Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “autobiography”

Goddess of Apathy’s #CBR4 Review #13: My Cross to Bear, by Gregg Allman

04book"My Cross to Bear" by Gregg Allman

I am a Southern girl, born and raised in Georgia. If you are like me, and have that distinction, there are many singers and bands that are Southern and Georgian. The Allman Brothers Band is one of those bands and I have been a fan as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is when Gregg Allman married Cher, their picture on the cover of People magazine. Then there is the time in history when we were learning about the blues, and my teacher played “Statesboro Blues” on her guitar on front of the whole class. Then she asked each of us to write our own blues song to the same tune of that iconic melody.  I’m pretty sure I have been in love with Gregg Allman since I was that little girl. His beautiful blonde hair, soulful voice and that hint of danger has long intrigued me, even as I have grown up and he’s grown older. I have seen the Allman Brothers Band in concert many times, and had the pleasure of seeing Gregg Allman & Friends on a couple of occasions. I’ve visited his brother Duane’s and their friend and band mate Berry Oakley’s graves at Rose Hill Cemetery.  I’ve made a trek to the Big House, in Macon, the old home of the Brothers, now a museum. So of course, it was my duty and pleasure to read his autobiography, even though he might tell me secrets that might make me question my blind adoration after all these years.

I pre-ordered the book as soon as I could from Amazon. I was looking forward to reading Gregg’s life story. When the book finally arrived, I was in the middle of reading another book for Cannonball Read 4, and my husband took it upon himself to crack the spine of My Cross to Bear. The entire time he read, he kept telling me, “You aren’t going to like this.” Or he’d mutter, “This is the worst book I’ve ever read.” He was serious about his opinions. He told me the writing was terrible and was ridiculously paced. He stated Gregg’s narrative voice was like that of an old, rambling man, going from topic to topic. I insisted I had to read it for myself, no matter how bad the storytelling was; no matter how circuitous the narrative. No matter how sad and disappointed I might be learning the truth behind the soulful music I’d listened to all my life, I was still committed to knowing all I could.

I do give my husband credit for his description of Gregg’s voice in the book. I am unsure of how much he actually “wrote” of this autobiography, with Alan Light.  I know he wrote a multitude of beautiful songs about heartbreak, longing, and love, but we aren’t all authors. The book reads like a long conversation, and Gregg meanders through each story in his life, like a lazy river, sometimes cool and refreshing, other times, lazy and hazy as it wanders around the bend. I imagined Gregg telling me the story of his life as he sits on an cracked and weathered porch, his languid voice lulling me into the time machine that takes us back to when he was a child, growing up in Tennessee and then in Florida. He tells me of being packed away to military school at age eight. But, as he tells me about those early years, anecdotes about the Sear’s guitar for $21.95 or the foot shooting party, sometimes, he suddenly changes the subject, discussing an event that happened just fifteen years ago. I really had to make sure I was paying attention, or else I would get lost in the shuffle of his life.

Gregg does honestly reveal all his missteps in love and drugs, but at the heart of this story, for me, was the deep love he had for his brother Duane and for writing and making music. Duane was Gregg’s tormentor, but Gregg seems to have the deepest love and affection for Duane, even after all these years since Duane’s tragic death in 1971. The music seems to come easy to Gregg. He doesn’t give any magical clues as to how he writes a song, admitting at one point, it might sound like he’s giving you a formula, but “it’s never that simple.” He admitted  the song “Midnight Rider” is the one song he is most proud of in his career.

I am sure some readers will be fascinated by all the lovers, baby mamas, six wives, five children, alcohol, and the never ending supply and demand of drugs from pot, to coke, to heroin. I admit I was fascinated by his relationship with Cher. She was such an icon of the 70s and I remember watching Sonny and Cher and thinking how unique she was, an inspiration to all those girls out there, like I was, who weren’t considered traditional looking. I still remember signing with heartfelt triumph the song, “Half-Breed” at the top of my little girl lungs! There is more to the story than just the salacious parts. Sure, Gregg loves women; he’s still just as enamored with them after all this time. Thankfully, his love of drugs and alcohol is under control and even with a liver transplant, he is trying to live a more healthy lifestyle these days.

In addition to the life story that he tells, the book includes posters from gigs for the Allman Brothers, and photographs and other memorabilia to accompany the different phases in Gregg’s life and career. It was like flipping through old photo albums. I had time to peruse the pictures, looking at all the details of Gregg’s adventures. It felt as if I knew him better after reading his story. He’s hardly perfect by any means, but I felt privileged to get to know him just a little better and understand his music all the more. I wouldn’t recommend reading this book to just anyone. You would at least require love and affection for his music first, and then need the desire to spend a little time with an old man as he reflects on a journey, with pride and curiosity, at just how far he’s come and just how lucky and talented he really is.

loopyker’s #CBR4 Review #13: True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life by Kevin Sorbo

True Strength coverOK, I admit that I kind of had a crush on Kevin Sorbo during his Hercules: The Legendary Journeys days. I’ve always had a weakness for tall guys with long hair – but, he also seemed like a decent guy when giving interviews. I hadn’t really thought about him in years, but was extremely disappointed to find out recently that he is now into some of the more extreme Christian fundamentalist propaganda. It didn’t seem to fit with his past public image, so I was curious. In looking him up, I discovered that he had a serious illness and had written an autobiographical book about it. “Aha!”, I thought. “That might explain the extreme religious views.”

