book reviews, celebrities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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book reviews, celebrities

Repost: book review of “You’ll Never Nanny in this Town Again”…

Here’s an as/is repost of a review I wrote in 2011. It’s light reading… maybe I should read more books like this one.

Although I have a stack of books on heavy topics just waiting to be read, I recently felt like reading something fun and vapid.  I spotted Suzanne Hansen’s 2006 book You’ll Never Nanny in This Town Again: The True Adventures of a Hollywood Nanny on my Kindle and decided I wanted to read it.  It looked like it might be lightweight reading and maybe a little juicy.  And having finished this book yesterday, I can say that You’ll Never Nanny in This Town Again lived up to its appearance.

The premise

It’s the late 1980s and 19 year old Suzy Hansen has just finished nanny school in Portland, Oregon.  She comes from tiny Cottage Grove, Oregon and has visions of making her way in the world and shaping young lives with her nannying skills.  Hansen eventually ends up in Los Angeles, California, where, at least in the late 1980s, there was a booming job market for nannies.  Hansen lands some interviews with a few eccentric celebrities, eventually taking a job working for Michael and Judy Ovitz looking after their three young children.

Who are Michael and Judy Ovitz you ask?  Well, maybe you aren’t asking now, but I sure was.  I had never heard of either of them when I first started reading this book, but it turns out they were an extremely powerful Hollywood couple back in the day.  Michael Ovitz is a talent agent who founded Creative Artists Agency (CAA) back in 1975.  CAA represented huge stars like Dustin Hoffman, John Travolta, Tom Cruise, and Barbra Streisand, just to name a few. 

In the late 80s, Ovitz had a reputation for being a workaholic who drove himself and his employees relentlessly.  He was a master at dealmaking and blacklisting.  No one ever dared to say no to him, lest they suffer the consequences.  And when Michael Ovitz found a trusted employee who worked for a fair wage, he wasn’t above putting them in “golden handcuffs” to keep them from jumping ship to work where conditions and pay were better.  Naturally, innocent lamb Suzy didn’t know all of this when she took the job as a live in nanny looking after Joshua, Amanda, and Brandon, the Ovitzes’ young kids.  Hansen gave pseudonyms to the children in order to “protect their privacy”, but you can Google them if you want to know their real names.

This book is Hansen’s story of what it was like to work for the Ovitz family.  She details the thrill of meeting celebrities, living among genuine Picassos, making friends with the other “help”, learning to love the children, and being treated like an object with no personal needs.  Hansen spent over a year with the Ovitz family and says she did good work, but eventually became burned out.  She wasn’t paid well enough, didn’t get enough time off, and started feeling bitter and angry.  She dared to quit the job, even after Michael Ovitz allegedly threatened that she would “never nanny in Hollywood again”. 

As is turns out, Hansen did work as a Hollywood nanny again, even though Ovitz supposedly did his damnedest to blacklist her.  She found a job with another maverick who had left Ovitz’s stable of showbiz clients.  But while the Ovitz family had expected Suzy to do everything for their kids, Suzy’s new boss was a hands-on parent.  She didn’t last long there because there wasn’t enough for her to do.

Suzy’s third nannying experience was with yet another Hollywood power couple from the 1980s.  Even though this family had dealings with Michael Ovitz, who had yet again tried to interfere with Suzy’s employability, they were kind enough to assess her themselves.  But by the time Suzy had spent a few months with them, she discovered she was tired of nannying and ready to switch careers.

My thoughts  

I have to admit that I sort of enjoyed this book, probably because I’m about Suzy Hansen’s age and the stars she was rubbing elbows with are stars that were big when I was growing up.  I like celebrity tell-alls and this book, with its perspective from a normal girl thrust into the Hollywood fishbowl, was unique.  I got the sense that Hollywood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and suddenly felt glad I never had any desire to be a nanny, particularly for celebrity families.

That being said, I had to wonder if Suzy felt bad for revealing so much about her former employers and their kids.  She’s particularly harsh when she writes about the Ovitzes, probably because they didn’t treat her as well as the other two celebrity families she worked for.  Maybe there was a little revenge going on when she decided to write this book?  She changes the kids’ names, but anyone with a computer can look them up.  Besides, they’re all adults now anyway.

Hansen writes well and her anecdotes are mostly entertaining, even if they are kind of distasteful.  A few other reviewers have mentioned that this book was re-published around the time The Nanny Diaries came out.  I don’t know about that; never read The Nanny Diaries.  And maybe if you weren’t around in the late 1980s, this book won’t be interesting to you.  But I have to admit, I liked You’ll Never Nanny in This Town Again.  I found myself rooting for Suzy, especially as she wrote about how Michael Ovitz apparently “had it out” for her and tried to mess with her ability to work. 

Overall   

If you like true stories about celebrities or trashy tell-alls, this book might be of interest.  I give it four stars.

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