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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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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Repost: A review of Sachi Parker’s book, Lucky Me…

Here’s a repost of my review of Sachi Parker’s book, Lucky Me, which I originally read and reviewed on Epinions.com in June 2013. I previously reposted this review on my original blog when I wrote it for Epinions, but I included some extra commentary. I am including my extra comments in this repost, which appears as/is.

From the Blogspot OH repost in June 2013:

Sachi Parker is the only child of actress Shirley MacLaine and her late ex husband, Steve Parker.  When she was two years old, young Sachi was bundled up and sent off to Japan to live with her father, while her mother stayed in Los Angeles to build her very successful film career.  What Shirley didn’t know back then was that Steve Parker had a mistress, a Japanese woman named Miki who proved to be very Machiavellian. 

Sachi would see her mother sporadically.  She describes their meetings as fun for the first four hours or so.  After that, her mother’s eyes would sort of glaze over and she would be done… ready for her child or anyone else clamoring for attention to go away.  Shirley MacLaine was reportedly stingy with money and compliments.  She expected her daughter’s loyalty and honesty.  She employed draconian methods to get Sachi to do her bidding.  One time, when Sachi lost expensive plane tickets from England to Japan, to get Sachi from her boarding school back to her father’s home, Shirley accused her of cashing them in for money.  She collected her daughter and her friend, Yuki, in London and locked the two of them in separate hotel rooms.  She denied them food until Sachi confessed that she’d been “lying”, even though she’d actually been telling the truth.  When Sachi later told her mom that she’d lied about lying, her mother starved her again, this time in a New York City hotel room.

One time, when Sachi’s school year ended at a Swiss boarding school, she waited in vain for one of her parents to pick her up.  When they didn’t show, she went with a classmate, whose father worked in an Eastern Bloc country.  For two weeks, she tagged along with this family while they were on vacation in Europe, trying in vain to call her parents.  One night, she went out on the streets of Trieste where she ran into an old Italian prostitute who very kindly took care of her and got her back to her hotel.  She tucked her into bed.   

The family took her to Yugoslavia.  After growing tired of sponging off her classmate’s family, she told them she was taken care of.  They left her, believing they had helped her as best they could.  She went into a cheap hotel and started crying.  An elderly Yugoslavian couple that didn’t speak English took pity on Sachi and took her home with them.  She spent two weeks living with this couple, helping them on their farm, all the while trying to call her parents. 

Sachi’s father wasn’t much better.  As a young girl, Sachi was expected to accompany her father when he went out on the town.  He would make inappropriate comments about her body.  He would take her to bars.  One night he took her to a gay bar where all the waiters were nude.  The waiters had an interesting way of serving drinks.  They would stir cocktails with their dicks.  Sachi’s dad actually had to stop one of them from stirring his daughter’s Shirley Temple that way.

Sachi later found out that her father had bilked her mother for millions of dollars.  And yet, Shirley wouldn’t give her daughter any money to help her when she needed it.  When Sachi turned 18 and was done with high school, Shirley presented her with an expensive diamond necklace and told her she was on her own.

Lucky Me is a pretty amazing book.  Some people have said that it’s full of lies, probably because some of Sachi’s claims are so incredibly far-fetched.  And yet, knowing what I do about narcissism, I believe she’s written the truth.  The book is a bit trashy… and parts of it are pretty tasteless.  And yet, I found it fascinating because they really show what a narcissistic mother is like.  If what she’s written is true, Shirley MacLaine is completely lacking in empathy and keeps people close to her on edge at all times.  It’s sad, because even though she was apparently very abusive, I got the sense that her daughter loves her very much… despite airing all their dirty laundry.

I hope Sachi’s book does well.  She’s been through a lot.  Having a narcissistic mother must be a massive mind fuck.  As talented as I think Shirley MacLaine is, I have to say I see her differently now.

Sachi Parker has few terms of endearment for her mom, Shirley MacLaine.

Below is my review, originally published on Epinions.com.

