book reviews, celebrities

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

Repost: Please pass the Penicillin…

Here’s a reposted book review from Epinions.com. I wrote this on February 6, 2013, and it appears it was penned for a “lean n’ mean” challenge (reviews under 500 words). As you can see, I wasn’t impressed. The review appears as/is.

What was I thinking when I downloaded Peggy Trentini’s book, Once Upon a Star: Celebrity Kiss and Tell Stories (2012)?  I must have decided to buy this book after reading something especially depressing or boring.  It’s been on my Kindle for awhile, though, and after my last book, I decided it might be fun and refreshing.  Well, now having read this book, I can honestly say there’s nothing refreshing about it. 

Who the HELL is Peggy Trentini and why did many stars fuck her in the 80s and 90s?

Pardon the crass language, but honestly, that’s really what Once Upon a Star is all about.  It starts out innocently enough.  Trentini writes about growing up on Newport, California, the daughter of strict Catholic parents who didn’t want her wearing makeup or dressing stylishly.  She was supposedly a straight A student, though you’d never guess it from her writing, which is chock full of typos and grammatical errors.  One day, Trentini’s friend talked her parents into allowing a makeover.  From then on, Peggy was “pretty”… and being pretty apparently leads to being a wh*re.  At least in Los Angeles…

Trentini expends few words on her upbringing.  She jumps right into how she came to Hollywood at age 18, her dreams of being an intellectual (groan) apparently given up in favor of becoming a celebrity.  She writes of being cast on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and then getting a part in her first film, Young Doctors In Love.  Before too long, she and Sylvester Stallone are screwing each other and Trentini spares no detail… or maybe the details were just lifted from a fantasy novel.  From there, it gets much tackier. 

Each chapter is yet another tawdry tale of how some star thought Peggy was “irresistible” and had to have her, usually just for the night.  They’d have wild sex, get drunk, and then break up, lather, rinse, repeat.  As I read about each celebrity and recalled other celebrity memoirs I’d read about some of them, I wondered if Peggy ever caught diseases from her escapades.

Aside from being a starf*cker and B grade actress, Trentini was also on the “Swedish Bikini Team”, which was an ad campaign for one of the worst beers ever, Old Milwaukee.  It’s only fitting that she would be selling a product that has led to so much cheap, meaningless sex among college students. 

I’m certainly no snob when it comes to reading material.  I knew this book was going to be trashy when I bought it.  However, even for trash, Once Upon A Star just plain sucks harder than Trentini ever could.  Trentini writes of all the celebrities she’s screwed, then tries to seem like a nice, normal, girl next door.  It’s not believable or authentic, and she’s not someone I’d want to know.  She comes off as a shallow narcissist who still has a lot of maturing to do, despite now being in her 40s.

Seriously?  Skip this book

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book reviews, celebrities, TV

Repost: “Screech” has his say about Saved By The Bell…

I’m reposting this review that I wrote for Epinions.com in February 2011 because I have been looking for it forever. It appears as/is. Dustin Diamond died on February 1, 2021.

Comments from 2014:

Heigh-ho!  I’m reposting this classic review of a book written by Dustin Diamond, aka Screech, from Saved By The Bell.  I was dying of curiosity, so I read and reviewed the book.  I didn’t like it.  Gave it one star.  This was one of my funnier reviews, though, so I’m reposting it so it doesn’t go into oblivion.

Original 2011 era review:

In 1988, I was 16 years old and had long since given up Saturday morning cartoons.  That was the year the teen oriented situation comedy, Saved By The Bell, was born.  According to Dustin Diamond, author of the 2009 tell all book Behind the Bell and the actor who famously played “Screech” on Saved By The Bell, that show ushered the beginning of the end of Saturday morning cartoons.  Maybe I should hate Saved By The Bell for that very reason.  I never watched it until I got to college.  Some of my male friends were fans, mainly because they all thought Kelly Kapowski (played by Tiffani Thiessen) was a hottie.  There was something mesmerizing about the cheesy, goody-goody sitcom and I ended up eventually seeing every episode more than once.