I was pleased to discover that my online library had the audiobook of  True Strength, narrated by Kevin himself and his wife, Sam Sorbo. I hoped to find an explanation for this fundamentalist approach in this book. I was disappointed in that respect, but really enjoyed and connected with the book in other ways.

We all know we are mortal, but many of us like to forget about that at different times in our lives. Kevin Sorbo probably wasn’t thinking of it too much when he was in peak physical condition and playing the half-god, Hercules on one of the highest rated syndicated television shows in the world in the 1990’s. But, he was was forced to confront that in a sudden, terrifying way. Unknown to all but his closest family, friends and co-workers, at this peak time, Kevin suffered three strokes after an aneurysm in his shoulder caused clots to travel through his body. These resulted not only in damage to his arm, but both long lasting and permanent symptoms such as partial blindness, dizziness, weakness, headaches and ringing in his ears just for starters.

This struck while on hiatus from Hercules, between the 4th and 5th seasons, just after the release of Kull the Conqueror (1997). It was at a crucial point, both in his career and for the continuation of Hercules where a lot of other people depended on Kevin as the star to keep the show going.  Hercules hadn’t yet reached that magic 100 episode number for the best syndication deals. But fortunately, everyone had a little time to figure things out before filming began again – and it took a lot of creative solutions.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Hercules, but I still can remember when the writing suddenly changed with Kevin missing in strange ways – like one episode where he had been turned into a pig or was missing altogether. At the time, I was annoyed at the writing. Now, after reading True Strength, I’m amazed they pulled off hiding Kevin’s recovery and disability so well! I found it really interesting to hear about all the little tricks they did to make it look like he was there more than he was and what they used to hide his weakness. He went from doing many of his own stunts to needing a body double to even lift a sword for awhile. He was never able to return to doing even many of the previously easy-to-him stunts.

Besides relating to True Strength as a fan of Hercules and then Andromeda, I very much connected with the personal struggle Kevin went through with his sudden disability…

Read the rest of my review at Loopy Ker’s Life

Karo’s #CBR4 Review # 26: Moab is my Washpot by Stephen Fry

While at university, I met Stephen Fry’s German translator. This was (and probably still is) the most exciting, nerdy thing to have happened to me, because I fall squarely into the camp of Stephen Fry worshippers. It was only when I tried to explain to my family how exciting this meeting had been that I realised that it was hard to describe to a bunch of Germans just how amazing Stephen Fry is. He is an actor, yes, but Jeeves and Wooster is not very well known in Germany, and Wilde was… well, just one movie. The whole aspect of him being the intellectual overlord and infuriatingly clever man of Britain does simply not translate. To this day, my parents roll their eyes when I start a sentence with “Stephen Fry says…”. I have read all the novels and The Fry Chronicles, but somehow never got round to reading Moab Is My Washpot. Well, the time has come.

I have only read a handful of autobiographies, because the thought of making the private public in such a manner scares me. Also, there is a significant risk of disliking the author, simply because any justification can so easily be seen as self-important dribble and arrogance. Fry knows that, and he keeps apologising for it. He is acutely aware of how he comes across, so much that sometimes it’s exactly this self-awareness and apologising that made me angry. You just can’t win…

It took me a while to make my peace with this, Fry’s account of the first twenty years of his life. He describes his school days at elementary and boarding schools, the development of his character, talents and vices (again, focussing on the vices), and a slow descend into adolescent angst and crime. He tries his hardest to spell out exactly how deplorable his crimes were, but it’s hard to imagine all this in hindsight. The moment he turns his life around is clearly described, and you feel safe in the knowledge that he will go on to become the great man he is now. Everything before that feels alien and unreal. Or maybe that’s just my impression. Life at boarding school is both terrifying, with the young boy’s fear of sports and the need to lie and be evasive that turns into a real need to lie and steal, but you realise before he decribes it more explicitly that he still mourns the loss of this regulated, carefree school life. Then, of course, sex and love enter the picture, and things get more… intense. It’s been described as a candid book, and there are many, many scenes of an explicit nature, but Fry never strays from his friendly, slightly apologetic and sincere tone. It’s his life, and it is as it is. It’s the moments when he makes a subject into more than a personal anecdote that put me off the book for a while. I have always said that I’d like nothing more than have a long conversation with the man, and make him explain the world to me. Now, I’m not so sure. I just don’t like being lectured, and I beg to disagree, even with Stephen Fry. I can tell you exactly where I started thinking “No! Please don’t generalise here, Stephen!” It is this point of a list of things nobody should be apologetic for:

“To find anything or anyone of any gender, age or species sexually attractive.”

