book reviews, celebrities

A review of Sally Field’s life story, In Pieces…

Four years ago, weeks before we moved to Wiesbaden, actress Sally Field, who was then 71 years old, published her memoirs, titled In Pieces. I downloaded the book in October of that year, fully intending to read it immediately. But then stuff happened. We moved, and other books and current events came up. Sally’s book drifted further and further down my “to be read” list, in favor of other books that I considered more pressing because they covered current events or otherwise “hot” or interesting topics.

Recently, Sally Field commented about the trend of right wing politicians trying to take away women’s rights to choose whether or not they want to be pregnant. Field said in an interview for Variety,

“Those men who are doing that, and they’re mostly male governors who are doing it, are so backward, so ignorant and really just power hungry,” the two-time Academy Award winner, 75, said. “I think it’s criminal.”

“They’re so wanting to roll back the achievements and important progress for women, for Blacks, for the LGBTQ community.”

She continued:

“I can’t say enough horrible things about what I feel about those men,” she said. “If you see them coming toward me, those two governors specifically, lead me out of the way because I cannot be responsible for what I would do. [Addressing her publicist] Heidi, do you hear me? Lead me away.”

I had basically forgotten about Sally Field’s memoirs until a few weeks ago, when I read a news article about the war on abortion. A journalist for People Magazine mentioned that Sally Field had an abortion in the 1960s, when she was a young actress struggling to break into the entertainment industry. The year was 1964, and Field was just 17 years old. She had to go to Tijuana, Mexico to have the procedure, since it was not legal in the United States. The story about her abortion was in her book, In Pieces, which reminded me that I bought the book several years ago. It was because of her comments about abortion that I decided it was time to read Sally’s life story. I believe very strongly that people should have the right to have an abortion, and it’s no one else’s business.

I finally finished the book last night. I’ve always liked Sally Field as an actress, and now that I’ve read her book, I like her even more as a person. Curiously, some people on Amazon commented that this book was “whiny” and “poorly written”. I don’t agree with them. I’m not sure what would have made the book better for them. This is Sally Field’s story. Everybody has a story. This is hers. There are aspects of her story that may be distasteful for some people. Yes, she had an abortion. She did not have a good relationship with her biological father, a man named Dick Field, whom she says she didn’t enjoy visiting after he and her mother divorced. She was also sexually abused by her stepfather, Jocko (Jacques O’Mahoney), and had a difficult relationship with the late Burt Reynolds, who also had a difficult relationship with Loni Anderson, whose life story I read years ago.

In spite of all of that, Sally Field has had an amazing career as an actress on television and the big screen. She’s done everything from sitcoms to high drama, and she’s been incredibly successful. And she’s raised three sons, whom she obviously loves very much. I will be 50 years old in June; Sally’s been acting since before I was born, and one of her sons is my age. I think I’ve always liked her because she reminds me a lot of my sister, Becky.

This was way before my time…
Not one of Sally’s favorite roles.

One thing I would mention about In Pieces is that this book isn’t mainly about Sally’s roles. Anyone who picks up this book wanting to know a lot about Sally’s experiences starring on ER as a bipolar mother, or her turn as a housewife turned comedienne in Punchline with Tom Hanks, will be disappointed. She does write about some of her roles– notably Norma Rae, which was a fabulous movie from 1977– and Sybil, a made for television movie she made in 1976. She also writes about Gidget and The Flying Nun, and how neither of those roles were very exciting or challenging for her. Actually, I get the sense that Field hated being The Flying Nun, and hadn’t wanted to do that show at all. But she was advised by her stepfather, Jocko, himself an actor, that she should take the work. Sally’s mother, Margaret Field, who was also an actress, was always present in her life– kind of in an unhealthy way. They were basically enmeshed. Sally’s mom needed to live her own life, but every time she started to try to break away from Sally, something would happen. Her mom would end up depending on Sally, and Sally would depend on her mom.

People were always telling Sally what to do, and perhaps because she felt the need to please people, she did what they said… until she finally learned that she should listen to her own counsel. As someone who is married to an overly responsible people pleaser, I could really appreciate that part of Sally’s story. She ties it up nicely toward the end of the book, as she’s talking to a therapist, who turns a “light” on in her psyche and delivers wisdom in a figurative thunderbolt of insight. She got that insight in time to share it with her mother, just before her death in 2011.

