Hollywood’s May Memoirs: Spacek, Sheen/Estevez, Guttenberg, Pantoliano

 

For fans of Hollywood memoirs, the summer reading season is already underway with a bumper crop of books hitting stores in early May.

In addition to books by Ryan O’Neal about his relationship with Farrah Fawcett, Gregg Allman about his life and times as a pioneering rocker and Cher’s one-time husband, and Dan Rather’s defense of his final and controversial last few months at CBS News, the beginning of May brings these new memoirs from well-known Hollywood notables Sissy Spacek, Steve Guttenberg, Joe Pantaliano and the father-son team of Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez.

My Extraordinary Life by Sissy Spacek (Hyperion, 288 pages).

Spacek, the five-time best actress Oscar nominee (and one-time winner for 1980’s Coal Miner’s Daughter), tells her life story from her childhood in Quitman, Texas, through her joining Lee Strasberg’s famed Actors’ Studio in New York and on to her feature film success, beginning with her big break Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973).  After winning for Coal Miner’s Daughter, Spacek scored three more noms in the next six years (Missing, The River, Crimes of the Heart) before cutting back on her career to focus on raising a family on a horse farm near Charlottesville, Virginia. There are some nice stories here of Spacek’s early attempts at a singing career and film fans will enjoy her recollections of working with Malick, but Spacek comes most alive in her description of her life away from the big screen.

The Guttenberg Bible by Steve Guttenberg (St. Martin’s, 336 pages).

Often mocked for his string of B-movie hits (four Police Academy movies), Guttenberg brings the winking self-awareness he demonstrated in a self-mocking turn on the cult Starz show Party Down to this memoir of his early years in Hollywood.  Guttenberg tells great stories, from sneaking onto the Paramount lot by impersonating Michael Eisner’s son to having a shivtz with Michael Landon to finagling auditions.  Guttenberg retains a wide-eyed outsider’s wonder at Hollywood, while offering an insider’s sharp analysis of the tough business of acting.  A B actor scores an A memoir.

Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez with Hope Edelman (Free Press, 352 pages).

Springing off the 2010 movie The Way about a man who completes the Camino de Santiago pilgrim’s walk that was directed by Estevez and starred Sheen, the father and son team up on this alternating memoir. Sheen, born Ramon Estevez to a Spanish father and Irish mother, grew up in a working-class family in Dayton, Ohio. Estevez grew up the son of a famous father in the privileged community of Malibu, California where he was friendly with such future stars as Sean Penn and Rob Lowe. Some of the stories are particularly great—Sheen’s early days as an actor in New York, Estevez’s time on the Apocalypse Now set, for example. But what stands out in this memoir is the father-son bond at the center of story—warm and loving for sure but also complicated and fractious at times, like any real relationship.

Asylum: Hollywood Tales from My Great Depression: Brain Dis-Ease Recovery, and Being My Mother’s Son by Joe Pantoliano (Weinstein Books, 256 pages).

The second memoir from the veteran character actor known for everything from Guido the pimp in Risky Business to Francis in Goonies to Ralph Cifaretto on The Sopranos, focuses on the dark side of life—addictions (alcohol, pills, sex) and a long struggle with depression.  A frank account of his worst excesses, Pantoliano should be admired for his candor, especially since many of the stories cast him in a pretty unfavorable light. He also opens up his depression and writes about recent work to help others who suffer from psychological illnesses. Pantoliano’s use of fantasy sequences, including an imagined session with Freud, to advance the story is a quirky choice that will win over some readers and turn off others.

 

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