No. Just no. I get what he’s saying in regards to schoolboys fancying each other, but paired with his earlier observation that caning pupils is not an act of abuse, every part of me objects. Again, I see how he never considered being caned an abuse, but in my eyes, it is, whether it immediately or in retrospect affects the child or not, an abuse of authority. I find the “age” bit of the above quote incredibly ill-considered. Brrrr.

This nearly ruined the whole book for me. In most aspects, I agree with Fry. He knows stuff, he values language and knowledge. It’s actually quite sobering to realise that even such a great guy says things I cannot agree with. All in all, it’s a pleasure to read. There are so many true things in the book, from childhood terrors to moments of self-realisation and the agonising transformation from the adolescent clarity and immensity of feeling to an adulthood that threatens to bury all that under daily drudgery. The much-used phrase “My whole life stretched out gloriously behind me” sums it up perfectly. So, by all means, read this book. And tell me if you agree.

Malin’s #CBR4 Reviews # 94-99: I’m nearly done with a double Cannonball, you guys!

So in the middle of October, I once again took part in the 24-hour Read-a-thon, and I’ve obviously been reading (and re-reading) books since then, but I’ve been falling behind on my blogging. So here’s a big catch-up post, and hopefully, within the week, I will have read and blogged a double Cannonball. I only set out to do a single one this year, and as a result, it seems that completing twice the amount became less of a chore.

94. A Wrinkle in Time by Madelaine L’Engle. I suspect I would have loved this more when I was younger. 4 stars.

95. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. The first book I’ve read of hers. It won’t be the last. 4 stars.

96. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. I know it’s been reviewed so well, so many times on here, and I have no idea why I didn’t pick it up before. 5 stars. By far the funniest book I read this year.

97. A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long. Yet another historical romance,  surprising no one, I’m sure. “The one with the hot vicar” as Mrs. Julien dubbed it. 4 stars.

98. Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor. Unquestionably one of the most anticipated books of the year for me, this turned out to be something completely different from what I’d expected. 4 stars.

99. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. So is it wrong that I was more charmed by the film? The 14-year-olds I teach, love it, though. 3.5 stars.


Idgiepug’s #CBR4 Review #31: Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg

This seems to be my year to try reading in new ways.  I read my first graphic novel, and most lately I tried Simon Pegg’s Nerd Do Well in audiobook format, something I tried only once before and ran far away from.  My husband and I read books aloud, but I actually do most of the reading.  I’m just not an auditory learner, I guess.  To be fair, that first audiobook was Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury read by a man named Wolfram Kandinsky, who will live forever in infamy in our house.  We were taking a course on Faulkner and Toni Morrison which required us to read seven books in a semester while we were teaching full time, so we thought an audiobook to play in the car would be a good way to speed our progress, but it was miserable.  No offense to Mr. Kandinsky, who is making a living reading books while I spend most evenings slogging through essays written by teenagers, but it was freaking awful.  His voice for Benjy, the mentally handicapped brother, was bad, but his attempt at mimicking the African-American servants charged with minding Benjy was simply too much to take.  We do find ourselves occasionally, lo these many years later, saying to each other “Hush, Beeeenjy!” in mock-Kandinsky voices, so I guess it wasn’t a complete waste of time.  Anyway, despite that introduction to the genre, Mr. Pug has continued listening to audio books, so much so that they’ve become his primary method of reading, but I never warmed to the idea.  Then he was able to download Nerd Do Well from the library before I was able to get a physical copy, and I was insanely jealous, so he offered to let me try it out when he was finished.  I don’t know if I’ll do it regularly, but it worked well for this book.  Pegg’s own narration is delightful and funny, and his book was interesting and poignant without being soppy.  I was also able to do a whole bunch of yard work while reading, so that’s a plus, I think.

Anyway, in Nerd Do Well Pegg juxtaposes the story of his life with the story of a fictional Simon Pegg, international playboy and man of mystery.  It’s a funny little device, which seems to relate to Pegg’s own admission that he tends to deflect questions about his personal life by defaulting to stories of his dog.  The fictional Pegg seems to serve the same purpose here by being a sort of relief for real Pegg when his personal story gets too, well, personal.  I know the device has bothered other readers, but I thought the fictional Pegg’s deliberately cheesy story was pretty funny and that there was just enough of it.  Simon Pegg has long been on my “five freebies” list, usually along with his friend Nick Frost (I like my men to be slightly nerdy, a bit odd, and damn funny), so I was predisposed to like this book, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it.  Pegg’s story isn’t groundbreaking or especially moving, but it was interesting to hear how he went from nerdy theater kid to international star.  My only complaint was that the end of his autobiography seemed to turn into more name-dropping than actual story, but it’s a minor complaint.