Actress Shirley MacLaine is one of Hollywood’s legends.  She has put out some extraordinary films over her long, illustrious career.  She’s also well known for being very much into new age thinking; spirits, mediums, and psychics have been the subjects of her many books.  Until a couple of weeks ago, I knew nothing about her only daughter, Sachi Parker.  But when I saw that Parker, MacLaine’s daughter with Steve Parker, had written a book called Lucky Me: My Life With- and Without- My Mom, Shirley MacLaine (2013), I had to read it. 

I love a good tell-all, even if it’s kind of trashy.  A lot of people who have reviewed this book have openly doubted its truthfulness, mainly because of some of the wild and occasionally tasteless stories the author shares.  In fact, I think this book is pretty trashy myself… and yet, I do think Sachi Parker has been truthful, even if she hasn’t been discreet.  The irony is, throughout this book, Sachi explains that she grew up in Japan, where society demands decorum, discretion, and maintaining dignity.  She writes that for much of her life, she was like a Japanese woman who looked Irish on the outside.  Culturally, she identified with Japan because she had lived there from the age of two with her father, Steve Parker, and his mistress and later wife, Miki.  Sachi rarely saw her mother when she was growing up.  When she did see her, the visits were a confusing mix of great fun, high drama, and even higher anxiety.  As I finished reading, it occurred to me that if Sachi Parker has written the truth, there’s a good chance Shirley MacLaine has at least one personality disorder.

Make no mistake about it; Lucky Me is full of weirdness.  Sachi Parker writes of situations that are just plain bizarre.  She describes situations in which both of her parents were abusive and neglectful to the point of being very cruel.  She writes of trying very hard to win their approval and stay in their good graces.  Some of her stories are extraordinary.  Being the daughter of a star had its perks; yet once she graduated high school, Parker was expected to take care of herself.  Her mother presented her with an expensive Belgian diamond necklace and wished her luck because as far as Shirley MacLaine was concerned, Sachi was on her own. 

Although she spent her early years with her father in Tokyo, she wasn’t particularly close to him, either.  One time, he called her on her birthday and said he wanted to spend time with her, but alas, he was in Italy on business.  The phone call was complete with the static one would expect in a long distance 70s era phone call and a woman speaking Italian, supposedly the operator.  At the time, Sachi was working at hotel where her father had a suite that was off limits to her.  She managed to con the front desk into giving her a key to the suite.  She went there to check it out and found her father there having a marijuana fueled sex orgy.  He didn’t see her; she was able to bow out quickly.  But he had told her a convincing lie that she would have believed had she not gotten forbidden access to his suite and seen with her own eyes what he was doing.

Sachi writes of her mother turning her emotions off and on as if she had a switch.  She describes Shirley MacLaine as being very mercurial and lacking in empathy.  At times she was generous with compliments, but then her opinions would spin on a dime.  As I read her book, I realized that Sachi Parker was describing someone with extreme narcissistic personality disorder, complete with the crazymaking behaviors that come from a person who has a cluster B personality disorder.  She never outright claims that’s what her mother’s issue is, but having studied NPD extensively, that was the impression I got.  And since Sachi never writes that she thinks her mother has NPD and I recognize the behaviors so well, it makes me think that she’s probably written the truth. 

Unfortunately for Sachi, her father’s behavior wasn’t much better.  From what she writes, he basically used Shirley MacLaine for her money.  The two were married, but she lived in Los Angeles and he lived in Tokyo with his Japanese mistress.  Neither parent was emotionally available to their daughter; she was expected to handle situations as a child that were way beyond what was appropriate.  At one point, Sachi writes about her father taking her out on the town on school nights.  She’d long to go to bed because she had school in the morning and would always be tired the following day, but he insisted that she come with him.  One time, he even took her to a gay bar where the wait staff were all naked men.  Though the food was exquisite, the wait staff had an unusual way of serving cocktails.  Let’s just say at that place, the term “cocktail” was literal.

Sachi Parker writes of many situations in which her parents abandoned her.  From my perspective, she’d been trained from an early age to crave their attention and approval and do everything possible not to make them angry.  When they were angry, it was epic… and she would suffer for it.  On the other hand, both parents would reward her if she did what they wanted her to do.  She craved that reward and kept coming back to them again and again for that rare beam of love that normal loving parents deliver with ease.  Someone who hadn’t grown up craving that love probably would have cut ties years prior. 