Fast forward to 2007.  My husband, Bill, was deployed and I was watching a lot of bad reality TV.  One show I unexpectedly got hooked on was Celebrity Fit Club.  Dustin Diamond, who had been the scrawny, token, nerdy sidekick to the “cool kids” on Saved By The Bell was now on Celebrity Fit Club trying to lose weight!  And, I couldn’t help but notice, his behavior on that show in 2007 was the antithesis to his character on Saved By The Bell.  He came off as a complete @$$hole.  Nevertheless, I love a good celebrity tell all.  I had read reviews of Diamond’s book, Behind the Bell, and the vast majority of them led me to believe that Diamond is still an @$$hole.  Because I was curious and am a glutton for punishment, I decided to buy a copy of Diamond’s book, just to see if it was really as bad as the reviews claimed.  I just finished the book this morning and am more than ready to skewer it.

Birthing the “Bell”

Behind the Bell is basically one part autobiography and one part scandalous tell all.  In prose liberally peppered with profanity, vulgarity, and typos, Dustin Diamond explains how he got into acting and landed guest roles on commercials and shows like The Wonder Years before he won his iconic role as Screech.  He gives readers a little background about his family, but not much.  Mainly, he sets up how tough it is to be a child actor, even as he admits that as a child actor, he had some pretty awesome experiences as well as enough money to buy whatever gaming system his little heart desired.

It doesn’t take long before Diamond dives into dishing about his fellow Saved By The Bell cast members and the powers that be at NBC and Disney.  Back in the late 80s, NBC and Disney were talking about merging.  Saved By The Bell was originally called Good Morning Miss Bliss, starring Hayley Mills as Miss Bliss.  That show aired on Disney and consisted of just 13 episodes.  It was set in junior high and starred Mark-Paul Gosselaar as cool kid Zack Morris, Lark Voorhies as Lisa Turtle, Dennis Haskins as Principal Richard Belding, and of course, Dustin Diamond as Screech. 

The original premise didn’t work out, nor did Disney want to keep airing the show.  The folks at NBC revamped the cast and changed the premise so that the show was about high school kids.  Gosselaar, Voorhies, Haskins, and Diamond were joined by Tiffani-Amber Thiessen as Kelly Kapowski, Elizabeth Berkeley as Jessie Spano, and Mario Lopez as A.C. Slater.  Saved By The Bell became a huge hit and eventually went into syndication.  That’s how I ended up seeing it. 

The “sour grapes” of Screech’s wrath…   

If you’ve ever seen Saved By The Bell, you know it’s a fairly wholesome show featuring stereotypical high school kids.  The cast is attractive and the storylines are fun, but pretty silly.  Watching those kids on camera, one would never come away with the idea that they were anything but squeaky clean.  But, according to Dustin Diamond, every single one of the kids on Saved By The Bell was somehow sullied by the Hollywood lifestyle.  He is particularly bitter toward Mark-Paul Gosselaar, whom he refers to as “The Golden Child”.  He has very little good to say about anyone involved with the show, with the exception of Hayley Mills and a certain NBC executive who has since died of breast cancer.  But even the NBC exec isn’t spared Diamond’s crass treatment; according to him, the two had a torrid love affair, even though Diamond was underage at the time.  Nothing classier than kissing and telling, right?  Especially when the other person involved is no longer around to defend herself.

Screech, the man-ho

Once Diamond has trashed most of the cast and crew on Saved By The Bell, he moves on to writing extensively about all the women he laid.  On page 177, he asks “is it bragging to say I’ve banged over two thousand chicks in my life?”  Dustin Diamond gives new meaning to the expression star f*cker and comes across as a complete dick in the process.  He seems to hate women and even writes an “open letter” to all the chicks he’s banged before, basically shaming them for being “filthy” and engaging in sex acts with him to further their careers.  That’s an interesting thought, given that Diamond admits to “banging” over two thousand women and even spells out his methods for bagging them at Disneyland.