It’s impossible for me to be completely objective about this book, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I think the audiobook format actually improved the experience, despite my reservations, because Pegg does a fantastic job of narrating his story.  Audiobooks will never be my favorite medium, but this has nearly wiped away the memory of that first awful experience.

xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #46: My Story, by Marilyn Monroe

In 1954 Marilyn, at the height of her fame and popularity, was persuaded by friend and publicist Sidney Skolsky to publish her autobiography. They enlisted screenwriter Ben Hecht (The Front Page, Monkey Business, A Farewell to Arms) to ghostwrite, and sat down for a series of interviews which they intended to have published in a magazine, not in book form, in The Ladies Home Journal. The interviews focused mainly on her rough and tumble childhood. Hecht’s agent, without his or Marilyn’s knowledge or approval, sold it as serialized articles to the London Empire News, who ran it between between May 9 and Aug 1, 1954. In 1974, twelve years after her death, photographer and former business partner Milton Greene produced a copy of the manuscript and had it published in book form.

There has been much debate about the authenticity of the book. Some of the stories may have been embellished or streamlined by Hecht, but the overall feeling rings true to Marilyn. Marilyn was well-known for telling and retelling the stories of her life, frequently heightening the drama. She was a born actress. According to Monroe biographer Sarah Churchwell (The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe), “Hecht reported to his editor during the interviews that he was sometimes sure Marilyn was fabricating. He explained, ‘When I say lying, I mean she isn’t telling the truth. I don’t think so much that she is trying to deceive me as that she is a fantasizer.'”

Norma Jean in 1946, photographed by Andre de Dienes

Marilyn may have pumped up some of the pathos in her early life and Hecht may have cleaned up the text, but of all the books on Marilyn Monroe that I have read recently (and I have been reading a lot) this is the best. Is it the most well-written? Absolutely not. But does it come closest to capturing the woman who fifty years after her death is still an icon, a movie goddess? It actually does. So many of the other books, by authors good and not-so-good, have quoted liberally from My Story, but somehow have missed Marilyn’s voice and personality in their desire to catalog her inevitable road to death. When read in full, My Story gives a far better impression of Marilyn, how she talked, how she thought, than any picked-and-chosen snippets could.

The articles were clearly originally intended as a Cinderella story, cataloging Marilyn’s “orphan” childhood to her fame and marriage to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio. With all of the emphasis on the waifdom, a palpable sadness does comes through. After readingMy Story the reader learns that Marilyn could never forget her youth, her deprived existence as Norma Jean. “My own costume never varied. It consisted of a faded blue skirt and white waist. I had two of each, but since they were exactly alike everyone thought I wore the same outfit all the time. It was one of the things that annoyed people — my wearing the same clothes.”

It may have been intended as a publicity piece, but Marilyn and Hecht don’t hesitate to touch on the seamy underbelly of trying to get ahead in Hollywood, “I’ve never heard anything about the Hollywood I knew in those first years. No hint of it is ever in the movie fan magazines. … The Hollywood I knew was the Hollywood of failure. … We ate at drugstore counters. We sat in waiting rooms. We were the prettiest tribe of panhandlers that ever overran a town.” A story about trying to cash her last paycheck, a mere $40, after her [first] firing from Twentieth-Century Fox, points to the easy availability of drugs, “After doing my shopping, I stopped in a doctor’s office. I had a cold, and I had not slept for several nights. The doctor gave me a sleeping pill. ‘I don’t usually recommend sleeping pills,’ he said, “but you been having hysterics too long. A good sleep will not only be good for your cold but cheer you up.” She shares an amusing story of her first Hollywood feud, with Zsa Zsa Gabor, apparently as a result of husband George Sanders’s love of “pneumatic” blondes. Reading My Story gives the impression that Marilyn had a lot of Hollywood stories to tell and would have been very amusing company.

Marilyn in 1954

On her changing her name to Marilyn Monroe, “When I just wrote ‘This is the end of Norma Jean,’ I blushed as if I had been caught in a lie. Because this sad, bitter child who grew up too fast is hardly ever out of my heart. With success all around me, I can still feel her frightened eyes looking out of mine. She keeps saying, ‘I never lived, I was never loved,’ and often I get confused and think it’s I who am saying it.”

Marilyn may have been one of the first well-known women to talk publicly about childhood sexual abuse. She claims her first sexual encounter happened when she was nine and was molested by a man named Mr. Kimmel, who rented a room from the foster family she was living with. The incident had ramifications on her dealing with the casting couch later in Hollywood, “Maybe it was the nickel Mr. Kimmel once gave me … But men who tried to buy me with money made me sick. There were plenty of them. The mere fact that I turned down offers ran my price up.”

