book reviews, celebrities

A review of Still Just a Geek: An Annotated Memoir by Wil Wheaton…

As a card carrying member of Generation X, I grew up watching a lot of cable TV. Sometimes, I also went to the movies. In fact, I went to the movies a lot more often in those days than I do today. In any case, at some point in my adolescence, I saw the 1986 Rob Reiner film Stand By Me. Based on a spooky novella by Stephen King, Stand By Me was a coming of age film starring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell. They were four 1959 era twelve year old boys from Castlerock, Oregon, who set out on a mission to see a dead body. On their way to find the body, the boys bond and have some near misses with both nature and technology.

Stand By Me also had a great soundtrack.

As most of Stephen King’s stories are, this one– originally known as “The Body”– was very poignant, compelling, and sometimes even funny. It also had four teenaged stars in it who were about my age. Most of my peers loved River Phoenix, who was an up and coming star. Tragically, he died in 1993 at just 21 years old, a victim of a drug overdose in Los Angeles. I was telling Bill last night that if River had lived beyond young adulthood, he would have been an enormous star.

I liked River fine, but Wil Wheaton’s performance in Stand By Me was the one that always stuck with me. He played the sensitive, thoughtful, aspiring writer, Gordie Lachance. I identified with Gordie, because I had my own aspirations of becoming a writer. In those days, I wrote a lot of fiction. Also, my journalism teacher in tenth grade was named Mr. LaChance, and I liked him, and that class. I probably should have stuck with journalism.

Stand By Me was probably the only vehicle of which I’ve seen much of Wil Wheaton’s acting, except for maybe guest spots on 80s era television shows. I see he was a guest on Family Ties, which was one of my favorite shows, back in the day. He was also on St. Elsewhere, although I didn’t really watch that show, because it was on past my bedtime. He was on Tales from the Crypt, which was a great HBO show I watched when I had the opportunity, and he voiced Martin in the film, The Secret of NIMH. Wheaton also famously played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Apparently, Wesley Crusher was aptly named, because based on Wheaton’s book, Still Just a Geek, it seems that he wasn’t very well received in that role. I have no opinion on that, since I never watched the original Star Trek, let alone the reincarnations. I don’t know why I never watched it. Bill is a huge fan. Star Trek just never appealed to me.

Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher.

Some time ago, someone turned me on to Wil Wheaton’s Facebook page. I started following it, and decided I kind of liked Wil. He seems like a basically normal, decent man who happens to work in the entertainment industry. He’s also a writer and award winning narrator. And, as a fellow child of 1972, I relate to a lot of what he posts on social media. We’re from the same era.

I was following Wil’s page when he started promoting his book, Still Just a Geek: An Annotated Memoir. I ended up downloading it around the time it was released last spring, but I didn’t get around to reading it until I read Jennette McCurdy’s book, I’m Glad My Mom Died. I figured Wheaton’s book would be a good follow up to McCurdy’s book about her “crazy” mother and chaotic upbringing in show business, against her will. Wil Wheaton has openly said that he went “no contact” with his parents, and had never actually wanted to be a child actor. Wheaton has maintained that it was his mother who had wanted to be an actress, and she pressured her children to go into the business. Wil happened to have talent, just as Jennette McCurdy did, and in the mid 80s, he was a household name. But what he really wanted to do was be a kid. He’s also found that writing is his true passion, just as Jennette has.

So anyway, it was Jennette McCurdy who prompted me to read Wil’s book, Still Just a Geek. Still Just a Geek is based on Wil’s first book, Just a Geek, which came out in 2004 and apparently didn’t sell well. He includes the original book in this book, along with annotations– explanations, contextual notes, and sometimes revised opinions of his that have changed since 2004. After the first book, Wheaton continues with chapters about his life today. A lot has changed since 2004, which it’s bound to do. In 2004, he was a young man, married to his wife Anne, and stepfather to her young sons from another relationship. In 2022, he’s still married to Anne, and has legally adopted Anne’s now adult sons, Nolan and Ryan. They changed their last names and everything. Wil has also stopped drinking alcohol– circa 2016– so some of what he wrote in 2004 doesn’t apply to his lifestyle today.

