book reviews, celebrities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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, mental health, music

Repost: Judy Collins shares her thoughts on Cravings…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Suite Judy Blue Eyes”

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

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

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

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book reviews, celebrities

Repost: LaToya Jackson’s life story circa 1992…

And finally, one last repost for today… I originally read this obscure book in 1992 and reviewed it for Epinions in 2011. It appears here as/is.

I’ve been on a Golden Girls kick lately, so picture it, May 29, 1956, Gary, Indiana.  A fragile infant daughter is born to Joseph and Katherine Jackson.  As the fifth of nine children (a tenth child, Marlon Jackson’s twin brother, died shortly after birth), she will grow up one of the middle children in a powerful family musical dynasty.  But on the day of her birth, her family is poor. 

La Toya Yvonne Jackson would grow up watching her talented brothers form a group called The Jackson Five.  She would see her brother, Michael, become “the king of pop”, and her sister, Janet, become a successful actress and pop star in her own right.  And La Toya Jackson would try to branch out on her own with musical albums and television appearances.  She would never match the success of her siblings.  But in 1992, she would publish a book that, she claims, her family would never want the public to read. 

La Toya Jackson may not have been as famous as any of her brothers or her sister Janet, but in 1992, she was in the midst of a scandal.  Married, to her svengali-esque manager, Jack Gordon, from 1989 until 1997, La Toya Jackson was persuaded to publish her 1992 memoir, La Toya: Growing Up in the Jackson Family.  This book has long been out of print.  I picked it up at the now defunct Peoples’ Drug Store, which had an outlet in Farmville, Virginia, where I went to college.  At age 19, I read this book for the first time and learned about the Jackson family as told by La Toya Jackson to her ghost writer, Patricia Romanowski.  I have since read this book several more times.  It’s not that I’m a big fan of La Toya’s or even the Jacksons as a whole.  It’s just that this is a pretty interesting book.  And it even came out before the mini series about the Jackson family that is always playing on VH1.

LaToya talks about the book.

Family ties and the JWs

La Toya Jackson starts at the beginning, describing her parents’ histories.  Katherine Jackson, nee Katherine Scruse, came from Russell County, Alabama.  La Toya Jackson and her siblings called her mother’s father, Prince Scruse, “Daddy”, while they called their own father by his first name, Joseph.  La Toya explains that no Jackson child could ever be spoiled.  Joseph Jackson was a hardworking but very strict father.  Katherine Jackson was a loving and God fearing mother. 

When La Toya was young, her mother became a Jehovah’s Witness.  La Toya writes that her grandparents felt sorry for the children because they could no longer celebrate Christmas, so they would buy them presents and take them to Christmas parties.  Katherine Jackson permitted the holiday celebrations because she saw that they brought her children joy; other than that, everyone except for Joseph converted to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and followed its teachings.  La Toya includes some interesting information about what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, as well as some interesting anecdotes about her experiences with the faith.  She also writes that no one was forced to convert to the Witnesses; everyone did so voluntarily, though some of her siblings eventually abandoned the faith.

Joseph Jackson… not sparing the rod

By La Toya Jackson’s account, Joseph Jackson was a big believer in corporal punishment.  She writes that she was an excellent student, but shy in class.  One day, she brought home a report card that explained that her work was outstanding, but the teacher felt she was too quiet and shy and therefore wasn’t mature enough for the next grade.  She recommended holding La Toya back a grade.  La Toya paid for that note home with a severe beating.  Joseph locked her in a bathroom and threw a book at her, ordering her to read it.  Her brothers and sisters sidestepped her sobbing, bleeding body as they washed up for dinner.

The family business   

La Toya Jackson explains how fame changed her family.  They moved from their tiny Gary, Indiana house to southern California and purchased Hayvenhurst, the famed Jackson compound.  She dishes on what it was like to be a young adult living in that house with her brothers.  She sheds some light on what it was like to live with Michael at the height of his Thriller fame.  She also makes some stunning allegations about Joseph Jackson and his penchant for abuse, both physical and sexual. 