Screech gets screwed…

According to Dustin Diamond, Hollywood is full of shallow people who would screw over their own mother to get ahead.  He may be right about that.  However, he makes himself out to be a decent enough guy who bent over backwards for others.  One guy, referred to in his book as “Captain Douchebag”, apparently really double-crossed Diamond and inspired a lot of bitterness.  Diamond never actually identifies the person, but he does devote plenty of pages toward venting about the guy.  He also complains bitterly about his neighbors and all the fake people in California who fail to recognize Screech’s genius.  In fact, he pretty much seems to think (and actually calls) most people he encounters a “douchebag” or worse, a “douchenozzle”.  Just as an aside, I’ve never understood why a person should be offended by being called a douchebag.  A douchebag is basically a bag of cleanser.  I think I would be more offended by being referred to as douchewaste, but that’s just me…

My thoughts

Even though, up to this point, I’ve mentioned a lot of negative things about Behind the Bell, I do have to admit parts of this book were entertaining and even interesting.  And though this book is full of typos, misspelled words, and occasionally bad grammar, Diamond isn’t that bad of a writer.  His tone is snarky, occasionally funny, and conversational, but very profane.  If he’d run his manuscript past an editor and added some more information about himself, this book would have probably turned out much better and might have even been somewhat well-received.  I really have read worse writing and Diamond does include some photos.

However, Dustin Diamond also comes off as a legend in his own mind, revealing some disturbing narcissistic traits that make me think that if he’s anything like the way he comes off in his book, he’s the one who’s a douchewaste.  Diamond exhibits a very angry and entitled attitude and seems to hold just about everyone in contempt, including his readers.  I actually congratulated myself for getting this book second hand.  I would have hated to pay full price for Dustin Diamond’s smug musings and bellyaching.

Overall  

Behind the Bell might be worth reading if you don’t mind profanity and endless vulgar fish stories about Dustin Diamond’s many meaningless sexual conquests or if, like me, you’re curious about the poor reviews.  For most people, though, I’d say it’s best to play hooky and skip Behind the Bell.  Your time would most likely be better spent douching.

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book reviews, politics

Grateful to have left “The Room Where it Happened” by John Bolton…

In about three weeks, Donald Trump will (hopefully) leave the White House, and Washington, DC, for good. I also hope that will mean fewer political posts on my blog, since political posts invite commentary that I often find irritating. I don’t enjoy being annoyed, and yet I can’t help but opine about Trump’s egregious abuse of power. That means my posts get read by his supporters, who feel compelled to “set me straight” about my opinions.

I have felt compelled to write about Mr. Trump, probably because Bill and I have had some unfortunate and extensive dealings with much lower level narcissists. We’ve learned a lot from being exposed to narcissists, and that makes us able to spot them quite easily. Donald Trump is the Grand Poobah of narcissists, so I find his behavior very triggering. When I get triggered, I want to write. But, to tell you all the truth, I don’t actually find politics or politicians that interesting, except when they are engaged in specific topics for which I have an interest. And usually, it’s only the topics I care about, not the politician. Trump is different, though, because he’s a walking billboard for narcissistic personality disorder. It distresses me that so many people still don’t see him for what he is and don’t realize the damage he’s done– and NOT because he’s supposedly a Republican (not really), but because he’s a vile, self-obsessed, money grubbing, maniacal asshole who has been enabled by people like John Bolton, one of Trump’s many ex flunkies turned author.

I expect I will still occasionally write about politics once the orange walrus has waddled off into the sunset, but I hope it won’t be as often. And I hope I will write about a wider variety of people rather than just Trump. I am truly troubled by the number of people who continue to support Trump. But, after reading John Bolton’s book, The Room Where it Happened, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. If someone like John Bolton can be taken in by Donald Trump, I suppose anyone can.

Who is John Bolton, you ask?

I know I would ask that question, in any other presidential administration. And mustachioed John Bolton has worked in a few of them. Wikipedia says he’s an “attorney, diplomat, Republican consultant and political commentator who served as the 25th United States Ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006 and as the 27th United States National Security Advisor from 2018 to 2019.” Bolton truly has an impressive resume, having been educated at Yale University and spent his working life rubbing elbows with Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and yes, Trump. Bolton is also a military veteran, having served a total of six years in the Army, Army Reserve, and the Maryland Army National Guard. He’s been a Republican heavy hitter since the early 1980s. If you read my post yesterday, you know how very long ago that was. 😉

When Mr. Bolton’s book was first published last June, I initially resisted downloading it. I still have several Trump related books to read and, again, I’m not actually that interested in the nuts and bolts of politics. I think I changed my mind after I read Michael Cohen’s book about being Trump’s lawyer. I thought Cohen’s book was rather illuminating and kind of tragic in some ways. I thought maybe Bolton’s book would be similar, with juicy, yet readable, stories about what it’s like to work with Trump as U.S. President. Well, I’m here to tell you, it wasn’t.

