By Alan L. Chrisman
There’s a section on G+ where people can describe their relationship. I noticed several people chose-“it’s complicated.” Relationships, you know those things, most of us are either in, trying to recover from, or are dreaming for.
Almost every pop song and most movies and novels are at least partly about these three states of relationships, so it’s a main part of the human condition.
Recently, I ran across and read two books which are somewhat both alike, but different. They are both memoirs and are two of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time. The first is Speedbumps (Flooring it Through Hollywood) by comic- actress, Teri Garr. The other is Five Men Who Broke My Heart by New York writer Susan Shapiro. Both are both heartfelt and hilarious.
Teri Garr, before she became known as an actress, was in 9 Elvis movies as a dancer and got to hang out with The Beatles, even attending their recording of “Yellow Submarine” and club-hopping in London with them.
She was also in several acclaimed movies: Young Frankenstein (with Gene Wilder, Oh God (with John Denver and George Burns), Mr. Mom (with Michael Keaton) and Close Encounters of The Third Kind (with Richard Dreyfuss) and Tootsie (with Dustin Hoffman) for which she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. Others may know her from her several appearances on the David Letterman Show (one infamous one in which Dave persuaded her to take a shower on camera). She also later had a recurring role as Phoebe’s mother on Friends.
But it wasn’t always so easy for her. Her father was an often out-of-work vaudevillian and an alcoholic gambler and her mother had been a dancing Rockette. Her mother would pack up her children and follow her husband from city to city. When her father died, she decided to “get serious” at an early age and become a dancer. It was at one of those dance classes that she was chosen to be in her first Elvis movie, Viva Las Vegas in 1964 and became friends with him. She was also in Pajama Party with Annette Funicello and was a go–go dancer in the 60’s pop music TV shows, Shindig and Hullabaloo. But she struggled between jobs, doing commercials, anything. Because of the unsettled childhood she’d had, she most wanted her own financial security and a career, always worried about the next job, becoming a workaholic even. And at first, nobody took her seriously as an actress. She reveals the other side of Hollywood and the not always glamorous behind the scenes of movie sets and describes her friendships with several other struggling actors at the time, Rob Reiner, Albert Brooks, Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss, Steve Martin, Denis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Cher, etc.
By the time she was in her late 30’s, she realized she needed to slow down a bit and find a stable relationship and have a child, but it continued to remain elusive. Finally she did get a daughter, Molly, through an adoption. But she began to have more and more symptoms of her long misdiagnosed disease MS. She’s had to learn to live with it (it comes and goes) and has become a National Ambassador for its organization and spends a lot of her time speaking about her experiences in dealing with it. She’s become a very strong person with all she’s gone through, but she never seems to have never lost her devastating humor. Her book is full of her sarcastic observations of the ups and downs of her fascinating life.
The other memoir, Five Men Who Broke My Heart, by Susan Shapiro, is about a woman struggling in her career to be a writer and feeling older too without a child. She has been in a five year marriage with a workaholic writer for Seinfeld, Saturday Night Live and the Simpsons, but she is going through a mid-life crises. So she convinces one of her magazine editors to let her do a story on going back to five of her former boyfriends to see what went wrong with each. Somehow her patient husband who’s preoccupied with his own booming career allows her to pursue this.
When she does finally track down her past lovers, she discovers that they haven’t turned out quite the way she remembered them. Of course, it’s also her attempt to catch back up with her fleeting youth. She describes her own, somewhat in a different way, difficult childhood trying to be successful like both her doctor father and her domestic mother. She has been living in New York City but grew up in Michigan. She and her family and milieu are Jewish and they have a special kind of humor and she writes great, smart one-liners. Her life could almost be like out of a Woody Allen movie, it’s so funny and poignant at the same time. Also her journey going back to question old lovers reminded me of the Nick Hornby book and film, Hi Fidelity. In the movie, John Cusack plays a record store owner who’s having relationship problems and tries to go back and understand why his previous relationships fell apart. It’s a classic 2000 movie about love and music and their effect on each other (it was also comic actor, Jack Black’s breakthrough role as the snarky record clerk).
So I recommend these books, Teri Garr’s and Susan Shapiro’s bitingly funny memoirs, and the book and movie, Hi Fidelity, about both the joys and pains of relationships.
Below "Hi Fidelity", classic film about relationships and music with John Cusack, 2000: