I remember the very first time I saw the actress, Jennifer Grey, practicing her craft. She was in the 1984 right-wing propaganda film, Red Dawn, with the late actor and dancer, Patrick Swayze. I was 12 years old when that film came out. Red Dawn has a couple of things to distinguish it. It was the very first film to get a PG-13 rating, and it was also widely regarded as the most violent film of its time and was even listed in the Guiness Book of World Records for a time. As a 12 year old, I loved Red Dawn. I remember it got me all fired up about being American. Now that I’m almost 50, have lived in a formerly Soviet country, and have now seen Russia invade Ukraine, I see Red Dawn for the conservative agenda bullshit that it is.
In Red Dawn, Jennifer Grey played a teenager named Toni Mason. She and her sister, Erica (played by Lea Thompson), were members of a group of teenaged guerillas who fought back against invading communists in an effort to save the United States from Godless Russia. Having just read Grey’s life story, Out of the Corner: A Memoir (2022), I know that politically speaking, Jennifer Grey is a liberal. She’s also very Jewish. I’m sure it’s bizarre for her to realize that she took part in making a film that, back in 2009, the National Review considered one of the best “conservative” films. Three years after she was in Red Dawn with Patrick Swayze, the two would reluctantly meet again in a low budget film called Dirty Dancing. They would play very different roles in 1987’s Dirty Dancing— and although they hadn’t been friends on Red Dawn, they would emerge from that film as forever memorable. That movie and its famous line, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner,” would propel Swayze and Grey to 80s era superstardom.
I decided to read Jennifer Grey’s book after I read an article about an uncomfortable conversation she once had with Matthew Broderick’s mother, Patsy. The article was based on a passage in Out of the Corner about Grey’s long relationship with Matthew Broderick, whom she’d worked with on the classic John Hughes film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). Jennifer was caught alone with Patsy, whom she describes as someone who couldn’t abide lies and was a straight shooter to the point of being unbearably blunt. Patsy told Jennifer that her famous father, Broadway star, Joel Grey, was gay. Although it was not necessarily a secret that Joel Grey’s sexual orientation was that of a homosexual, Jennifer Grey hadn’t realized it. So, when Patsy broke the news to her, Jennifer was legitimately shocked. Not long afterwards, her parents were divorced. Joel Grey officially “came out” in 2015, when he was 82 years old.
Jennifer Grey has been in show business her whole life. Her parents were successful actors, so she spent her youth living in either New York or California with her parents and her adopted brother, Jimmy. Grey was born on March 25, 1960, which makes her 62 years old today. It’s hard to reconcile that with the young actress I knew in the 80s. It doesn’t seem like the 80s were that long ago. And yet here I sit, a week before my 50th birthday! I can hardly believe how time flies. Grey’s first professional gig was in the late 70s, when she was in a classic Dr. Pepper commercial, working as a dancer!
One thing Jennifer Grey was well known for, especially back in the 80s, was her prominent nose. That nose made her unique, and she writes at the beginning of her book that she hadn’t wanted to get it “fixed”. She finally decided to have it refined a little bit, but told the surgeon that she wanted the effect to be very subtle. Even though Jennifer’s parents had both had nose jobs before Jennifer was even born, she was very proud of her proboscis. Grey was very satisfied with the results of the first surgery. Unfortunately, she had to go under the knife again when a sliver of bone was visible on her nose. When she went to have that corrected, the surgeon performed a more extensive reconstruction that made her almost unrecognizable.
According to Out of the Corner, Grey has been through other health issues in her life. In 1987, while she and Matthew Broderick were still in a relationship, they went to Ireland, where Broderick’s parents owned a cottage in County Donegal. While they were there, Broderick’s mother called and said she was going to come visit them. Grey writes that the relationship was already on the skids, but she also didn’t want to have to deal with Patsy again– remembering how she’d insensitively outed her father. So she made plans to go back to the States and prepare for the premiere of Dirty Dancing. On the way to Dublin, where Grey planned to spend the night and then catch a plane back home, she and Broderick were involved in a terrible car accident. Matthew Broderick was badly injured, and two local women– a mother and daughter– died. Jennifer was less so injured… or so she thought at the time. Years later, it was revealed that she’d suffered extreme whiplash as a result of that accident that had almost internally decapitated her. In 2010, she would have spinal surgery as she was about to appear on Dancing With the Stars. She’s also had thyroid cancer, gave birth to a daughter, and had an embarrassing interview with Johnny Carson.
All of these subjects and more are covered in Out of the Corner. Grey writes pretty well, occasionally using creatively constructed phrasing to tell her story. On two occasions, she also incorrectly uses the word “jettison”; I think she was confusing it with the word “rocketed”. In her book, Grey uses “jettison” as if it means to “blast off”. The word “jettison” actually refers to casting off things from a vessel in order to lighten the load. But that’s a minor quibble that will be easily missed or overlooked. Overall, I found Out of the Corner to be an easy page turner. Grey is very forthcoming about her story, and includes some juicy tidbits about well-known actors she worked with or knew as friends or lovers. Apparently, Grey was quite the partier back in the day, too, but she’s since cleaned up her act… at least when it comes to drinking and drugging. Her language, on the other hand, is pretty salty. I don’t mind that at all, though. I like cussing, too. But if you’re sensitive to cursing, Out of the Corner might not be a good book for you to read.
The style in which Grey shares her story is, to use a musical term, a bit staccato. Each chapter within the three parts of the book reads like separate stories. The book isn’t strung together in a continuum, which may bother some readers. Personally, I didn’t mind it too much. There were a few parts of the book that were a bit slower to get through than others. Once I got to the 80s and Jennifer’s career was taking off, the pacing of the book accelerates. I got into it yesterday and couldn’t put it down… and in fact, I even watched Dirty Dancing and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off during the afternoon! That was a hefty dose of nostalgia between allergic sneezes (another reason I stayed home).
Some readers who remember the 80s may find themselves forming new opinions about people like Matthew Broderick, Penelope Ann Miller, Johnny Depp, and Helen Hunt. I could tell that Grey and Broderick had a very intense relationship in which there were also a lot of painful memories. Unfortunately, Broderick wasn’t the most faithful boyfriend. On the other hand, although Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze hadn’t been friends on the set of Red Dawn, they later understood each other better. I enjoyed reading Grey’s comments about Swayze, especially since she writes that he wasn’t her type. I understand how that goes… yes, he was a very handsome man and a brilliant dancer, but I can understand why he didn’t ring her chimes, in spite of their incredible on screen chemistry.
I enjoyed reading Out of the Corner. I would probably enjoy knowing Jennifer Grey. I don’t care that she cusses. I enjoyed remembering the 80s, not just by reading her book, but by watching the films Jennifer Grey has made. Hell, I’m even watching her on Dancing With the Stars now, completely amazed by her dance skills. And now she can call herself a writer, too. She’s truly a woman of many talents!
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