The only bum note in My Story is the introduction by Andrea Dworkin, “She kept trying to hold on for dear life with a man, some man, who had his feet solidly planted in achievement. Instead, they had their feet solidly planted on her neck or other exposed flesh.” Although she tries to cast Marilyn in a good light, Dworkin regurgitates lots of unsubstantiated gossip about Marilyn in her introduction, including the rumored affairs with both Kennedy’s and 20 abortions. Disappointing.

“I didn’t think of my body as having anything to do with sex. It was more like a friend who had mysteriously appeared in my life, a sort of magic friend.”

Marilyn’s own observations about her sexuality are far more interesting and revealing. Her discovery of her own beauty and voluptuousness seems to have been as much a revelation to her as to everyone around her. “Why I was a siren, I hadn’t the faintest idea. … The truth was that with all my lipstick and mascara and precocious curves, I was as unsensual as a fossil. But I seemed to affect people quite otherwise.” She developed early physically, but was unprepared emotionally, “My admirers all said the same thing in different ways. It was my fault, their wanting to kiss and hug me. … I always felt they were talking about someone else, not me. … I not only had no passion in me, I didn’t even know what it meant.” An early marriage at the age of 16, to neighbor Jim Dougherty, “Was a sort of friendship with sexual privileges. I found out later that marriages are often no more than that. And that husbands are chiefly good as lovers when they are betraying their wives.”

Marilyn photographed by Philippe Halsmann

Much of My Story is written in hindsight, with Marilyn telling what she currently thinks and feels about her past, and trying to remake her future, “[When married to Dougherty] the thought of having a baby stood my hair on end. I could only see it as myself, another Norma Jean in an orphanage. … I feel different about having a child now. It’s one of the things I dream of. She won’t be any Norma Jean now. And I know how I’ll bring her up — without lies. Nobody will tell her lies about anything. And I’ll answer all her questions. If I don’t know the answer I’ll go to an encyclopedia and look them up. I’ll tell her everything she wants to know — about love, about sex, about everything!”

As much as her youth as Norma Jean haunted Marilyn, My Story is a very hopeful read. Marilyn’s dreams and her never-ending desire to improve herself come through loud and clear. Everyone knows how her story ended, which is the focus of most books about the star. My Story is how her story started, with hints of how it might have gone differently.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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xoxoxoe’s #CBR4 Review #37: Timebends: A Life, by Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller’s Timebends: A Life, his time-hopping autobiography, was first published in 1987, when the renowned playwright was 72. In it he chronicles his youth in Brooklyn, his life in the New York theater, and his trials and tribulations and his ability to not “name names” to the House Un-American Activities  Committee during the McCarthy red-baiting scare of the 1950s. All fascinating stuff. The book, not unexpectedly, is well written, even poetic at times. But the bulk of (this) and many other readers interest in Timebends is that it is also the first occasion of Miller speaking publicly about his second wife, Marilyn Monroe.

Happy times — Miller and Marilyn dancing at the April in Paris Ball, Waldorf Astoria Hotel ballroom,  c. 1957. From Vintage Everyday

As long and as interesting as Miller’s life had been up to the point of his writingTimebends, he spends the majority of the book discussing the period of his life that included Marilyn. He first met her in 1950, when he was touting a screenplay in Hollywood with director Elia Kazan. She made an indelible impression, one that apparently never left him. Miller also made an impression on Marilyn, and she kept in touch with him, exchanging letters over the years.

He based one of his characters, Lorraine, in a(n unfinished) play he was working on in 1951 on Marilyn, although he had only met her the year before, briefly “By now, even after only those few hours with Marilyn, she had taken on an immanence in my imagination, the vitality of a force one does not understand but that seems on the verge of lighting up a vast surrounding plain of darkness. I was struggling to keep my marriage and family together and at the same time to understand why I felt as though I had lost a sort of sanction that I had seemed to possess since earliest childhood. Whom or what was I writing for?” Sounds like a combination of the seven-year-itch and Miller being in search of a muse. There is little to no mention of his life with his first wife, Mary and his family in Timebends.

Miller may not have realized how his private life was seeping into his work, but his colleagues and contemporaries did. He even ruefully quotes playwright Clifford Odets’ slam of his 1953 play The Crucible to Elia Kazan: “Just a story about a bad marriage.” It may be an overstatement, but Miller admits that before even embarking on the project, the central conflict of his guilt-ridden protagonist John Proctor, who has had a sexual relationship with his servant girl Abigail Williams, might be more related to his own life than he would like. His attraction to Marilyn was already influencing him, and providing a subtext in his work.

As much as Miller was obviously attracted to Marilyn as a woman, he also might have felt that she offered a new chance for him, a new medium for his writing — film. “I could not help thinking in 1953-54 that time was running out, not only on me but on the traditional American culture. I was growing more and more frighteningly isolated, in life as in the theater.” As much as Miller admits to being pulled towards her, he never comes out and simply says that he loves Marilyn. But he spends a lot of pages analyzing her and theorizing about her. His descriptions of her don’t always sound like a real woman, but rather a character he is fashioning. More than once he says that she is cursed, presumably by her rough childhood. It’s unclear whether he believed this on his own, or because he thought she believed it.