To be honest, I’m left with some mixed feelings about this book. I thought it was mostly very well written. I appreciated how candid Wheaton is, although there were times when I wish he’d shared more of the original stories that prompted some of his conclusions. For example, in the original book, it’s clear that Wil sees himself as his sons’ stepfather. He refers to himself in that way, although he also mentions that their bio father was a real jerk. He vaguely mentions that their bio father kept taking Anne to court for custody, and implies that he’s a shithead for doing that. Now… I don’t know much at all about Anne, other than seeing her in some photos with Wil, and reading his gushing comments about her. And, God knows, I totally understand about being the second spouse of someone who has a narcissistic or abusive former spouse.

Because I’m a second wife, I am not so quick to automatically accept what people say or write about their exes (and just to be clear, I get that not everyone believes me when I rail about Ex in my blog). In my case, I wasn’t allowed to be a stepmother to my husband’s daughters, and he wasn’t allowed to be his kids’ “everyday dad”. And he was painted as a horrible, abusive monster to his daughters, which just plain isn’t true at all. Wil never explains much about Anne’s ex, other than to write that he’s a bad person. And, for all I know, he really is a shitty person, and Nolan and Ryan were totally right to ask Wil to be their legal dad.

On the other hand, Wil is himself estranged from his own father, claiming that his dad has always been abusive and negligent toward him. He doesn’t write a lot about that, either, at least not in this book. However, Wil did write a few passages that indicated to me that his father wasn’t all bad. Like, for instance, he wrote about his father’s touching reaction to Wil’s grandfather’s death, and how Wil realized that one day, he would be mourning his own father’s passing. That was in 2004, though, before he had ceased contact with his dad. So, I guess I just wish he’d provided more context to both of those stories, and the one involving his stepsons who are now his sons. Maybe it’s not my business– but if it’s not my business, it probably shouldn’t have been included in this book. I can, by the way, also relate to Wil’s having a rocky relationship with his dad. I had a rocky relationship with my dad, too, although we were never really estranged. I understand that going “no contact” is sometimes necessary for one’s sanity, but I also think it’s something that should be done as a last resort.

The footnotes were a bit distracting for me, although reading on Kindle gives readers the choice to read them or not. I enjoyed Wil’s notes, especially when they were funny or provided context. Sometimes, though, I found some of Wheaton’s comments a little annoying and self- indulgent. It stands to reason that people try to present themselves in the best possible light, even when they admit to not being their best. Wheaton provides quite a few examples of when he sometimes acted like a jerk, as we all do sometimes. However, there were a few times when I wanted him to just state, “I was a jerk,” and not make any excuses for being a jerk. He apologizes a lot for acting the way most of us did in less enlightened times. It gets tiresome after awhile, and doesn’t always ring as sincere. Sometimes, it felt like he was trying too hard to be sensitive and “woke”, and it came across as a little fake to me. I sense this on his Facebook page, too, especially when he posts about certain issues– like the pandemic, and how we should all be handling it. Some of his comments come across to me as more like what he believes he “should” be thinking instead of what he actually thinks, if that makes sense.

But that early career helped launch his current career… if he hadn’t been a child star, where would he be today?

I did enjoy reading about Wheaton’s experiences making Stand By Me, which I still think is a fabulous film. I couldn’t relate to his comments about Wesley Crusher, although I do know who William Shatner is. Reading about his encounter with Shatner made me cringe a bit for Wheaton… Shatner was allegedly quite the asshole to Wil. Reading about his encounter with Shatner made me glad I was never a Star Trek fan. I also liked reading about Wil’s experiences being a computer geek in the 80s. I wasn’t a computer geek then, but I did have a friend who was one. And some of what he writes about his experiences with BASIC and other computer languages remind me of the time when I still counted my former friend as my best friend. Those were fun times, before reality set in, and I realized she wasn’t actually a good friend, after all.

At the end of the book, Wheaton includes some interviews and speeches he’s given, along with a couple of “Ask Me Anything” posts he did. To be honest, I kind of skimmed through most of that stuff, because speeches are meant to be heard, and aren’t that much fun to read. I did notice that the fresh content of this book comprises only about thirty percent of the book. The rest of it is old stuff cobbled together into this volume. That was okay for me, since I never read the first book, and I’ve not followed his career closely. Super fans who pay a lot of attention to what Wil’s been doing his whole life might be disappointed by Still Just a Geek. I see some Amazon reviewers have given Wil low ratings and claimed he’s not a good writer. I disagree with that. I think Wil’s writing is fine. I just wish he’d written something fresh, and included fewer footnotes, which can be very distracting. And I wish he’d just write his story and explain why he has so much animosity toward his parents and his wife’s ex. I get that they’re personal stories, and maybe he’s already explained elsewhere. But in Still Just a Geek, he makes many references to those people without really explaining his feelings behind the negative comments. I was left a little confused and wanting more information.