I finally finished Bolton’s book late last night. I’ve been chipping away at it for weeks. And, I have to say, I don’t feel I came away with much new knowledge after plowing through all 578 pages of The Room Where It Happened. John Bolton comes off as overly impressed with himself, unrelatable, and pompous. I’m sure he’s very competent as an attorney and political advisor. He’s clearly an intelligent man. But he does not have a gift for writing. There is not much engaging about his book. Reading it, for me, was like sitting through a very long-winded lecture while I also had an urgent need to pee. I was quite “antsy” to finish it. I’m glad I finally did.

There were a couple of times when I thought about abandoning my efforts to read Bolton’s lengthy tome; it was so dry. But I like to finish what I start, especially when it comes to books. If there is one thing I learned when I used to write book reviews for Epinions.com, it’s that it’s not really fair to review a book I haven’t read… and not finishing a book is akin to not reading it. However, I’m not going to sugar coat it, folks. This was rough going for me. Parts of this book were about as interesting as watching flies fuck.

The Room Where it Happened: A White House Memoir promises scathing details and damning evidence of Donald Trump’s corruption as “45”. And maybe, somewhere buried in the many pages of complex and clumsily constructed text, there’s an exciting tale to be told. Alas, this book was not well-edited, so it’s easy to get knocked off course by minutiae and random asides. I found it a frustrating experience trying to read Bolton’s complicated accounts of what supposedly went on while he was serving as Trump’s security advisor. Nothing was particularly exciting about this book, and every time I sat down to read more of it, I felt like a masochist.

So what did I learn from reading The Room Where it Happened? Not that much, actually. The most interesting part of this book, for me, is probably the title, which was reportedly “borrowed” from the popular musical, Hamilton. Bolton mostly writes about his work with an air of being “above” the job.

One thing I have observed, though, is that Washington, DC is full of narcissists who are convinced that they can reform the biggest narcissist of all, Donald Trump. Think about it. It takes a special kind of arrogance for someone to look at a guy like Trump– who might as well have a flashing neon sign over his head with the word “narcissist” on it– and think that he can be reformed or guided in any way. Even though I know, just by the sheer number of YouTube channels and self-help books out there about narcissistic personality disorder, that many people have narcissists in their lives, it seems that a lot of folks still haven’t been clued in by what Trump is and what that means.

Even after four years of watching this very selfish man do everything in his power to destroy democracy and use his time as POTUS as a way to line his pockets and reward his cronies, rather than serve the people, many folks still champion him and think he’s the only one who can “save America”. Well, my friends, that is utter bullshit. In fact, there’s a whole slew of people who can do a better job at making America a better place, simply because they have a conscience, a functioning brain, and a heart.

Another thing I’ve learned, which was reinforced by reading Bolton’s book, is that you can be very intelligent, experienced, politically savvy, and highly accomplished, and still be suckered by someone like Trump. John Bolton, like other Trump flunkies, thought he could advise Donald Trump. He was mistaken. Trump doesn’t answer to anyone but himself. The only way to survive working with him is to agree with everything he says and does and kiss his ass, even as you helplessly watch him destroy everything. He fires or forces to resign anyone who isn’t willing to pucker up for him. Once he’s done using a person, they will be discarded. This is what ALL narcissists do to some extent, although some narcissists are more narcissistic than others are. I suspect John Bolton has a healthy level of narcissism himself. Many politicians do, due to the nature of their work. But he wasn’t a match for Trump. No one in Trump’s administration has been.

I think Bolton would like to think he made a difference, hence his decision to write this book… which shows a frank lack of consideration to his readers. He could have easily shaved at least 100 pages from this volume, which would have spared his readers some time and saved a few trees (for those reading the print version). He could have enlisted the help of a talented writer and/or an editor, to make his story more concise and engaging. Instead, he decided to take us into “the room where it happened” all by himself. Once again, he’s grossly overestimated his abilities, but at least he does give us a few interesting photos at the end of the book.

It was a colossal chore to read The Room Where it Happened, but great God almighty, I’m free at last. And now, I feel like the world’s most disastrous dinner date has finally ended. I suspect I’ll feel similarly on January 20th, 2021.

John Bolton talks about his thick skin.
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