Once Marilyn left Hollywood (and Joe DiMaggio) for New York in 1955, she and Miller quickly made their friendship something much more. Miller got a quickie Reno divorce while Marilyn was filming Bus Stop and they married in 1956.

“I was forever saving her from crowds, crowds she could handle as easily and joyfully as a minister moving among his congregation. Sometimes it was as though the crowd had given her birth; I never saw her unhappy in a crowd, even some that ripped pieces of her clothes off as souvenirs.”

Miller may have loved her, but Timebends  and its author maintain a superior tone when he talks about her insecurities and what he deems as her unfounded suspicions of others’ motives. They had departed for London for their honeymoon and for Marilyn to film The Prince and Showgirl with Laurence Olivier co-starring and directing. When their two very different acting styles clashed, Miller, unfortunately for his marriage, chose the wrong side, unable to believe an actor of Olivier’s calibre could ever be in the wrong, “It was simply impossible to agree that he could be the cheap scene-stealer she was talking about. … Marilyn verged on the belief that he [Olivier] had cast her only because he needed the money her presence would bring. I wanted to believe that this was only half the truth; I was sure he saw the legitimate dramatic contrast between their social and cultural types, and if his motives were indeed partly cynical, they did not cancel his valid artistic judgment in casting. … inevitably, the time soon came when in order to keep reality from slipping away I occasionally had to defend Olivier or else reinforce the naïveté of her illusions; the result was that she began to question the absoluteness of my partisanship on her side of the deepening struggle.”

By the time they were filming The Misfts the marriage, and their faith in each other, was shattered. “… With The Misfits I was preparing to dedicate a year or more of my life to her enhancement as a performer — I would never have dreamed of writing a movie otherwise …”Not entirely true, as he had been shopping a screenplay back in 1950, when he first met her. He writes that he hopes The Misfits will save their marriage. Yet he doesn’t detail any concrete problems between them, except what he views as her innate despair. He writes about their life from a distance, rarely mentioning her intake of sleeping pills, or the second baby they lost.

“During the shooting of Let’s Make Love and Some Like It Hot I had all but given up any hope of writing; I had decided to devote myself to giving her the kind of emotional support that would convince her she was no longer alone in the world — the heart of the problem, I assumed. I went so far as to do some rewriting on Let’s Make Love to try to save her from a complete catastrophe, work I despised on a script not worth the paper it was typed on. It was a bad miscalculation, bringing us no closer to each other.” He neglects to mention, of course, well-documented in other sources, his agreeing, for a lucrative sum, to work on Let’s Make Love during a Writer’s Guild strike in Hollywood, which caused Marilyn to lose faith in him and his integrity.

He calls her role as Roslyn in The Misfits, more than once, her first serious part, but that is far from true. What of Bus Stop, Niagara, and The Asphalt Jungle, just to name a few? He spends a lot of pages explaining his ideas behind The Misfits, but skirts how his “Valentine” to his wife created such a negative story. “One afternoon Marilyn, with no evident emotion, almost as though it were just another script, said, ‘What they really should do is break up at the end.’ I instantly disagreed, so quickly, in fact, that I knew I was afraid she was right. But the irony was too sharp: the work I had created to reassure her that a woman like herself could find a home in the world had apparently proved the opposite.”

Even after so many years, he really fudges what was going on behind-the-scenes on the shoot. He points out Marilyn’s escalating lateness caused by pills, tension, and personal problems, but waves away director John Huston’s staying up all night shooting craps as something that may have adversely affected the shooting of the movie. Instead, he views Huston’s casino time as a byproduct of Marilyn’s behavior and not the fact that Huston was more than happy to be shooting a movie set in Reno for his own reasons. Miller claims that Marilyn moved out of their shared hotel suite to Paula Strasberg’s because “Her control over Marilyn was now so complete… Paula had finally won our long undeclared war. Still, this might clear the air, I thought, and free Marilyn to concentrate solely on the work she now said she wanted to do.” Marilyn moving out of a room shared with her husband had nothing to do with the fact that his rewrites showed her in an increasingly unflattering light, or that he had met photographer Inge Morath (who he would marry a year later) on the set?

Awkward — Marilyn and Miller dancing on the set of The Misfits

As he is watching Marilyn film a scene with costar and Hollywood legend Clark Gable near a lake, “I was almost completely out of her life by now, but from my distant view the film seemed purely a torture for her. … To be fair, her work in the film looked far more authentic to me in later years than it did during that bad time. I now marvel at how she managed, under the circumstances, to do as well as she did.” Once he is through with The Misfits, through with Marilyn (for the most part), he finally writes about Inge Morath, but not until page 493. But Marilyn soon re-enters his life, andTimebends, through her death.

