I have two major literary guilty pleasures: V.C. Andrews and celebrity bios. V.C.’s not so much of a pleasure anymore, considering a sixty-something perverted codger is now penning her cringe-worthy novels (the last one I read actually had the two teenaged girls discussing menarche. Yeah. Go look up that one from health class circa 1977). But the celebrity bio, beautiful babies, is alive and well. Some excellent ones I’ve read over the past few years: Rick Springfield’s Late, Late at Night; Mackenzie Philips’ High on Arrival; Whitney and Bobbi Kristina; Brooke Shields’ There Once Was A Little Girl. Some snoozefests: Florence Henderson, Goldie Hawn, Elizabeth Montgomery. The library is an awesome place to pick up the celebrity bio, along with used bookstores. Who knew Kara DioGuardi and Mia Tyler had written autobiographies? They were both surprisingly good.
. This summer I’ve picked quite a few biographies off the shelves and the last four I read are the ones I’ll be sharing with you in this blog, half critique, half CliffsNotes versions. Perhaps if you are among the fortunate to not be fearing Hurricane Hermine this Labor Day weekend, you can pick up one of these novels and hit the beach yourself. If you are in his path, like me, curl up on the couch instead with a cup of coffee. Either way, happy reading!
1. SHIRLEY JONES: A MEMOIR by Shirley Jones (and Wendy Leigh)
I wanted to read this potboiler since its publication last year. I read a few reviews on how spicy and shocking and dishy it was, and considering my sister came of age in the David Cassidy error and loved The Partridge Family and I was a big fan of Shaun Cassidy’s after seeing him on The Hardy Boys Mysteries and then crushing on cutie Ryan Cassidy when he appeared on The Facts Of Life, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the scandalous life of their mother (David’s stepmother, but still, right?). It didn’t disappoint. Unlike Florence Henderson’s autobiography (and I really hate to compare quintessential seventies moms, and I’ve always liked The Brady Bunch much better than The Partridge Family, but here I go) Shirley’s has feist. She’s passionate, she’s goody-goody but risky, randy and foolishly addicted to the man she loves. There were some embarrassing moments, like if she were your grandmom, you’d be like, “OMG, Gram, shut up!” like the final chapter that seems to be put in there for what reason, I don’t know, where she talks about how much she loves diddling herself and does it frequently, with just Vaseline and a finger. Perhaps someone should buy her a bullet? On the one hand, it’s a healthy message for people her own age, and maybe even younger, to say, “There’s nothing wrong with loving yourself and making yourself feel good,” but the way she does it seems a little seedy. Spread over the last three pages of the book, it’s almost like the Tootsie Roll in the center of the lollipop after you’ve licked for so long, the happy ending that finishes off your massage. It would have worked better somewhere in the middle of the book, maybe as a companion to the many times she reminds us how well-endowed first husband Jack Cassidy was and how all his sons inherited this treasure (Ew, mom!). Aside from all that, she dishes on Brando and Sinatra (both were self-centered douchebags) and tells some Partridge Family anecdotes. Well-balanced and interesting, the randy granny stories are worth it even if you’re too young to understand the Cassidy showbiz dynasty or who the hell Shirley Jones is.
2. DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE by Holly Madison
Full title Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny, even though throughout the book Holly consistently reminds us how much she wants to distance herself from the Playboy brand. But it’s how we know her, right, even if this isn’t how she wishes we know her. But she set the wheels in motion, and like it or not, it is probably how we will always know her. Let’s get one thing straight: I was biased from page one. I can appreciate a sexy woman’s place in society as good as the next person, even if that seems to be all she is. If God made you sexy, go ahead, girl. I have a harder time, though, if God didn’t make you sexy and you go and buy boobs and a nose and nails and hair and pull your pants down for anyone–especially someone old enough to be your granddad–and suddenly that makes you sexy. After all, even Playboy won’t ever publish pictures or peddle movies of their barely into their twenties women screwing an eighty-year-old. So I was not a fan of Holly’s. I saw this book in Barnes and Noble when it first came out and although I was curious to read it (I had lived in Vegas when she was dating king of the douchebags Criss Angel and everyone was tracking them as the Sin City supercouple) I refused to spend money on it. I didn’t even want to be caught plucking it off a shelf. I saw it in the library in July, however, and couldn’t resist. It was free and the time was right. I read it in three days and suddenly, yes beautiful babies, #TeamHolly.
. This book has it all, juggled beautifully. It dishes, sometimes nastily, without coming off as bitter or catty. It’s a talent Holly and her ghostwriter (come on, she didn’t do this by herself) pull off with brilliance. Everything she tells us about Hef and what it’s really like to be a Playboy Bunny is exactly how I had pictured it: disgusting and degrading. Soul-sucking. There’s dish on Dr. Phil’s son Jordan, on Kendra Wilkinson, on aforementioned douchebag Criss Angel, other bunnies and more. It’s not all tattle trash, though. Believe it or not, it’s clever and inspirational and paints Holly as the kind of girl you want to sit beside in the pedicure chair or have coffee with at Starbucks. No surprise a year later she’s published her sophomore effort, The Vegas Diaries. Can’t wait to read it; I might even tuck a few dollars in its G-string.