And finally, I admire Wil for reinventing his career, doing what he wants to do, making healthy choices, and loving his wife and sons so much. I’d give this book 3.5 stars out of 5 and would recommend it to those who haven’t read Still a Geek and are interested in Wil Wheaton’s story. I think it will particularly appeal to those who care about Star Trek, which I don’t. But I was sincerely interested in the parts about Stand By Me, and enjoyed reading those sections.

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book reviews, celebrities, LDS

But wait– there’s more! My review of Jennette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died…

Yesterday, I wrote my first post about Jennette McCurdy, a former Nickelodeon star who just wrote a book called I’m Glad My Mom Died. I bought that book on August 9th, and started reading it a few days ago. I just finished it a few minutes ago. Before August 9th, I didn’t know the first thing about Jennette McCurdy. Now, I feel like I know her. We have some things in common. Actually, if I’m honest, I think she has things in common with my husband and his younger daughter.

A couple of hours after I shared my first post about Jennette McCurdy on Facebook, an old friend commented that she looked forward to my review. She wrote that she had to read the book. Now that I’ve finished it, I agree with her. She should read it. I think she will relate to Jennette McCurdy’s story, too. I think a LOT of people will, in spite of the shocking title that some will feel is in poor taste. Some people think that anyone who gives birth is automatically some kind of angel. And some are just as quick to judge someone who has given birth. Our society tends to look at mothers as people who are always either way above reproach, or people who can be condemned to the depths of hell for making the simplest mistakes. A lot of us forget that moms are people, too. In fact, they are just people, first and foremost.

Jennette McCurdy grew up thinking that her mother was amazing in all ways. Debra McCurdy had a vision for her only daughter’s life. From the age of six, Jennette was expected to share in the dream, as her mom made her audition for commercials, take acting and dance classes, and be cute and charming for casting directors. Debra McCurdy had breast cancer; it was diagnosed with Jennette was two years old. Debra was not above using cancer to get sympathy and preferential treatment, either for herself, or her daughter. Jennette loved her mother, and she hated to disappoint the people she loved. She was a natural people pleaser, trained since early childhood to make other people happy, regardless of her own needs or desires. Later, when she became an adult, she became co-dependent, settling on bad relationships with toxic people instead of holding out for people who were better, and weren’t abusive to her.

So Jennette went along with her mother’s vision for her life. She smiled for casting directors, and put up with her mother’s intrusive and weird behaviors. She didn’t complain when her mother hoarded things, and forced her and her three brothers to sleep on mats. She wasn’t confrontational when her mother used the money she earned to pay her mortgage. And even though she didn’t like being an actress, she didn’t want to upset her sick mom. She she acted and became successful, portraying Sam Puckett on iCarly and Sam and Cat. It almost destroyed her. Life in show business is toxic. Add in a toxic mother, and you have a recipe for lifelong issues. People don’t realize it, but fame and money aren’t tickets to happiness. Some of the most miserable people are wealthy, famous people.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned a few of the more shocking things that happened when Jennette was growing up. Here’s a quick and dirty list.