“Coming out of the ’40s and ’50s, she was proof that sexuality and seriousness could not coexist in America’s psyche, were hostile, mutually rejecting opposites, in fact. At the end she had had to give way and go back to swimming naked in a pool [in Something’s Got To Give] in order to make a picture.”

Miller’s take on the people who surrounded Marilyn differ from other accounts. He demonizes her business partner Milton Greene, but lionizes her doctors, describing psychiatrists Dr. Marianne Kris (in New York) and Ralph Greenson (in Los Angeles) as both “physicians of integrity and unquestionably devoted to her.” It is understandable, as he views them as trying to help her, and failing, as he once did. But more recent takes on Kris and Greenson show that they may have done Marilyn more harm than good, and not just by the endless supply of barbiturates that they sent her way. Miller had no contact with Marilyn, or real knowledge of her life in California after they divorced, so his assumptions are just that.

“… She had always been one of those people for whom time is a sticky entanglement that they don’t want to touch, perhaps in denial that a past exists.”

In Timebends Miller writes about her poetically enough, but Marilyn, his conception of Marilyn, rarely comes across as a real person. She is still a muse to his words, almost thirty years after their break-up and her death. Perhaps that is all she really ever was to him. The exception is one story that he tells about her during the filming of The Misfits, where she is being shot up with Amytal by a local, reluctant doctor, while he and acting coach Paula Strasberg look on. An irritated Marilyn sees him and mutters “Get out” repeatedly until he slinks out of the room. Not a pretty scene, but one that has the ring of truth.

He wraps up the book with details of his controversial play After the Fall — controversial because of its main female character’s uncanny resemblance to Marilyn, as well as his being able to bring productions of his other plays to places as remote as Russia and China. Miller, who died in 2005, had a successful and productive career, producing some of the most lauded and memorable plays in American theater,The Crucible, All My Sons, and Death of A Salesman, for which he will always be remembered. But he will also clearly also always be remembered as Marilyn Monroe’s second husband, or as they were dubbed by  the press at the time, “The Egghead and the Hourglass.” He seems to be at peace with that fact in Timebends, if not completely convinced that it all really happened.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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Idgiepug’s CBR#4 Review #26: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

My mom gave me The Glass Castle, an autobiographical novel by Jeannette Walls, and told me that Walls’ story reminded her quite a bit of her own childhood.  I knew my mother’s childhood was rough, but I was surprised by the hardships on display here.  Like my own mother, Walls had a difficult and often absent father, and she and her siblings often lived without some basic necessities and suffered from their obvious poverty.  To my grandmother’s credit, though, she was a much better mother than Walls’ mother, a free-spirited, self-described “excitement addict,” who seemed to be irritated by the responsibilities of parenthood.  The book is well-written and deeply moving, but it was hard to read at times, especially as I thought about my own mother while I read.

Because Walls is writing about her own childhood, it’s hard to critique the story.  She and her siblings had a charismatic but alcoholic father who was frequently away from home and the afore-mentioned free-spirit of a mother who relocated their children every time the mood struck, apparently.  The Walls kids had each other, but that was about it.  On some moves, each child was allowed to bring only one item.  The only stable place in their lives was their maternal grandmother’s house, but the father and grandmother couldn’t tolerate each other, and the mother chose the father every time.

Walls clearly felt a stronger connection to her father than her mother, and that was sometimes hard to understand.  Like my own grandfather, Walls’ father had big plans for his family that he just couldn’t make into reality.  The title of the book comes from the father’s dream to build his family a literal glass castle to live in.  He would often talk about it and other schemes with Jeannette, who seemed to have a better relationship with him than the other children did.  Jeannette is also sure to include her father’s efforts to improve, such as a few stints with sobriety.  On the other hand, the mother is depicted as uniformly awful.  She has resources but chooses not to use them for her children’s benefit, and, unlike the father, she came from a decent family and had an education, so she should have known better.  Again, it’s hard to critique Walls’ depiction of her parents.  Regardless of which one did a “better” job of parenting Jeannette and her siblings, both parents clearly failed, and the success of the Walls children as adults is surprising and inspiring.

TylerDFC #CBR4 Review 15 Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock by Sammy Hagar with Joel Selvin

Your favorite band sucks. But that’s ok, mine does, too. No other type of entertainment in the world is more divisive than music. And everyone thinks they are right. Which really means that no one is. Music, by and large, is an entertainment whose entire purpose is to elicit an emotional response. There is rarely a story, rarely a lesson. Music is what it is and doesn’t usually require a great deal of introspection. You either like a song or you don’t and that opinion comes from a combination of personal factors more vast than you can quantify. Music is gut reaction entertainment.

