someone you thought was a close friend turns out to be a selfish asshole. But then, when you’re not directly blinded by the magical glare of a shameless narcissistic manipulator, it’s a lot easier to see wolves dressed in baby blue Ralph Lauren frocks.

I think Stephanie Winston Wolkoff and her ilk would do well to read more fables and learn some of life’s basic lessons, starting with this one. Or maybe she should learn the cardinal rule that everyone hears when they fly on an airplane. You have to put your own mask on before you can help other people. Maybe with a little more oxygen to the brain, Winston Wolkoff might have more clarity in determining who her real friends are.

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