book reviews, family, healthcare

Repost: A review of Watching Their Dance: Three Sisters, A Genetic Disease and Marrying into a Family At Risk for Huntington’s

I originally reviewed this book on September 2, 2017. It appears here “as/is”.

I have mentioned several times on this blog that I once had neighbors whose family was profoundly affected by Huntington’s Disease, a fatal genetic condition that robs the afflicted of their minds and bodies.  Last month, I purchased Therese Crutcher-Marin’s 2017 book, Watching Their Dance: Three Sisters, A Genetic Disease and Marrying into a Family At Risk for Huntington’s.  I just finished reading the book today.

In the 1970s, author Therese Crutcher-Marin met her husband, John.  She fell in love with him and grew to love his three older sisters, Lora, Marcia, and Cindy.  John and his sisters had grown up without their mother; she was committed to a psychiatric hospital when they were young.  She later died, but it wasn’t until they were adults that they found out she’d had Huntington’s Disease.  Compounding the issue was the adult children’s father, Big John, who had never been much of a parent to his kids.  Big John had a second wife who was not particularly friendly to them, either. 

Every child born to a parent who has Huntington’s Disease has a fifty/fifty chance of inheriting the gene that causes the disease.  Every person who has the gene for Huntington’s Disease will eventually get the disease if he or she doesn’t die of something else.  It’s not possible to have the gene and simply be a carrier.

Therese loved John, but knowing that he may one day develop a very demanding disease that would eventually kill him at a young age was very difficult for her.  Eventually, the author decided that life is a crap shoot anyway.  She married John and they launched their careers and started a family, eventually having two children.  Meanwhile, each of John’s sisters developed Huntington’s Disease.

This book is mainly about Therese Crutcher-Marin’s experiences watching her beloved sisters-in-law getting sick and eventually dying.  The author’s husband opted not to be tested for the gene until after he was already past the age at which symptoms usually appear.  Fortunately, he did not have the gene, since he and the author had two children together.

For the most part, I found Watching Their Dance very informative and interesting.  It’s well-written and I admired how dedicated Therese Crutcher-Marin was to her husband’s family.  However, there were some parts of the book that I felt were a bit extraneous.  Sometimes the book read like a very newsy letter home; it included some information that didn’t necessarily seem relevant.  Therese does explain that she has problems with obsessive compulsive disorder.  She is a meticulous planner.  Perhaps that’s why this book seemed a little more detailed than it needed to be about things that weren’t pertinent.

I also feel that although Crutcher-Marin’s writing is mostly very functional and correct, her style isn’t particularly eloquent.  Some authors write effortlessly and colorfully.  Crutcher-Marin’s writing is serviceable, but not very artistic.  I got the sense that writing the story was hard work, although she did the work to high standards.

I did appreciate Crutcher-Marin’s candor about what it’s like to watch loved ones with Huntington’s Disease.  It’s a rare disease and a lot of people have never heard of it.  I happened to have seen it in person, so much of what she wrote about made sense to me.  Sadly, Huntington’s Disease has no treatment or cure.  The only thing that can be done is controlling the symptoms.  Moreover, it’s very difficult to find adequate care for people with Huntington’s Disease.  Those who have the disease do not die of it; instead, they die of complications arising from the disease process.  Many sufferers waste away because they can’t eat adequately or they develop an infection, like pneumonia.   

I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for Therese, John, and their children to watch as Lora, Marcia, and Cindy each developed symptoms and eventually died.  Each of the sisters suffered in her own way.  One sister died quickly after developing a brain bleed after a blow to the head.  She had been taking Coumadin.  Another sister languished for years with Huntington’s Disease before she finally died.  The third sister developed the disease in her 40s, a late onset by most Huntington’s standards.  She managed to be independent and travel for some time before she, too, got very sick and died in her fifties.

I think Watching Their Dance is well worth reading, especially for those who know or love someone with Huntington’s Disease.  I am not aware of other books about what it’s like to be a caregiver to someone with HD, so this is a valuable book. 

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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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book reviews, celebrities, homosexuality

Repost: A review of Meredith Baxter’s Untied

I originally wrote this review for Epinions.com in March 2011. I am reposting it here, as/is.