Although some readers might find Lucky Me to be distasteful, I find it to be kind of refreshing.  If what Sachi Parker writes is true, then writing this book must have been very liberating.  Children of narcisssistic parents live their lives in chains, constantly monitoring themselves to keep their parents happy and approving.  They are carefully taught not to incur the wrath of the narcissistic parent because when they do, there is hell to pay. 

Writing this book and revealing all the weird, abusive, neglectful stuff that happened to her over the years is a way for Sachi to take control of her own personal power.  Putting it out there for the world to read, I’m sure, was her way of sending her mother a good hearty “fuck you”.  Many people might say she should have “risen above” airing her dirty laundry.  Sachi had done that for most of her life and it hadn’t gotten her anywhere.  Abusive people thrive on other people keeping their secrets and not holding them accountable.  The way to escape abuse it to shine a light on it from a safe distance.  When it comes down to it, abusive people are cowards who are rightfully ashamed of themselves.  And yet, despite the fact that Sachi wrote this very bold, revealing, and damning book, I still get the sense that she still longs for her mother’s love and approval.  Sadly, at age 57, Sachi Parker is probably now considered dead to her mother.

Parker includes photos.  They showed up great on my iPad.

Overall

I suspect Sachi Parker is going to catch a lot of hell for writing this book.  From what I’ve read in other reviews, a lot of people doubt her story.  Shirley MacLaine is a highly respected, extremely talented actress.  Her many fans will not like this book.  Other people who recognize extreme narcissism will applaud Sachi Parker for writing this book.  And some people who don’t care one way or the other will enjoy this book because it’s really juicy… not just for what Sachi Parker writes about her parents, but because Parker has led a life that has taken her to some very strange, exciting, and dangerous places.  Say what you want about Lucky Me’s trashiness;  it is definitely NOT a dull read.

I give it four stars.

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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, celebrities

Repost: A review of Going My Own Way by Gary Crosby…

Here’s a repost of a review I wrote on January 2, 2015 about Gary Crosby’s tell all book on growing up as Bing Crosby’s son, Going My Own Way. It appears here as/is.

For years, I heard about the controversial book the late Gary Crosby, eldest son of the late Bing Crosby, wrote about his parents.  The book, entitled Going My Own Way, was published in 1983 and was considered a “scathing” account of the reality of what it was like to grow up the son of a big Hollywood star who portrayed himself as the consummate family man.  I am a little too young for Bing Crosby, though I do remember the duet he did with David Bowie back in the 70s…

A classic Christmas duet circa 1977…

I didn’t actually see the Christmas special that spawned this version of “The Little Drummer Boy”, but over the years, the video has been replayed during the holiday season.  I also remember Mary Crosby, Bing’s daughter, who played Kristin Shepard on Dallas and was credited with shooting J.R. Ewing.  Aside from that, I only heard about Bing… and Bill has told me that a few years after Gary Crosby’s book came out, the late Phil Hartman, who was then on Saturday Night Live, did a spoof about how when Bing’s sons misbehaved, they needed to go have a “talk” in the library.

I was curious about the book and the cultural references to it, so I decided to purchase a used copy.  I recently finished reading Going My Own Way and, I must admit, it was very interesting.  As “scathing” memoirs go, I didn’t think it was all that bad.  Gary Crosby was Bing Crosby’s eldest son with his first wife, Dixie Lee.  He grew up in a huge house in Hollywood, surrounded by servants, many of whom were black.  Crosby’s mother was a strict disciplinarian and a serious alcoholic who relied on an Irish nurse named Georgie to keep Gary and his brothers, Phil, Denny, and Lindsay, in line. 