  • At age six, Debra McCurdy forced her daughter to audition for agents. She had a knack for acting, but she hated it. Her mom made her act, anyway.
  • At age eleven, Jennette started growing breasts. Breasts weren’t good, because they made her look mature. Looking young was good for Jennette’s career, especially on Nickelodeon. So Debra taught her eleven year old daughter how to restrict calories. She noticed when Jennette gained weight and chastised her. She wouldn’t let her eat pineapple, because it was high in sugar.
  • As a young teenager, Jennette still sat in a booster seat in her mother’s car.
  • As a teenager, Jennette’s mother showered her, using her prior experience as a beautician as an excuse– to make sure her hair was pretty for the casting directors. Sometimes, one of her brothers would be forced to join her in the shower.
  • Jennette’s mother discouraged her from being a writer, because she said writers dress frumpy and get fat. She didn’t want Jennette’s “peach butt” to turn into a “watermelon butt”.
  • Jennette’s mother criticized Jennette’s father, Mark, for not working hard enough and being lazy. And she said it was hard for her to have to rely on a child to pay the bills.
  • Jennette’s mother sent her endless abusive text messages, emails, and voicemails calling her filthy names and accusing her of “giving her cancer”. Then, she signed off with “love”, and demanded money for a new refrigerator.
  • Jennette’s mother didn’t have an appreciation for her daughter’s likes and dislikes. She bought her inappropriate gifts and expected her to be delighted with them.
  • Jennette’s mother never told her who her “real” father was, or that the man she thought was her father, wasn’t actually her dad. She never told her that her biological dad had wanted to be in her life.
  • Jennette’s mother was a NARCISSIST.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I write a lot about narcissists. I strongly suspect my husband’s first wife is a narcissist. I’ve written many– some would say– inappropriate blog posts about my husband’s ex wife. I probably shouldn’t do that. It might put me at risk. But, I figure that there’s not much more she can do to us, since she deprived Bill of a relationship with his daughters for many years, and she tried hard to ruin his relationships with his family of origin. If I hadn’t immediately recognized her as the abuser she is, she probably would have tried to ruin our marriage. This is another thing that Jennette has in common with Bill and his daughters. You see, Jennette’s dad– Mark– was not actually her father. Debra McCurdy had an affair with a trombonist and he was the biological father of three of her four children. She never told her daughter. And, just as Ex did her best to sever the relationships her first two husbands had with Ex’s three eldest children, Debra McCurdy did the same to Jennette’s bio dad.

Jennette McCurdy doesn’t mention the word “narcissist” until the very end of the book. I was glad to see she recognizes that extreme behavior for what it is. But, as I read the book, even recognizing that she was a celebrity, I could relate so much. Not because I was raised by narcissists, but because I’ve been the second wife of a man whose ex wife is almost assuredly one. The behavior is VERY familiar. It’s also not hard to see where Debra McCurdy’s behavior came from, as Jennette writes about her equally narcissistic grandmother, whose levels of entitlement are off the charts.

A different interview than the one I shared yesterday about Jennette McCurdy and her explosive new book.

It may seem I’ve given a lot away in this post. Actually, the meat of the story really comes after Debra dies, in 2013. As I sit here, reflecting on that year, I realize that 2013 was some time ago. It doesn’t seem like it was nine years ago. I guess that’s what happens when you turn 50. Nine years doesn’t seem like it was so long ago. Jennette is now only 30. She lost her mom when she was just launching into true adulthood. Debra’s death came after many false alarms– “dress rehearsals”– as Jennette puts it. When her mother died, she was devastated. She still believed the fake version of her life story. It wasn’t until later that she got the truth, and that’s when Jennette’s life was endangered. She turned to bulimia, alcoholism, binge eating, and anorexia. She had lots of bad sex with inappropriate partners, and engaged in codependent behaviors. She abandoned Mormonism, for the most part. I wouldn’t necessarily think that was such a bad thing, except it was the one place where she got comfort as a child and had a few somewhat healthy role models (and knowing what I know about Mormonism, that is, in itself, a sad statement).

I think the part where I was the most stunned and gleaned the most insight was when Jennette’s very first therapist– an earth mother therapist/life coach named Laura– delivered a truth bomb that Jennette simply could not handle at the time. Laura was the first person to point out to Jennette that the idealized version of her mother– a fantasy version that did not exist– was fake. And that all of the things Jennette believed her mother did to “help” her, were in fact, toxic, abusive, and exploitive. Laura was right, of course, but even though she delivered the truth very gently, Jennette still couldn’t take it. It wasn’t until later that she was ready for therapy, this time with a male eating disorder specialist named Jeff. I think I would have liked Jeff more than Laura. Women who act like nurturing “earth mothers” usually annoy me. I seem to relate better to men… as long as they don’t try to control me.

I read a large portion of this book aloud to Bill. It spawned a very interesting and insightful conversation. I think his daughter should read I’m Glad My Mom Died, but I know she’s very busy with Mormonism and her young family. I also fear that reading this book could be triggering for her, because I suspect she will identify with a lot of it. I, for one, found this book very enlightening. I don’t share all of Jennette’s issues, but I relate to much of what she writes about eating disorders and alcoholism. And again… I’ve been married to a man whose Ex is a lot like Debra McCurdy on MANY levels. Ex wasn’t my spouse or my mom, but she’s affected my life, just the same. And it’s all so familiar. As I read this story to Bill, he agreed that it was all so very familiar.