As a child of the 1980s, I would have had to have been living under a rock not to know who Meredith Baxter is. The beautiful blonde actress had made her mark back in the 70s with television shows like Bridget Loves Bernieand Family, but I knew her as Elyse Keaton, feminist matriarch of the Keaton family on NBC’s hit sit-com, Family Ties. In those days, she was known as Meredith Baxter-Birney, having married her Bridget Loves Bernieco-star, David Birney. Baxter and Birney later divorced; recently, Baxter made headlines by coming out as a lesbian. I learned about all of this and more by reading Baxter’s brand new memoir, Untied: A Memory of Family, Fame, and Floundering (2011). I purchased this book for my Kindle last week and found it a quick and interesting read. 

Meredith Baxter’s beginnings

After a brief introduction, explaining how she came out as a lesbian, Baxter begins describing her childhood. Meredith Baxter’s mother was an actress named Nancy Ann Whitney, who later came up with the stage name Whitney Blake. From a very early age, Baxter was required to call her mother Whitney, because Whitney didn’t want people thinking she was a mother. Baxter’s father, Tom Baxter, was a sound engineer specializing in live television and radio. Though her parents were married for ten years and had three children, their union ended when Baxter was just five years old. After the divorce, Tom Baxter remained a very small part of his children’s lives. Meanwhile, Whitney remarried twice.  

Baxter grew up in southern California on the fringes of show business. Her first stepfather, Jack Fields, was an agent who helped Whitney Blake get parts that later blossomed into a successful career on television. Baxter describes Fields as cruel, manipulative, and strict, but it was Fields who helped Baxter with her own foray into show business when she was a child.  

A complicated life

Though Meredith Baxter grew up to be a beautiful young woman, she comes across as a bit mixed up. In confessional prose, she admits to dabbling in drugs and alcohol, half-heartedly attempting suicide, and getting married for the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, she was both lucky and talented and eventually started working as an actress. She had two children with her first husband, Robert Bush, and three with her second husband, David Birney.

Bitterness toward Birney

Meredith Baxter has a lot to say about her second marriage to David Birney. Baxter was married to Birney for about 16 years. Their union lasted three times longer than her marriages to Robert Bush and Michael Blodgett. However, the added length of the marriage seems to have tripled Baxter’s pain. She makes some very unflattering comments about David Birney and basically describes him as an abusive narcissist.  

A book about Meredith Baxter, not Family Ties… 

Though Meredith Baxter does dish quite a bit about being on Bridget Loves BernieFamily, and Family Ties, as well as a few of her better known made for television movies, I want to make it clear that this book is really about her life. And she has led a very complicated but interesting life, fraught with struggles, including alcoholism, breast cancer, and coming to terms with her homosexuality. But while there were times I kind of cringed while reading this book, I do think that ultimately, Baxter has put out a very positive memoir.  

Toward the end of the book, Baxter writes about what it was like to meet and fall in love with her current partner, Nancy Locke. Though she is “out of the closet”, I still get the feeling that being out is kind of hard for her. She very candidly explains how difficult it was for her to admit and accept her feelings for women. She also explains how hard it was for her to come out to people she loves… and how their reactions to her big news were surprisingly low key.  Untied also includes plenty of pictures.

Overall

I enjoyed reading this book, mainly because I’m a child of the 80s and I love biographies. I think Meredith Baxter did a fairly good job writing her life story. She really comes across as extremely human and somewhat down-to-earth. I do think she’s still in some real pain over her relationship with David Birney, but she seems to have learned from the relationship as well. I think Untied is worthy reading for those who are interested in Baxter’s life story.

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book reviews

Repost: Toni Tennille tells all in her life story…

I am reposting this book review that I wrote for my original blog on August 18, 2016. It’s in honor of my Facebook friend, Marguerite, who posted about The Captain and Tennille today. Also, I genuinely enjoyed Toni Tennille’s book. She’s an interesting and talented lady. This review is as/is, the way I posted it almost five years ago.

Captain and Tennille perform during their heyday with two of Toni’s three sisters singing backup.  Toni’s sisters were also musically talented.  I’m pretty sure they’re all lip syncing here, though.   

I just finished reading Toni Tennille: A Memoir, the life story of singer, songwriter, and actress Toni Tennille, who is best known as half of the 70s pop duo, Captain and Tennille.  As a bonafide child of the 70s, music by Captain and Tennille was part of my early soundtrack.  Their cover version of Neil Sedaka’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” was a huge hit in 1975.  I grew up hearing it on the radio and at my Aunt Gayle and Uncle Brownlee’s house.  Brownlee is my dad’s younger brother and a musician; he always had hipper musical tastes than my dad did.