Brides, Prince, Playboy, and sideshows…

La Toya writes about her brothers’ marriages and romances.  She includes one particularly lurid account of her brother Jackie’s romance with Paula Abdul, which happened when he was married.  It may be worth the price of the book just to read about what happened to poor Paula at the hands of Jackie’s wife, Enid.  She writes of the variety show the Jacksons put on in the 1970s as an answer to another big religious family’s television fame, The Osmonds.  She also offers an interesting account of meeting Prince, who evidently took a liking to her and completely freaked her out.

La Toya also writes about her decision to do a spread for Playboy magazine.  Given her strict religious upbringing and fastidious nature, the decision to pose for a men’s magazine was not without scandal.  If you read La Toya’s book, you will get her thoughts about that experience, at least as it was in 1992. 

We Are The World…

Though I am definitely old enough to remember the original recording of “We Are The World”, I did not know La Toya was a member of the choir.  She includes some very interesting anecdotes about what it was like to sing that landmark song with musical legends of the 1980s, like Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Steve Perry, Kenny Loggins, Kenny Rogers, Bette Midler, Dionne Warwick, and so many others.  I have to admit, I really miss the 1980s sometimes and reading about “We Are The World” before Justin Bieber sang it really kind of feeds my nostalgia.

A grain of salt…

It’s important to take this book with a grain of salt.  First off, when this book was written, La Toya was on the outs with her family.  She was married to her manager, Jack Gordon, whom she describes in this book as the love of her life.  Years after this book was published, she later described him as abusive and exploitative.  It’s hard to know where the truth lies.  Secondly, La Toya has publicly recanted a lot of what she wrote in this book.  There have, however, been other accounts that allege abuse and strife within the family.  

My thoughts

I’m not too sure how seriously I should take La Toya Jackson’s book.  I think it’s well written and it’s certainly titillating enough.  I’m sure that there is truth to much of what La Toya writes.  However, I also realize that she grew up in the shadow of Hollywood and at the time this book was written, had reason to sensationalize and embellish.  It seemed to me this book was written purely to make money, both for her and her greedy ex husband, Jack Gordon.

I appreciated the fact that La Toya included pictures.  It was kind of cool to see the Jacksons in all their 1970s splendor, at  a time when I was too young to appreciate them.  I also liked some of La Toya’s family anecdotes.  She implies that she enjoyed a very close relationship with her family, until everything went south…  From what I can tell, that closeness is back, now that she’s not with her former manager anymore.  This book was also published right before La Toya released an album, which seems like a slick marketing move.

On the other hand, I think this book is entertaining and will probably be interesting to Jackson fans.  Yes, it’s lurid, and maybe it’s not the whole truth.  But if you want to get your hands on every scrap of information about the Jackson family, it may not be a bad idea to pick up this book. 

Overall  

If you like the Jacksons and are interested in trivia, you might want to read La Toya’s book.  I’ve certainly read worse.

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book reviews, celebrities, divorce

A review of Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life, by Julianna Margulies…

Last spring, I happened to come across an article about actress Julianna Margulies, and the book she had just published, Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life. Although I never got into Julianna Margulies’ career beyond her stint on E.R., the article had made her new book sound compelling. Maybe it was because the article also mentioned George Clooney, an actor who didn’t impress me when I first saw him on the early 80s era sitcom, E/R, with Elliott Gould, or when he was on The Facts of Life during its shark jumping years. E.R. gave me new respect for George Clooney, and Julianna Margulies had great chemistry with him on that show. It was probably one of my favorite shows in my lifetime. I downloaded the book, but only now have gotten around to reading it.

I just finished Sunshine Girl this morning. I don’t know what I was expecting when I bought it. I think I was excited to get it, but for some reason, kept putting off reading it. And now that I’ve read it, I have huge new respect for Julianna Margulies. Wow– what an amazing life she’s led, on so many levels! She reveals a surprisingly intelligent, insightful, and experienced person beneath the roles she’s famously played on TV– Nurse Carol Hathaway on E.R., and then attorney, Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife. She can now add “successful author” to her long list of accomplishments. Aside from writing Sunshine Girl, Margulies is also the author of a children’s book titled Three Magic Balloons.

Margulies basics

Margulies was born the third daughter and youngest child to her parents, Paul and Francesca Margulies. Paul Margulies was a successful New York based ad executive. He’s the one who came up with the famous slogan for Alka-Seltzer, “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.”

Julianna’s dad came up with this.