Field writes about her sister, Princess, who was the product of her mother’s marriage to Jocko, and there’s a bit about her older brother, Rick, who is a scientist. Poor Rick never got along with his and Sally’s father, Dick, who was in the military and went off to fight in World War II. When he left, his wife was a homemaker. When he came back, she had a career as an actress and had taken up with Jocko. His marriage was destroyed, and his children wanted nothing to do with him. I felt kind of sad for him, but I also realized that, based on this book, Sally Field had a lot of bad experiences with important men in her life. But, based on her story, it sounds like her mother was a big part of the reason why her relationships were difficult. Her mom would do things to try to sabotage her romances, telling her that the men she wanted to be with weren’t “good” for her. It wasn’t until she was quite old that she finally told her mother what happened with her stepfather. And her mother, to her credit, took responsibility for her part… and turning a blind eye to the abuse.

One of Sally’s best performances!

I will warn readers that this isn’t a particularly “happy” story. Sally Field has had a messy life, parts of which were quite difficult. Anyone who is hoping for a positive, uplifting story will probably be disappointed. Personally, I enjoyed In Pieces. It gave me some insight into who Sally Field is as a person, as well as some insight about Burt Reynolds, who was a similarly complicated and interesting person. I see that most of the negative reviews about this book mention that Sally seems “whiny”. I guess for those who see her as a larger than life movie star with lots of money and privilege, maybe she does seem that way. But she has led an extraordinary life. I appreciated the glimpse behind her persona, even the negative reality checks about how there was a time when she needed public assistance and was signing autographs as she stood in line to get financial aid. Acting can be a very tough, unforgiving, unglamorous, and poorly paid gig. Sally made it big, and was able to provide her sons with educations at prestigious universities, but she had to work hard to get there. I see her book as a glimpse of that process, and a reminder that life as a star isn’t all hearts and flowers.

On a more personal note… I like that Sally Field enjoys swearing. Apparently, Burt Reynolds didn’t like it when she swore… one more reason to ditch him. And she uses interesting metaphors, like “flopped like a juicy fart at a family reunion”, which some people might find crude. But, of course, I found it charming. I’ll have to add it to my own personal collection of funny and gross things to say.

Out of five stars, I think I’d give In Pieces three and a half. Sally Field does present her very human side, complete with foibles and personal problems. Some people may not like that, and will think she’s confused her book with a therapy session. Some readers would rather read about her acting and roles she’s had, rather than Sally Field as an actual person. I’m inclined to give her more of a break than they did, even if I can see their point. I’m not sorry I read the book, though.

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book reviews, celebrities

Repost: Whateverland, co-written by Martha Stewart’s daughter, Alexis…

Here’s a reposted book review that was originally written for Epinions.com in 2011. It appears here as/is.

I love a good tell-all, especially when it comes to celebrities and their offspring.  I don’t really care that much about Martha Stewart’s show.  But I have seen plenty of evidence in the media that she’s a difficult person.  So I have to admit rubbing my hands in glee when I learned that her daughter, Alexis Stewart, and Alexis Stewart’s former radio show partner, Jennifer Koppelman Hutt, had written a book called Whateverland: Learning to Live Here (2011).  I had heard the book described as a “tell-all” about what it was like to have Martha Stewart as a mother, so that was what I was expecting.

As it turns out, this book is not really a tell-all about what it was like to grow up with Martha Stewart as a mom.  It’s really a book consisting of anecdotes and short snippets about what Alexis Stewart and Jennifer Koppelman Hutt think about various aspects of living and loving.  Interestingly enough, Stewart and Hutt appear to be diametrically opposed in just about every facet of life.  And yet they’re apparently still friends.

These two forty something authors spent six years working together on a radio program.  Both had privileged upbringings, though Stewart claims that Martha only lavished her when it suited her.  She writes in one chapter that she never had the money to buy a crappy stereo, but tradition loving Martha Stewart would fork over $10,000 for a ball gown.  Alexis Stewart comes across as difficult and bitchy, taking a great deal of personal pride in being painfully blunt and obnoxious.  She’s very thin and takes a dim view of overweight people and anyone who eats meat.  In all honestly, Alexis Stewart seems like an unhappy, unpleasant, narcissistic person.  I will admit, however, that I did inwardly laugh at some of her caustic comments, which often have a ring of truth to them.  Stewart reminds me a bit of one of my sisters, who can be hilarious in her nastiness.