Captain and Tennille also had a popular variety show on ABC that aired for one season.  I never saw their show because besides being very young in 1976, I was also living in England.  As Toni Tennille explains it, in those days TV wasn’t as global as it is now.  She and her famous ex husband, Daryl Dragon (aka the Captain), were able to travel to Scotland on vacation and not be recognized by leagues of adoring fans.

Anyway, I decided to read Toni Tennille’s story when I read an article about her online.  She and Daryl Dragon got divorced not long ago.  They had been married for 39 years and both are in their golden years.  I was curious about that, but I also admire Toni Tennille’s talents as a musician.  So I downloaded the book, which Tennille wrote with help from her niece, Caroline Tennille St. Clair.  I just got around to reading it and, I must say, I found it a fascinating and enjoyable book.  Caroline did a great job in making the book seem as if it came straight from her Aunt Toni.

At the very beginning of her story, Tennille writes about being a small child in Montgomery, Alabama, playing outside.  Suddenly, there was an accident that could have altered her destiny.  A heavy wheelbarrow fell on Toni’s finger, nearly severing it.  Her parents rushed her to the hospital, where she underwent surgery.  Young Toni had shown musical talent and had an interest in playing the piano.  She lost part of her finger, but then went through many surgeries to reconstruct the digit so she’d eventually be able to play her instrument.  Bear in mind, this was going on in the 1940s, when surgeries were much more primitive than they are now and anesthesia consisted of ether. 

She continues her story with tales about growing up in an era when blacks and whites were segregated.  Her parents were fairly well off; her dad owned a furniture store and her mother was on a television show.  They had hired help.  The help consisted of several black women who looked after Toni and her three sisters.  Toni explains that her family treated the help with dignity and respect.  Racism always made the Tennille family uncomfortable.  Still, if I had to mention a part of the book that made me a little uneasy, it was that part. 

Fate led the Tennilles out of Alabama when Toni was a student at Auburn University.  Her father’s business failed and Toni had to drop out of school.  But it turned out there was a bigger life waiting for the family in California.  It was there that Toni met Daryl Dragon, who would eventually become her second husband.  Daryl Dragon came from a wealthy California family.  His mother had been a singer and his father was Carmen Dragon, a famed conductor.  All of the Dragon siblings had musical talent, but Daryl was said to be the most talented.  He was working with The Beach Boys when he and Toni met.  Thanks to Daryl, Toni landed herself a gig playing with the big time as a member of The Beach Boys’ band.

As time passed, Toni and Daryl started working together.  They became an act.  People thought they were married, so they eventually decided to make it official at a wedding chapel in Nevada.  Sadly, although Toni claims to have been in love with her husband and wrote many songs for and about him, he never seemed to return her affections.  They slept in separate bedrooms.  Daryl respected his wife for her musical abilities, but didn’t seem into her as a woman.  And that was the state of their marriage for a very long time.

Toni Tennille’s talk show.

Based on Toni’s many observations about her ex husband, my guess is that he’s more than a bit narcissistic and/or perhaps suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome.  She claims that he saw her as a possession.  He would get very jealous when she was involved in any acting job that required her to kiss another man.  And yet, when she was at home, he never kissed her very often.  He spent a lot of time alone and adhered to weird, strict diets, which he expected his wife to follow.  In one story, Tennille writes about eating nothing but yellow grapefruit for weeks.  She writes of visiting beautiful cities world renowned for food and ending up eating tasteless crap her husband favored.

The “Captain”, so nicknamed by one of the Beach Boys, was rarely without his hat.  Tennille explains that he started balding in his 30s and was very self-conscious about his thinning hair.  So he would never be hatless, even in places where it was customary or compulsory to remove one’s hat.  Toni Tennille missed out on seeing the Sistine Chapel because her husband refused to remove his hat.  He also has a condition that affects his eyes, making them look strange.  Dragon was self-conscious about the problem, which prompted a lot of fans to write in and ask what was wrong with him.  That was also a source of much shame and embarrassment for him and he took it out on his wife.

While Toni Tennille writes a lot about her career and some of the great things she was able to do, a lot of this book is about her marriage to Daryl Dragon.  And folks, I’ll be honest.  As interesting as it was to read about her marriage, it was also more than a bit depressing.  Here she was, this beautiful, talented, vivacious woman and she spent her best years married to a man who didn’t really love her.  She allowed him to dictate so many things about her life.  It wasn’t until she was in her 70s that she finally had enough and got a divorce.  However, despite the divorce, it seems the Captain and Tennille still talk.  Toni writes that they speak on the phone every couple of weeks or so.  I guess old habits really do die hard.