Julianna Margulies’ mother, Francesca, was a ballet dancer who taught eurythmy and was an expert in anthroposophy, concepts championed by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, scientist, and artist. It is Steiner’s ideas that propelled the educational movement behind Waldorf Schools. A Waldorf or Steiner Education focuses on developing students’ “intellectual, artistic, and practical skills in an integrated and holistic manner.” Julianna’s parents were incompatible, and got divorced when Julianna was very young. They were both of Jewish heritage, although Julianna’s mother converted to Christianity when Julianna and her sisters were children. She writes in her book that she considers herself Jewish, but is not religious.

For some reason, Julianna’s mother– referred to as Francesca in the dedication, as well as in other sources– is pictured at the end of the Kindle version of this book with the name Janice Marylin Gardner (nee Goldberg). I’m not sure if that was an error, or her mom changed her name. In any case, Julianna, and her two older sisters, Alexandra and Rachel, grew up moving from place to place as their mom worked in different Waldorf schools. Julianna was fluent in French because her mother had moved to France so that the girls could be close to their father, who was working in Paris. Then, they moved to Sussex, England, where Julianna developed a perfect British accent; she got mocked for it when she later moved to New York, only to move back to England for a couple more years. Then she landed in New Hampshire, where she had to learn to decipher the thick New England accents she encountered there.

All of the moving around was traumatic for Julianna and her sisters. Her eldest sister, Alexandra, had so much trouble dealing with their mother’s idiosyncrasies that when she became a teenager, she refused to live with her anymore. Alexandra was a talented ballet dancer and went to the School of American Ballet, while Rachel and Julianna continued to flit from place to place on two continents and through different countries. At one point, they were supposed to live in Germany, but Julianna’s mother had hated Germany. It reminded her too much of Hitler. She moved to England, abruptly changing the plans for Julianna and Rachel, and causing them massive stress from the upheaval.

The Sunshine Girl…

The incredible stress caused from living “hand to mouth” as a child– constantly leaving friends and beloved pets– and dealing with her mother’s penchant for loving and leaving different men– caused Julianna Margulies to become a people pleaser. This is a quality that reminds me a lot of my husband, who would rather die than hurt someone.

Julianna Margulies writes so many anecdotes about how she bent over for others, tolerating abuse from everyone from customers in restaurants where she waited tables to family members. She spent over ten years in an abusive relationship with another actor who took her for granted and expected her to cater to his needs. She tolerated abusive work environments, constantly pushing herself to the limits for other people and never taking the time to enjoy the fruits of her labors and talents. All the while, even though she was a “sunshine girl” to others, she was denying herself. Her mother had dubbed her the “sunshine girl” as a term of endearment, but that label became an albatross as she constantly yielded to other people’s needs, not wanting to rock the boat.

Why did Sunshine Girl affect me so much?

I think I was moved by Julianna Margulies’ life story because her story reminds me so much of my husband and his daughters. My husband, Bill, has two daughters with his ex wife. He wasn’t allowed to see or communicate with them after he and his ex wife divorced. We’re finding out now how that situation affected Bill’s younger daughter; the older one is still estranged. Julianna Margulies’ story, while not quite as tragic as Bill’s has been, is somewhat similar. I actually gained some perspective reading Sunshine Girl, and also some validation. I even read some of it aloud to Bill.

Julianna Margulies met some really good people– dear friends who have stayed in her life and offered her wisdom and kindness. She’s stayed down to earth and humble, in spite of her massive success as an actress. I felt like I could really relate to her as a person. She seems like someone I’d love to have as a friend, in spite of her unconventional life. Actually, Julianna Margulies’ life isn’t that strange to me, having heard my husband’s story. In many ways, they have things in common with each other… as do my husband’s daughters. My husband, in particular, could write a book, and probably should.

Julianna’s epiphany

Anyone who loved E.R. remembers how Julianna Margulies famously turned down 27 million dollars to extend her contract. So many people told her she was crazy to leave the show. She was in her early 30s at the time, and people didn’t expect her career to flourish beyond what seemed like the pinnacle. But Julianna ignored all of the advice given to her by so many people. She decided to quit because she wanted to act in a play. She didn’t like living in Los Angeles as much as she did New York, where the seasons change. The playwright had written a role expressly for her. It was a challenge that excited her. And she wisely realized, with help from her father, that money isn’t everything. Sometimes, you have to take a risk to get the most out of life.