3. POSSESSED: THE LIFE OF JOAN CRAWFORD by Donald Spoto
While I was in Palm Coast this past March I discovered this most amazing used bookstore and picked up a hardcover copy of Christina Crawford’s scathing tribute to her mother Mommie Dearest. Considering some of the parenting we’ve been exposed to thanks to the advent of tabloid television, it wasn’t a real stretch for me to believe Joan was a little off her rocker and perhaps rearing children wasn’t necessarily a skill in her wheelhouse. The picture perfect life she, along with her studio, so meticulously and desperately painted for the public, complete with matching outfits with her adopted children, now seems downright suspect and creepy even without the ghost of Christina’s story lurking overhead. Knowing what we know now some sixty years later about the politics of adoption, how did Crawford, a single woman, end up getting two perfect blonde white babies no muss, no fuss, the moment she wanted them? And two baby twin girls several years later? Uh, even Madonna and Brangelina and Tom and Nicole and Sandra Bullock and Michelle Pfeiffer (should I go on?) had to go overseas or outside of their race to acquire an adopted child. It makes good PR to spin it that they wanted it that way, but we all know the truth: there are people on waiting lists for years to adopt a healthy baby. But sixty years ago Joan Crawford happened onto four. Please. That being said, I also felt Christina was grossly exaggerating her mother’s nuttiness. The book paints her as certifiable. How did she hide this from everyone? And those who clearly knew (according to Christina)–husbands, staff members, a handful of contemporaries, school headmasters–kept their mouths shut and became accessories to the abuse. Even when all Christina had to wear to class for over a week was a winter coat with nothing on beneath it. Seriously?
. But this is not a rehashing of Mommie Dearest. This is about Possessed, another biased account of Joan’s life, only this time it’s in her favor. Clearly author Donald Spoto is a Joan Crawford fan. And practically everyone who’s come in contact with Joan, according to him, has only glowing things to say about her. In fact, Joan’s worst critic is Joan herself, who is quoted throughout the book calling herself a bitch and difficult and not the best mother who maybe should have never adopted children. What a great spin: Joan knew she was no angel. She took her own inventory, she wasn’t perfect, now get off her back. Sort of like the husband who cheats on you and then wants points for not lying when you catch him. What a swell guy. Speaking of affairs, Crawford had numerous ones with married family men. Begged them to leave their wives. Kept house with them and her children, while his wife and children were left alone for months at a time. And the adoptions? Just as I suspected, Joan’s baby broker was non other than that snake Georgia Tann, who stole babies from loving parents so she could sell them for profit (I have Georgia Tann’s bio in my Nook queue. Can’t wait to dig in). And Joan adopted five babies; her second son, Christopher, was taken away when his birth parents came creeping around her house to steal him back. She soon adopted another son with then husband Phillip Terry, whom she named Phillip Terry, Jr., only to rename him Christopher Crawford when she and Terry split. Ew. Creepy. She lost touch with her only son, a multiple runaway, when he was seventeen. She left both Christina and Christopher out of her will, and supposedly Christina wrote Mommie Dearest in retaliation. Retaliation for what? It’s not like Joan was ever going to read it. Again, I don’t believe all of Mommie Dearest, just like I don’t believe Spoto’s one-sided fan fest of a highly flawed woman. He would have done her better justice had he fairly portrayed both sides of her. As a result, his novel comes of as both a descriptive list of all her movies, and a rebuttal of Mommie Dearest.
4. WILDFLOWER by Drew Barrymore
This was another one I originally spotted in my local Barnes and Noble last year and I picked it up, thinking it was going to be Little Girl Lost, Part Two. When I read the dust jacket and got the impression it was nothing more than a collection of little stories and life lessons, I immediately put it aside. At the time I wasn’t interested in reading what appeared to be a “best of” collection of blog entries. But the same day I checked Holly Madison’s book out of the library, Drew’s was on the table as a new arrival. I picked it up and thought, What the hell, and checked it out as well. And so glad I did. Although I’m still of the opinion that it reads like a collection of blog entries, along with some journal-esque personal messages to her daughters and in-laws, I did enjoy her odes to business partner, best friend and “love of her life,” Nancy Juvonen, and Adam Sandler. I liked her stories involving Cameron Diaz; not so much the heavy-handed trip to Africa. I especially connected with her road trip story with Nancy and her love for her first three dogs, all of them now dead. I could appreciate the story of her father and the door he burst through after his death, and the way she keeps losing clothes in a karmic payback from the night she destroyed a hotel’s worth of others clothes one night in Germany at eleven years old. I thoroughly enjoy this mature Drew, this insightful Drew, the Drew who looks back at her wild child days and says, “oh my goodness, all I want now is to be a lady.” She succeeded. She totally turned her image around and went from flashing Letterman desk dancer to America’s sweetheart. I’m happy for her. She proves over and over again you can have what you want if you’re strong and work for it. A positive message that I was finally ready to receive. Loved it so much I checked out the audio version for Lisa (my very own Nancy Juvonen) and I to listen to on our road trip up to Philly last month. Only after listening, Lisa and I decided she’s Drew and I’m Nancy. Now if only I could find my Jimmy Fallon . . . .