Like his wife, Bing Crosby was also a very strict disciplinarian who strongly believed in employing corporal punishment, strict rules, and verbal abuse to control his sons.  Crosby writes that it was difficult for him to have friends because his parents were so strict.  It wasn’t often that he was allowed to bring friends over or go to friends’ houses.  Crosby’s parents were quick to remind their sons that they were not special simply because they were Bing Crosby’s sons.  Though they were educated at private schools, they were not treated differently and didn’t hang out with Hollywood types.  Indeed,  from the time the boys were eleven until they were adults, each summer Bing Crosby sent them to work at a ranch he owned.  They learned how to herd cattle and make hay bales alongside men of much more modest means.  Crosby writes that he hated the ranch work because his father forced him to do it, though he might have enjoyed it a lot more if he’d been the one who chose to go. 

Gary Crosby had a weight problem when he was growing up.  His backside was wide, which caused his father to refer to him as “bucket butt” or “satchel ass”.  According to Gary, Bing would even call his son these names in public, particularly in front of Bing’s friends.  Bing Crosby ordered his son to lose weight and would force him to endure weigh ins.  If he didn’t lose weight, Gary would get a whipping.   Bing used a belt that had metal studs in it and would beat his boys until they bled.  At the first drop of blood, the beating would stop.  Gary writes that he used to hope he’d bleed early.  

Bing Crosby and Gary Crosby perform together…

When Gary became a teenager, he had a strict curfew and would often have to leave social events early in order to appease his father, who would not hesitate to use a belt and verbal abuse to get his point across.  It wasn’t until Gary was 18 years old and had finally had enough that the whippings stopped.  By that time, his father had traded the belt for a cane.  I must admit, reading that part of the book resonated with me.  I had a similar experience with my own father, who was also a proponent of physical punishment and last struck me when I was almost 21 years old.  My father was also one to use verbal abuse…  indeed, reading about some of Crosby’s experiences rang very true to me, since my dad did a lot of the same things to a milder extent.  Crosby also writes about his father’s penchant for womanizing and drinking, as well as holding gifts over his sons’ heads in order to control them.  Gary Crosby had his own issues with alcohol and drugs, which he writes about in the book.  He also was one to get in fist fights when the mood struck.

Crosby uses a lot of slang and filthy language in his memoir.  Personally, I wasn’t offended by it.  In fact, the slang sort of gave the book a 50s nuance, which makes sense, since Crosby was born in the 30s and would have been a young person in the 50s.  I liked that he included photos, which helped me put faces to his stories.  I also got the sense that despite the abuse, he did love his parents, especially his mother.  He even writes a message to his other siblings, products of Bing Crosby’s second marriage to Kathryn Crosby, that the father he knew was not the same man as the father who raised them.  And Crosby even admits that his father passed along musical talent to him and the ranch work gave him useful skills outside of show business.  As one who has a perverse interest in Pat Boone’s career, I liked that Gary Crosby also writes about what it was like to work with Boone.  Apparently, Crosby thought Boone was a nice guy and easy to work with, despite his love of “clean livin’.”  Pat Boone, as we all know, is also a big believer in spankings.

Gary and Bing sing with Frank Jr.

Gary Crosby’s mother died in 1952 of ovarian cancer.  At the time of Dixie Lee’s passing, Gary was studying at Stanford University, where he wasn’t a particularly good student.  I was moved by how he described his father’s pained reaction to his mother’s deteriorating condition.  Yes, he writes a lot about how “the old man” abused him and his brothers, but he also somehow manages to give his father a human face.  That’s why I say the memoir wasn’t that scathing.  Yes, it was probably shocking to those who grew up with Bing Crosby and loved his music, but as someone who also grew up with an alcoholic and occasionally abusive father, I thought Gary Crosby was just being honest.  I think back in the 80s, when this book was originally published, corporal punishment and verbal abuse were much more accepted as normal parenting than they are now.  While I think sometimes Americans are going a little too far in the other direction with how they are parenting their children, as someone who experienced growing up with an alcoholic, I feel like Gary Crosby was very truthful in his account.  He was not just a whiner.   

Gary Crosby died in 1995 of lung cancer. He was 62 at the time of his death and had married three times. You can read a chapter of Going My Own Way here. Here is an article from a 1983 issue of People magazine about Gary’s book.

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