Margulies writes that people were merciless to her in the wake of that decision. She got raked over the coals by the pundits on The View. Barbara Walters and Joy Behar were both particularly nasty and haughty about Margulies’ decision. Walters even asked, “Who does this girl think she is?” And Behar predicted Margulies would never work as an actress again. Happily, Margulies proved them BOTH wrong, when she landed her role as Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife, a show that went on for seven successful seasons. I never got into that show myself, but now I might have to watch it.

Julianna confronts her parents…

One other aspect of the book really stands out to me. That’s when Margulies confronts her parents for the way she was raised. On one hand, she really did live an interesting and unexpected life. Despite being “broke” a lot of the time, she had some pretty cool experiences in England and France, and she got to attend Sarah Lawrence College, a very expensive and exclusive institution of higher learning. She also completed a semester abroad in Florence, Italy, but she actually hated it there. Like me, when I was growing up, she rode ponies and competed in horse shows. She even took care of a pony she “found” in England who had been cast out as too stubborn to work with. I related to that, too… And, like me, Julianna is also a Gemini.

In spite of those experiences, though, she largely grew up without her father in her life. He stayed in New York, so she didn’t get to spend much time with him. Her mother was erratic and irresponsible. Julianna and her sisters had to grow up fast. When Julianna was pregnant with her son, she read a bundle of letters she’d written to her dad. He had given them to her as a Christmas gift, thinking she would love to read them. What the letters actually did, though, was remind Julianna of how difficult her childhood was, and how much she’d missed her father. She confronted him, and he ended up explaining his perspective. She hadn’t had all of the information about how he’d been affected by the divorce. She hadn’t known how much he’d missed her, and how much he’d struggled emotionally and financially, after the divorce. I was glad to see that she acquired wisdom, as she also found the answers to questions that obviously plagued her when she was coming of age.

I have witnessed this same phenomenon, as my husband’s younger daughter has been filling Bill in on life after divorce. Likewise, he’s explained to her what it was like for him. Together, they have come to a mutual understanding. Julianna was lucky in that her parents seemingly were able to work together. She wasn’t totally estranged from her dad, like my husband’s daughters have been. But she did have a mom who was self-absorbed and inconsiderate on many levels, and very stubborn when it came to doing whatever she wanted, regardless of other people’s needs.. Thankfully, Julianna also confronted her mom, and her mom was able to apologize… in her own sort of histrionic way. Julianna explains the apology was all she needed.

I’m glad Julianna Margulies was able to reconcile these issues with her parents. Her father passed away in 2014, the same year my dad died. I’m sure she would have been devastated if she’d never been able to work this out with her dad before his life ended.

Caveats

I will caution to anyone looking for “dirt” about ER or The Good Wife that this book may not be what they want to read. This isn’t a “dishy” book about her shows. This is a book about Julianna Margulies. I think her life’s events make for an excellent story, in and of itself. Maybe someone should turn it into a mini-series. Maybe someone will.

I also note that some of the stories in this book can be found in articles online. Those who have followed Julianna Margulies’ career closer than I have may be frustrated that they’ve heard on Oprah or read in magazines some of the material that is presented in this book. That was not an issue for me, though, because I haven’t heard or read anything about her in the years since she left E.R., and I would not expect to read about Margulies’ co-stars in a book that is clearly about Julianna Margulies’ life.

Julianna Margulies talks about her book.

Overall

I found Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life to be a very satisfying read. So often, when it comes to celebrity memoirs, it turns out the author has nothing to say. I don’t think that’s true in Julianna Margulies’ story. She’s led a “fairytale life”, as her dad put it, but she’s definitely paid her dues. She’s humble, wise, and real, and yet has a very intriguing history. I’m grateful she was able to share it in her book. I truly got a lot out of Sunshine Girl, and found it to be a fast paced and well-written book. I also enjoyed the photos of Julianna and her family, and appreciated getting a sense of who she is off camera.

If you’re interested in a good life story, I think Sunshine Girl is well worth reading. I think learning about anthroposophy and eurhythmy alone is worth the price of the book. Not surprisingly, my husband already knew all about both. 😉

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