Recently, I went on a little spree of reading autobiographies. I shouldn’t have done that.
You see, two of them were the memoirs of two of my favorite childhood heroines: Laura Ingalls and Marcia Brady. (Don’t judge my 11-year-old intellect here. Anne Frank and Nancy Drew were also my heroines.)
Every little girl (at least the ones I rolled with back then) wanted to be Half-Pint. She was so feisty, so adventurous and she didn’t take crap from anybody. Plus, she was all freckly cute, even with those buck teeth of hers. I wished I had brown hair and freckles. The braids I could do, but they were blond. And I only had three freckles on my nose from the sun. And I didn’t have buck teeth, but I did have big, crooked teeth with a gap.
And Marcia. What girl growing up in the 70s didn’t want to be Marcia? What girl didn’t brush her hair in the mirror 100 times each night, just trying to get it half as shiny and straight as Marcia’s? She was like the Jennifer Aniston of our day. Even when she went through her dorky stage, with her braces and facial moles, she was still pretty and popular, despite that tearful breakdown in the mirror one day, screaming, “I’m ugly! I’m ugly! UGLY!!!” Marcia, you were never ugly, even when you got that football thrown in your face. (So there, Harvey Klinger and Doug Simpson!)
Childhood heroines amassed during your formative years tend to follow you into adulthood, I guess. (Which is why I’m glad my girls have never really latched on to Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus.) So when the autobiographies of two of my heroines came out, of course I was going to read them.
But I sort of wish I hadn’t. Reading these books has shattered my image of both of them, and with that, a little bit of my childhood innocence.
First, I read Maureen McCormick’s Here’s the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice.
Of course, I knew what was coming, from all the press she did preceding its release. I knew she had a cocaine issue and a drinking problem, and of course, I knew that she and Greg had a little thing going during filming back then, having previously read Greg’s own memoirs, Growing Up Brady. (Did I mention I was a Brady Bunch fan?)
Reading about how imperfect her family life really was, and how it (and/or her sudden but pretty shortlived fame) led her down all sorts of very un-Marcia-like paths was certainly interesting, but not a fun read by any means. I didn’t enjoy reading about my calm, cool, pretty and popular heroine lying in bed for days strung out on cocaine. I didn’t enjoy reading about her promiscuity (and not just with Greg; I wish) or her desperation to revive her sinking career. (A country singer, really Marcia?)
It really took away a tiny part of my childhood. I know, no one is as perfect as they seem (except for the Bradys), but I think some of those childhood fantasies should remain as just that. You start reading biographies and you’re messing with your memories that should maybe be left innocent and intact.
After I got over that hot mess, I delved into Melissa Gilbert’s Prairie Tale:
This one was even worse for me, because when I was younger, when I wasn’t busy trying to be Nancy Drew, I wanted to be like Laura.
But after reading her book, I couldn’t stand her. She came across as so full of herself and seemed to think she was a bigger star than she really was. After Little House, I don’t recall her ever starring in anything but a bunch of Lifetime movies (which I don’t watch). I know from reading her book that she did go on to do a lot of movies, just not a lot that I (or anyone but the Lifetime crowd) ever saw. (Except for the Helen Keller movie that was supposed to have re-energized her career.)
But you would think she were of Julia Roberts or Meryl Streep caliber by the way she dropped celebrity names throughout the book, and on a first-name basis like the reader was supposed to know who she meant: “Marty” (Martin Sheen), “Tom” (Cruise), “George” (Clooney, duh) and, get this, “Bill” (Clinton)!
Sure, she was well-connected, as her father was in show business with the big-time names of that generation. But I don’t think she ever got as famous as she wanted, or as famous as the people she surrounded herself with were (especially the “Brat Pack” of the ’80s, including Rob Lowe), and she came across as jealous, resentful and even vengeful at times.
I admit, it was interesting to read about her complicated years-long relationship with Rob Lowe, seeing as I had the biggest crush on him all through high school (who didn’t?) and I still have a little crush on him as Governor McCallister on one of my favorite shows, Brothers and Sisters. It was sad to read about how he dumped her just before their wedding, and about how she had a miscarriage with their baby.
But I would’ve liked to read more about her days on Little House on the Prairie. I did learn that she and Mary Ingalls (Melissa Sue Anderson) didn’t get along, but that she was BFFs with Nellie Oleson (Alison Arngrim). I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Mary always did seem like a stuck-up crab, even before she went blind. And Nellie, well, she cracked me up. Strangely, she barely even mentioned Ma Ingalls.
Obviously, one person she did talk about a lot throughout the book was Michael Landon, my beloved Pa Ingalls. Just look at that man:
To me, he embodied everything a man should be. And I’m so thankful I married a man like him. A man who can be sensitive but who can also fix and build things, oh, and fight off the Injuns once in a while. I often say that BK is my “Pa Ingalls.” (I think my sisters just threw up a little.)
But then Laura—I mean, Melissa—had to ruin that, too.
In her book, she refers countlessly to his drinking ways, his volatile temper, his signature scent of cigarette smoke and alcohol.
Yuck. Thanks a lot, Half-Pint. I’m sure he and his family appreciate that portrait you painted of him as he lies in his grave.
Of course, I didn’t expect this book to be all about life on the Little House set. But I also didn’t expect it to be bragging proudly about her promiscuity. (She was a bigger skank than Marcia, by the way. Those buck teeth sure didn’t stop her from getting any action.)
I don’t mean to be so judgmental of her; I just don’t like her anymore after reading this book. It’s not because of the things she did. Obviously, everyone makes mistakes and it’s especially difficult when it’s done publicly. Some might say say she is brave to tell her story, sordid parts and all. (Maybe, but she’s also getting paid a lot to tell it.) What I found off-putting was her snarky attitude and her overabundance of self-esteem that permeates the book.
Making it even worse was her use of foul language throughout the book. It’s one thing if you talk that way, but entirely another to write that way. It’s not like it’s something that accidentally slips or is used without thinking. When you’re writing a book, obviously every word is more carefully thought out and then goes through multiple editors before it’s published. (Unlike blog writing, by the way.) I mean come on, using the “F” word as an adjective every few pages? She’s an actress; she is supposed to be more creative than that.
Plus, Half-Pint isn’t supposed to be dropping F-bombs.
Now if Chelsea Handler wants to use it in her books (yes, I’ve read a couple, so what, I love her, she’s funny) , that’s another thing. It’s part of her shtick.
Now that my childhood innocence has been ripped away, I think I’ll take a break from reading autobiographies. Well, maybe after I read Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue. I don’t think reading her book is going to shatter any images of her for me. Sadly, she’s already done a pretty good job of that herself. Or maybe it’s the media that has. We’ll see after I read the book.
And then I’m done with autobiographies for a while, at least until a good one comes out. (But at the moment, I can’t think of anyone whose I would be interested in reading.) You certainly won’t catch me reading Mackenzie Phillips’ recent release (too gross!), nor her co-star Valerie Bertinelli’s.
I’m pretty sure even Screech from Saved by the Bell has written an autobiography. I can’t imagine anyone would care much to read his, even when his show was in its fluorescent-clothes-and-mall-bangs heyday.
Now I promise, that was the first and last time Screech will ever be mentioned on this blog.