One thing I liked about this book is that Jennette’s chapters are short, well-edited, and easy to digest. I think the short chapters are good, because she drops a lot of “bombshells” that could be shocking for many readers. Her writing is sometimes brutally honest. She uses profanity, and there are some very frank descriptions of sexual encounters, bulimia episodes, and alcoholic escapades. I would caution anyone who has suffered from eating disorders to be cautious about reading this book, because some of Jennette’s stories might be triggering.

My heart kind of broke for Jennette, as she wrote about giving her very first blow job as a consolation to a much older boyfriend, because she wasn’t ready for sex. It broke again as she wrote about her actual first experience with intercourse, with someone who didn’t deserve the honor. And then the guy with whom she had much chemistry turned out to be not so good, either. All I could do was think about how useful it would have been for Jennette to have had a good, stable, loving role model in her mother… or, at least someone who saw her as more than a wallet and status symbol. I’m sure that when the truth hit Jennette, she realized that she wasted a lot of time, money, and affection on someone else who didn’t deserve it… and how heartbreaking it is that the person who probably deserved her love the least, was the person who was responsible for her very existence.

Most of the Amazon reviewers have given I’m Glad My Mom Died good ratings. I’m glad to see that. I think we live in a time now when more people are seeing mothers as fallible, and we’re learning that they can be held accountable. However, I have a feeling there will people who will dislike this book only for the title. They will see it as disrespectful, mean, and shocking. It’s kind of “in your face”, not unlike the Reddit “Am I the Asshole” columns. I would urge anyone reading this book to forget that Debra McCurdy was Jennette’s mom and “deserves” respect and love simply for being her mom. Debra McCurdy was an abusive liar, grifter, and leech. And while she no doubt had mental health issues to go with her cancer, that’s no excuse for stealing her daughter’s childhood and encouraging her to be unhealthy and unhappy. Mothers, ideally, should always put their children ahead of themselves– at least as long as their children are actually children. Debra failed in her mission, and it’s a blessing that her daughter has recognized that she’s worthy of better while she’s still young and can recover her health.

I give I’m Glad My Mom Died a full five stars and a hearty recommendation. But please be advised… this story isn’t for the faint of heart. It can be triggering. It can be offensive. You will probably find yourself gasping in shock, surprise, and dismay a few times. And you will probably laugh a few times, too.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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blog news, book reviews, celebrities, LDS, mental health

Then again, maybe I won’t… at least not today.

At the end of yesterday’s post, I shared two videos by Mr. Atheist. On those videos, Jimmy Snow, aka Mr. Atheist, reacted to videos put out by anti-abortion activist, Kristan Hawkins. I watched the videos and cringed pretty hard. I thought maybe I would offer my own thoughts on them today, but I think that maybe I’ll postpone that plan. I had written I would comment on them if people were interested. It seems that no one was… or, at least no one is at this point in time. And frankly, I just don’t feel like writing about Kristan Hawkins today. I don’t think I can stomach listening to her talk about why abortions should be outlawed in all cases. Besides, Jimmy already does a pretty good job of explaining why Kristan’s opinions are wrong.

Nope. Today, I think I’d rather write about the book I’m reading right now. I’m finding it much more compelling than I did my previous book, The Case for Heaven, which really didn’t interest me much at all. I was glad to finish Lee Strobel’s book about what comes after death. I moved on to my favorite type of book– a celebrity memoir. I’m currently reading Jennette McCurdy’s new book, I’m Glad My Mom Died. The title alone is very compelling, isn’t it? You just KNOW there’s gonna be a trainwreck.

Meet Jennette McCurdy… she is fascinating.

I’m not quite ready to review this book yet, as I’m only about halfway through it. What I will say for now is that Jennette McCurdy’s story reminds me a little of Melissa Francis’s book, Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter: A Memoir. Melissa Francis is, of course, much older than Jennette McCurdy is, but the two have a lot in common. They both suffered stage mothers from hell. Both were actresses, not necessarily because they wanted to be, but because their mothers wanted them to be. Both suffered extreme abuse on all levels. I think Melissa’s mom was more sadistic, while Jennette’s mom was more manipulative and emotionally abusive. Also, to my knowledge, Melissa’s mom is still living, while Jennette’s mom succumbed to breast cancer in 2013.

Before I bought her book, I didn’t even know who Jennette McCurdy is. I’m well beyond the years of watching new Nickelodeon shows– not that the show she was famous for is all that new anymore. Jennette was on iCarly, but she also did guest roles on other shows, commercials, and other stuff. McCurdy’s story is also interesting to me because, besides being raised LDS, she also had problems with eating disorders (which her mother enthusiastically encouraged), anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder. The chapters are very short, so even though I’m only halfway through the book, I’ve already gotten to chapter 44 or so. And each chapter is more shocking than the last, as McCurdy shares the sheer nuttiness of her mother, the craziness of being a child actress, her mental health issues, and the religion aspect that complicates everything. The crazy thing is, she NEVER even wanted to be an actress. She just happens to have a talent for acting, and her narcissistic mother exploited it to the hilt.

I have never been LDS myself, but Bill was LDS for awhile. His daughter is still a very active church member, and the LDS church– which was Ex’s idea– has had an impact on my life. I know a lot about the church, its practices, and what its members believe. However, I have never been a member, nor would I ever be one. McCurdy seems to have gotten a lot of comfort from church when she was growing up. I relate to that, because I know Bill’s daughter has also gotten comfort from the church when things were especially crazy as she was growing up. In some ways, I also see a lot of similarities between the way Ex behaves, and the way Jennette’s mother did. She is extremely manipulative, possessive, controlling, and just plain weird. But I’ll get more into that when I review the book, which at the rate I’m going, should be within the next few days. I’m finding the book a real page turner, but in kind of a trainwreck sort of way. I’m simultaneously fascinated by the story and horrified by what this poor young woman had to cope with when she was a child.

I know some people will take issue with the title… It sounds horrible. However, I can totally understand why she used that title. Her mother sounds like she was true nightmare to have to deal with. For just an example– imagine your mother sending you dozens of emails, text messages, and voice messages after she’s seen pictures of you on TMZ, taken by a paparazzo. You are an adult, in Hawaii with your boyfriend, but you feel you have to lie to your mother about where you are. You come up with a ruse to trick her, only to have it foiled by a photographer, hungry for a sale. Your mom sends you all manner of abuse, accusing you of giving her cancer, bringing her shame, and calling you things like “filthy whore” and “all used up”. Then, as she signs off with “love”, she adds a P.S.– “Please send money for a fridge. Ours broke, and the yogurt is going sour.”

Imagine your mother explaining how to engage in eating disordered behaviors when you’re still a child, in the midst of becoming a woman. Imagine being fourteen years old and still sitting in a booster seat in the car. Imagine your mother insisting on showering you when you’re sixteen, sometimes also with your brother; her excuse is that she’s a former beautician and wants to make sure you wash your hair “correctly”, so it will impress a casting director. Imagine your mom using your money to pay the mortgage, and being forced to sleep on a mat in the dining room, because the bed you purchased for yourself is covered in your mother’s miscellaneous crap.

I know that Melissa Francis and Jennette McCurdy aren’t the only ones with stage mothers from hell. Wil Wheaton has also spoken openly about his own abusive, money hungry, fame whoring parents, who forced him to act when he didn’t want to do it. I’ll probably read his book next, since it’s been in the queue for awhile, and it will probably dovetail nicely with I’m Glad My Mom Died. I love a good tell all memoir, especially when it involves questionable parenting. Shirley MacLaine’s daughter, Sachi Parker, wrote a pretty good one some years ago. It seems the kids who grew up in show business had it the worst, especially in the days before child welfare advocacy was less of a thing than it is today. If a parent was also a celebrity, then the chances for massive dysfunction go up exponentially. Christina Crawford started it when she wrote Mommie Dearest, but there have been some real whoppers since her book was published in 1978. Gary Crosby wrote a pretty shocking book, too.

Anyway… I am looking forward to finishing the book and writing a review of it. I think it will be interesting on many levels to several of my regular readers, as well as new ones who haven’t found my blog yet. So stay tuned. I’ll sign off now and get back to reading.

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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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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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