Hutt, by contrast, was raised by parents involved in the entertainment industry.  She grew up chubby.  Her mother, who died of pancreatic cancer in her 60s, used to hassle Hutt about her weight.  Hutt finally got svelte as an adult and comes across as warm and sincere.  She seems very likeable, thoughtful, and kind and it’s amazing that she and Stewart have enough in common to sustain a friendship.  I found myself drawn to her warmth and sincereity, even as I was often repelled by Stewart’s bitchiness.

This book includes a few photos.  They are sprinkled throughout the book somewhat randomly and were quite clearly visible on my Kindle.

My thoughts

I’m of a mixed mind about Whateverland.  It’s well-written and somewhat entertaining.  It’s easy to read, mainly owing to the short snippets written alternately by Hutt and Stewart.  I’m sure a lot of people will buy this book for Stewart’s take, but I actually enjoyed more of what Hutt had to say.  Hutt seems like someone I would enjoy having as a friend, while Alexis Stewart comes across as selfish, cold, and neurotic.  Some of Stewart’s revelations are interesting and funny… even though I don’t think I’d enjoy having her as an acquaintance.  I actually doubt she has many real friends… unless she is very different in person than the way she comes across in this book.

Anyway, I will caution those who are tempted to buy this book to get the scoop on Martha to reconsider.  If you want to read what Alexis Stewart and Jennifer Koppelman Hutt think about life, you will probably be happier with Whateverland.  As for me, I enjoyed the book somewhat, even though it wasn’t really what I thought it was going to be.  I give it three stars.

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movies, narcissists, reviews

Repost: My review of Mommie Dearest, the film… 

I wrote this review for Epinions in October 2007.  We were living in Germany the first time and I needed stuff to do.  So I watched Mommie Dearest and reviewed it.  Here it is reposted for your perusal, because I mentioned it in today’s fresh content. I have not edited this review from its original incarnation.

I wonder how many kids dream about growing up the child of a movie star. On the surface, it seems like it would be such a sweet life of untold indulgences. After all, movie stars don’t have problems. They all live in mansions and never have to think about money or consequences for their actions. They’re surrounded by people who come at their beck and call. Surely it must be the same for their children, right? Of course not. As CNN shows us with its daily reports on Britney Spears’ legal troubles, stars have their problems, too. And their children often have to deal with the aftermath.

Christina Crawford is the late Joan Crawford’s adopted daughter. In 1978, she published a tell-all book about her experiences having Joan Crawford as a mother. The 1981 film Mommie Dearest, based on Christina Crawford’s book of the same name, is the dramatized story of what Christina endured growing up in Hollywood’s glare. Mommie Dearest, the book, made quite a controversial splash back when it was first published. Three years later, the film version, starring Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford, made a very different kind of splash. Even though a lot of critics panned Mommie Dearest, it still gets regular airplay today. Certain audiences, most notably homosexuals and transvestites, love this film and have made it a cult classic.

I have seen Mommie Dearest dozens of times, first on HBO, then on regular cable, and finally on my own DVD. I recently purchased the Hollywood Royalty Edition of the Mommie Dearest DVD. At $9.95, it was a steal and a great way to kill time until my husband and I can move out of our German hotel room and into our new home. I watched Mommie Dearest again last night. Every time I see it, I notice something new.

Thanks to Crawford’s book and Dunaway’s over the top portrayal of Joan Crawford in the movie, Joan Crawford has become sort of a poster child of child abusers. Indeed, there are several infamous scenes in this movie that can be, depending on how the viewer takes it, either very disturbing or hilarious. Take, for instance, the “wire hangers” scene, the scene for which Mommie Dearest is perhaps best known. Dunaway, as Crawford, comes into young Christina’s room to say goodnight to her sleeping daughter and make sure that everything is in its place. Wearing cold cream and a headband, Joan goes into Christina’s closet and starts thumbing through her clothes, all neatly hung on satin hangers. Suddenly, the movie star comes across a dress on a wire hanger. Enraged, she snatches the frilly creation off the rack and cradles it in her arms. Then, at the top of her lungs, she screams “NO WIRE HANGERS, EVER!”