My taste in music is, I think, pretty damn eclectic. I tend to lean more on the hard rock/rock side of things but I also like rap, dance, college rock (whatever that is anymore) even show tunes. The difference with me is I tend to like good music, regardless of the genre. I’m drawn to quality music and I respect musicians that get out there and do their thing night after night and album after album. I have to have a good melody, and I’ve always been a guy that can give a song a pass if the lyrics are bringing something interesting to an otherwise mundane song. There are bands I like that my friends write off as generic. Why do I like them? Hard to say, I have different reasons for each instance. Something in the sound or the lyrics speak to me. One particular moment stands out. A guitar riff moves me. Sometimes that is all it takes.

I’m a Sammy Hagar fan, but not necessarily because he’s a musician. I do think he was the best front man for Van Halen but his solo music always struck me as good, not great. I love his voice, always have. Just sometimes the music left me a bit cold. It comes down to this, I think he’s a cool cat that looks like he’s having a blast with life, has a good attitude, and seems like an all around great guy.

Red is Sammy’s autobiography, co-written with Joel Selvin. In the book, Sammy takes us through his hard-luck childhood in Los Angeles all the way through the various on-again off-again Van Halen tours and ending with the formation of Chickenfoot. Like I said, I liked Sammy but didn’t love all his stuff. The book opened my eyes to just how prolific this guy is. Not only is he a tireless musician and touring artist, he’s a damn good businessman and the book goes in to his various business ventures including the Cabo Wabo cantina, his tequila, and others such as a mountain bike company and even an overhead  fire sprinkler business. He demonstrates over and over again the old adage “Money makes money.”, which ends up being both inspiring and disheartening. Ultimately the book is inspiring, and he ends it with a beautiful “I did it, you can do it, I’m no more special than you are.” that is really the perfect way to close.

The “Uncensored” in the title is dead on, too. Sammy tells the story like it happened, and doesn’t mind that there are times he doesn’t come off the best. He details sexual escapades, casual drug use, the breakdown of his first marriage, and his love/hate experiences with Van Halen. His honesty is unflinching, and it makes for interesting reading.

The tone all the way through matches Sammy’s personality; matter of fact, upbeat, and always looking forward. It is an enjoyable read whether you are an acolyte of Hagar or not. I’m writing this while listening to Sammy’s solo work on Spotify and I can see I may be picking up some of his albums shortly. It’s good, well made rock & roll that’s fun to listen to.

Sometimes that’s all I want from my music.

faintingviolet’s #CBR4 review #19 : Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

You see celebrities of various stripes telling you about the latest book they’ve written on television or hear them on radio or see the advertisements as you bounce around the internet. Generally I think to myself, well I’m sure that’ll be interesting to someone and decide to leave it alone. For instance, this happened just the other night when Billy Bob Thornton was on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson shilling for his new book. This conversely was not the case when I saw Rob Lowe talking about his own memoir Stories I Only Tell My Friends. For a reason I have not yet been able to identify this time I thought, hey that looks intriguing.

And honestly, it was.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends covers Lowe’s life from its beginnings in Virginia and Ohio to about the time he leaves The West Wing in 2003. Admittedly there’s a throw away paragraph outlining how he feels about being able to do dramatic and comedic work simultaneously in the post West Wing years (Brothers & Sisters and Parks and Rec respectively). While Lowe’s is an entertaining tale with the usual missteps I think the thing that caught me perhaps the most off guard was how much the public figure of ‘Rob Lowe the movie star’ did not line up with Rob Lowe saw himself, particularly in the 1980s.

The beginning of the autobiography tends to bounce around a little as far as chronology, generally hitting the memories that stand out to Rob about how he grew into the person he is and also the memories and early experiences of an actor. It had not occurred to me that someone could feel so compelled to act at such a young age as Lowe did. I guess I always thought child actors enjoyed what they did because in some ways it’s the best game of make believe ever, but I simply didn’t assign the idea of a professional drive to someone so young. Maybe I was wrong (completely possible) or maybe Lowe is remembering the way he wants. Either can be true, and either can be valid.

As far as tone this is a very open memoir in most ways. Lowe published this book after the death of his mother and he is very frank about his relationship with her and her ongoing health issues. He is less frank about his relationships with his brothers, but as they are alive and well and generally not part of his acting career it makes sense that they be excused the spotlight. Lowe talks honestly about how he felt during the ‘Brat Pack’ article’s publication and being perhaps the first celebrity with a sex tape and speaks openly about what led to his alcoholism and subsequent sobriety. But perhaps the most interesting thread woven throughout the memoir is that of the experiences along the way – the people, the work, the politics both Washington D.C. and California based that inform who Rob Lowe ultimately is.

Much of the book is a trip down his IMDb page as he remembers it. The great part of this for me was the introduction to movies or projects I had missed (I was too young to see most of the movies Lowe starred in during his early career as they were released) as well as realizing that Lowe’s tone is a nice cross between two of my favorite characters of his – Sam Seaborn and Robert McCallister. This one’s worth a read if you are a Lowe fan generally speaking or a consumer of pop culture autobiographies, although it’s only getting two stars because while I appreciate that Lowe did his own writing, its not as polished as you might hope.

This review is cross-posted

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