Despite the fact that I think Toni Tennille should have divorced many years ago, I did like her book.  She comes across as very likable and friendly.  Ultimately, she keeps this book pretty positive, yet I never got the sense she was embellishing about the ordeals she went through in her personal life.  If you’re curious, I recommend reading Toni Tennille’s Memoir.

Edited to add: Daryl Dragon died on January 2, 2019.

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book reviews, LDS

Repost: Buttprints: The Thing that Wouldn’t Leave… (a review of You Can Smile Now You’re Rid of This A**hole)

Here’s another reposted book review. I read and reviewed this book on Epinions.com December 12, 2012. The author, who uses a pseudonym, has become a good Facebook friend of mine. We “met” on RfM some years ago. She’s really witty and funny, although her story is scary and cautionary. I am reposting it as/is.

I guess I should consider myself very lucky.  I met my beloved husband of ten years, Bill, on the Internet.  We did not meet on a dating site, though.  In fact, we started out as casual friends, having first “met” in a chat room based on a mutual interest.  Over the course of about three years, our casual internet friendship bloomed into love.  I have no regrets over having met my spouse online; though I do know that others haven’t been as lucky as I was.

I just finished reading You Can Smile Now You’re Rid of This A**hole: A Memoir of Abuse and Discovery by Bobbi Botaz (2012).  The title of this book, which I downloaded for my Kindle, pretty much says it all.  Like me, Bobbi Botaz got friendly with a man she met online.  Like me, she met her online boyfriend in person and ended up living with him.  Unlike me, she has many regrets for having met “Rick Doubledee” offline and allowing him into her life.

Botaz grew up Mormon, though she was definitely not one of the faith’s most devout followers.  She explains her upbringing as the book begins, perhaps shedding some light on why she has had such terrible luck with men.  It starts with unsatisfying high school dates, continues with a brief, loveless marriage that produces her son, Eric, and ends with Rick, the so-called “thing that wouldn’t leave”.  After a flowery and romantic online courtship, Rick moves from Pittsburgh to “Goldeneye”, a pseudonym for the Colorado town where Botaz was living in the late 1990s.  From the get go, it’s pretty clear that he’s not the man Botaz thought he was as he shows up in a beater of a car, stuffed to the gills with his worldly possessions.  Botaz and her son are both immediately repulsed by Rick’s slovenly appearance; yet incredibly, she lets him move in with her, where he lives and freeloads for the next two years.

I was astonished as I read about the things Botaz and her son put up with when Rick was living with them.  He was chronically unemployed and always had an excuse as to why he couldn’t support himself.  He claimed to be sick, yet had no issues eating Botaz out of house and home or smoking cigarettes.  Rick was a very “talented” con man.  Despite the fact that Botaz didn’t particularly enjoy her loser house guest’s company, she continued to let Rick live with her as she financially supported him, even when it became clear that he was dabbling in some risky behaviors that could have put Botaz and her son in grave danger.  As time went on, Botaz realized that not only had she put herself at tremendous risk, she had also put Eric at risk by letting Rick live there.   

As I read this account, I couldn’t help thinking to myself that something like this would never happen to me.  And yet, I have to wonder if maybe I could have been victimized as Botaz was.  Thankfully, she does eventually find the courage to give him the boot.  As he leaves her life, he says “You can smile now.  You’re rid of this a**hole”, gifting Botaz with the perfect title for her book about their miserable life together.  Unfortunately, his butt prints were still left in her sofa long after he’d gone.      

Full disclosure here.  I have interacted with the author of this book on the Recovery from Mormonism Web site and Facebook.  I think that gives me a bit more insight into her story than others might get just from reading You Can Smile Now.  Botaz has a wry sense of humor that comes through in her writing.  While I couldn’t help shaking my head in dismay as I read about how she allowed Rick to take over her life, I also felt relief that she and her son survived the ordeal.  Maybe Botaz wasn’t the most street smart Internet user in the world back in the late 1990s, but she did at least learn from her mistakes and is willing to share her experiences.  She also takes responsibility for her choices, which I think is very refreshing.  A lot of people would simply blame Rick for being an a**hole, but Botaz seems very cognizant of her part in this fiasco.  And again, she’s learned from her mistakes and seems determined to be smarter in the future. 

I think Bobbi Botaz has guts to put this story out there for the world, since I expect some readers will judge her.  But if her story serves as a warning for just one person– male or female– I think it will have been well worth the effort to read it.     

I recommend this book to anyone who has ever been tempted by an Internet romance and needs a cautionary tale.  I also recommend this book to people who like true stories about real people.

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