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Learning to Live Out Loud: A Memoir Hardcover – November 1, 2011
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In a candid memoir, Emmy- and Golden Globe–winning actress Laurie remembers her long, surprising life as a film, theater and TV star.
An “uncommunicative, silent child” who suffered from acute anxiety disorder, Laurie was inexplicably drawn to the world of stage performance from a young age. After suggesting that she “be in the movies,” her mother entered her in a contest that offered a screen test as first prize. Laurie won the contest but failed the screen test; yet the resolve to persist in following her dream remained strong. Her efforts eventually landed her a contract at Universal Studios when she was just 17. What she did not know was that “Universal was a picture factory then, specializing in a disposable product for a double feature market,” and that she would be promoted as a glamorous B-movie “bimbo.” Five years later, Laurie began the painful process of speaking for herself and articulating her professional desires. She broke her contract with Universal to take more serious roles on Broadway and in such groundbreaking TV dramas and films as the CBS Playhouse version of Days of Wine and Roses (1958), The Hustler (1961), Carrie (1976) and Twin Peaks (1990-91). Laurie’s openness—about her struggles with shyness and amphetamine addiction and her quietly determined pursuit of artistic fulfillment and sexual freedom—save the book from reading like just another Hollywood career catalog. The self-portrait that emerges is of a gracious woman who was in many ways ahead of her time and who fought “the good fight” on the way to becoming “a part of the speaking world.”
About the Author
PIPER LAURIE (born Rosetta Jacobs) has performed in a hundred films and dozens of plays. She has been nominated three times for an Oscar and received an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award. She was honored as Harvard’s Woman of the Year and with the Spirit of Hope Award for her many trips to entertain the troops in Korea. Her film credits include The Hustler, Carrie, The Grass Harp, Tim, and Children of a Lesser God. She is also well remembered for her dual roles as Catherine Martell and the Japanese businessman in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. She lives in Los Angeles.
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I had this kicking around on my Kindle for nearly two months and decided to read it a couple of days ago. To say it was good would be an understatement. Laurie (born Rosetta Jacobs and also known as Rosie or Sissy) really lays out her life in this book. As she tells her reader, she was a quiet child who had an inability to speak or express herself. A child of the depression, her life takes a strange turn at the age of six when she and her older asthmatic sister are taken from their native Detroit and placed in a residential home for sickly children in the San Fernando Valley just north of LA. The problem here is that Rosie is a healthy child. Presumably both of her parents remain in Detroit. Her maternal grandmother resides in two homes; one in California and one in Michigan. For 3 years, Rosie and her sister Sherrye have virtually no contact with her parents or anyone else from their past. Talk about abandonment. Just as inexplicably, the parents reclaim their two daughters and resettle in LA. The parents remain in denial or permanent brain freeze for the rest of their lives never giving any explanation as to why the kids were farmed out or why the perfectly healthy Rosie was moved into a place for children who were so sick that most of them weren't able to attend public school. The entire episode still confuses Rosie as well as her reader.
Family life resumes as 'normal' and their are glimpses of a father who basically just works and then crashes when he gets home and a neurotic mother given to periods of depression and poor health. A pattern develops where the kids get involved in lessons which vary in terms of kind and duration based on the family finances. Quiet and insecure Rosie shines only when performing.
Rosie's borderline stage mama starts entering her in contests. She bombs in a screen test at Warner Bros., but continues with the acting lessons eventually getting a contract with Universal Pictures. This marks the start of fame and frustration for Rosie who wants to become a serious actress and becomes frustrated with the indentured servitude of her seemingly endless studio contract that offers nothing more than big bucks and mediocre roles.
At this point, the story hits some repetitive themes. The newly minted Piper Laurie turns sexual and has affairs with some extremely prominent people while still living a publicly sheltered life under her parents roof. I'll spare you names for the most part, but advance PR for this book implicates future president Ronald Reagan as the man she lost her virginity to. She has a strange involvement with David Schine, scion of a wealthy family of hoteliers who is most well known for his association with Roy Cohn. Along the way there are affairs a plenty, a ménage a trois, an unplanned pregnancy which was the result of casual sex. There is also the predictable leaving home, distancing herself from her family, getting out of the Universal contract, continuing to learn her craft, fighting against type in the legit theater, etc. Eventually Rosie marries a noted film critic without much reason after avoiding marriage for a variety of reasons and moves away from her career which becomes non-existent. The only times she seems to work is when she needs a little money.
At a point, Rosie decides to go for a second and later third act in regard to her career as an actress and inexplicably breathes new life into her career by scoring some great roles professionally as well as the expected accolades.
Throughout this was a very good book. It was gossipy and revealing yet also surprisingly introspective.
There were a couple things in this book that I came to find grating, but not enough to stop reading. The 'learning to live out loud' part was a consistent theme in the book, but it was so overworked that I found Laurie's constant allusions to her inability to take control unbelievably irritating. I also tired of the mini acting lessons Laurie gave. I just didn't find these tangents constructive in regard to the overall story. However, that is my opinion and I suspect most readers might disagree with me. Clearly, I liked this book immensely and that's why I've chosen to review it.
In her memoir, Piper Laurie describes the process of the implements being sent down a string in slow-motion and how humorous it was. (In the movie it was anything but humorous to me!) As the knives and forks hit her, Miss Laurie has to moan in ecstasy, her longed-for redemption through destruction complete, pinned to the wall like the stations of the cross.
It was inspired casting to put Piper Laurie in this role because it was one that could easily have gone over the top and been completely unconvincing. Miss Laurie did go over the top in this performance, as it was called for in the script, but she found the truth of the character, connected with it, and expressed it to us in a way that scared the crap out of us.
Brian de Palma, the director, made a a shrewd decision to hire a seasoned actress like Miss Laurie for this part. The integrity she brought to the film gave him even more credibility in Hollywood, and made him a very rich man.
What a crowd Miss Laurie hung out with during her career! She knew everybody and everybody knew, and respected, her. She has many interesting stories to tell and she comes across as a genuinely nice person who has overcome the trials of her earlier years.
When it comes to acting, Piper Laurie is one of the few remaining stars from the 50s who rose from the studio system to become a remarkable (and employable) character actress. Her accounts and reminiscences of the roles she played is wonderfully englightening and insightful.
5 Stars! Great read!
This should be a handbook for all aspiring actors, and for anyone interested in the ups and downs of life in the theater./cinema. Kudos to Ms. Laurie for such a terrific page-turner.