Sure, lots of people make fun of that scene. Dunaway’s cold cream mask and wild hair make her look like an outraged modern day Michael Jackson. She tears all of the clothes off the rack, dumps them in a pile, and forces Christina out of bed. Then, completely out of control, she starts beating the crying child with the wire hanger. The scene is totally over the top and yet it always sends a chill down my spine. When I look in Dunaway’s heavily made up eyes, I see fury that makes me believe that she’s an angry, abusive mother and Mara Hobel, very impressively playing the young version of Christina Crawford, is her terrified little girl.

Diana Scarwid, who plays the teenaged and adult Christina, is also very compelling in her role. Somehow, she’s able to convincingly demonstrate the paradox that affects children of abusive parents. She hates her mother, yet she also loves her. As she grows up and her mother inevitably starts to lose power over her, viewers still see that love/hate struggle. She knows her mother is crazy, yet she can’t bear to lose her. She faithfully puts up with her mother’s insanity, seemingly unable to cut the ties. Then, when Joan Crawford dies and the will is read, Christina and her brother, Christopher, learn that she didn’t leave them a cent “for reasons well known to them.”

Mommie Dearest was produced by Frank Yablans and directed by Frank Perry. Yablans also wrote the screenplay. According to the special features that are included with the Hollywood Royalty version of Mommie Dearest, Yablans originally meant for Anne Bancroft to play Joan Crawford. But Bancroft’s Joan Crawford didn’t seem to be working. Faye Dunaway wanted the part and when she was made up, looked just like the star. I wasn’t around when Joan Crawford was a big star, but I have seen pictures of her. Dunaway is a dead ringer. Moreover, the makeup and costumes in this movie are fantastic. The sets are also incredibly authentic. Whenever I watch this movie, I often forget that it was made in 1981. It really does evoke the glamour and style of the 1940s. It’s not until the very end of the movie that I remember that the film adaptation of Mommie Dearest was made less than thirty years ago.

Despite the fact that I love this movie for its sheer camp factor, there are a few things about it that I don’t like. First of all, the movie isn’t entirely true to the book. Of course, Mommie Dearest is a dramatization based on a book, but it leads viewers to believe that Joan Crawford only had two children when, in fact, she had four. Her adopted daughters Cathy and Cindy wanted nothing to do with the film, so they aren’t mentioned at all. Also, Dunaway’s performance is often really outrageous, so much so that it draws attention away from the very serious topic of child abuse and almost turns it into a joke. Is it funny to see Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford so outraged by being called “box office poison” that she feverishly destroys a rose garden with a pair of hedge clippers? Sure. But imagine being a child in real life watching something like that. Dunaway’s performance is so crazed that a lot of audiences react with laughter instead of shock.

Ditto the scene in which Dunaway, as Joan Crawford, brings Christina (played by Scarwid) home from her boarding school in a snit because Christina got caught kissing a boy. When Christina openly defies her mother, declaring that she’s not one of her fans, Dunaway, as Crawford, tackles the girl, grabbing her around the neck and choking her. It’s a grotesque, disturbing scene that, again, is so over the top that people make fun of it. It turns what should be a tragic scene into something that’s funny. While I agree with comedian George Carlin’s assertion that a person can make a joke out of anything, somehow it seems wrong to do it with child abuse.

The Hollywood Royalty version of Mommie Dearest consists of the movie, which is rated PG and runs for 128 minutes, commentary by campy filmmaker John Waters, three features that explain how the movie was made and include interviews with the movie’s makers and actors, a photo gallery, and the original theatrical trailer. Although I saw this movie many times when I was a child, if I were a parent, I would probably think twice about letting a young child see it. Although I counted only two swear words (including one use of the f word), there are several violent scenes that involve children that might be frightening for them.

Loved or hated, Mommie Dearest is rarely ignored or forgotten. I’m proud to have it as part of my personal movie collection. And, after watching this, I can’t help but remember that movie stars and their children have problems too.

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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

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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