Reading a trashy celebrity memoir is like sitting down to a glorious buffet of sparking wine (not quite champagne, sorry) and your favorite packaged snack cakes with a chatty acquaintance who you can’t quite believe is telling you all of this, and using such absurd, overripe language at that, but you hope they never stop. You’ll feel a little gross later, but you’ll sleep it off and be back for more, every time.
Little Girl Lost by Drew Barrymore with Todd Gold (1990)
Drew and I are about the same age, so I’ve been comparing myself to her for as long as I can remember. In 1990, when we were both fourteen years old, Drew published a memoir detailing her already extremely shady past—first beer and cigarette at nine, smoking pot at ten, starting a robust cocaine habit at twelve, rehab at fourteen, including a fall off the wagon after six months of sobriety WHILE she was writing the book, requiring tacking on two chapters at the end to admit to and detail a SECOND trip to rehab! Her “rock bottom” involved getting drunk and high, stealing her mother’s credit card, and buying two plane tickets to Hawaii. This sounded great—I had stolen five dollars from my mother’s wallet once and felt so guilty, I put it back two minutes later! Like the notorious “true story” Go Ask Alice, Little Girl Lost’s supposed intent was to reveal the dangers of growing up too fast, but it had the opposite effect on me: I, too, wanted too much, too fast! Luckily, I lived a well-supervised life in rural New Hampshire and I didn’t take to taste of cigarettes or alcohol until I was well into my teens. My first slow dance was at the age of twelve with a smelly eleven-year-old who made barf faces at his friends over my shoulder. Drew’s first slow dance happened at Rob Lowe’s 20th birthday party:
Feeling a slight buzz, I began to flirt, innocently, with Emilio Estevez, whom I had a crush on. It was like batting eyes at your big brother. Then a slow song came on and I made some comment about everyone slow-dancing, about how much fun it looked to be cuddled up against someone, and Emilio smiled. “Do you want to?” he asked. “I don’t know how,” I said. “I’ve never done it before.” “Cool,” he smiled. “I’ll take you on your first slow dance.” He hoisted me up off my feet and carried me out to the dance floor… I looked around at all the girls, noticing how they leaned in tight on their boyfriends, and nuzzled close to Emilio, wrapping my little legs around his waist. It was the perfect antidote to being called fat and ugly at school. My heart was thumping. I was definitely in the throes of a heavy-duty crush.
My Face For the World To See by Liz Renay (1971)
Like most people who care about this sort of thing, I first heard about this book via a John Waters essay. Six years after she wrote this, the first of three autobiographies, Liz starred in Waters’ Desperate Living. For the 45 years before that, she LIVED! She started lying about her age at eleven in order to be a Christ Ambassador at her church, went on to be a cocktail waitress at thirteen, marry at fifteen, start a successful burlesque act at seventeen, and, five husbands later, arrive in Hollywood at 31, where she took up with gangster Mickey Cohen, for whom she lied on the witness stand, ending up in jail for two years on perjury charges. She came out of prison and took up where she left off, dancing, writing, painting, and fucking; her second autobiography was called My First 2,000 Men! Lest you think I’ve spoiled this work of art, please know that this paragraph is practically chosen at random:
I developed a philosophy of love. It was apparent that eight out of ten men (the other two were probably gay) would make a play for me on any pretext at all…I couldn’t date them all. But I could pick and choose the most interesting men around, and try the ones I liked. I felt like I was in a giant supermarket where I could select anything at all that was on the shelves…I also realized that to get where I wanted to get, I would have to go the casting couch way. It was a nice coincidence when someone I wanted to go to bed with was in a position to help me.
The whole thing is like this! A giant, gaudy, it-looks-so-real gem on every page!
Tommyland by Tommy Lee with Anthony Bozza (2004)
If 1985 Mötley Crüe were the 1964 Beatles, Tommy Lee was the Paul McCartney—the cute, sensitive one! Sure, he played the drums, but he was no Ringo (sorry, Mick Mars.) He could also play the piano and did so to great emotional effect on the Crüe’s contribution to the all-important power ballad genre, “Home Sweet Home,” highlighting his cuteness and sensitivity as far as I was concerned. I kept this wishful thinking going right up until I read 2001’s bombshell The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band. The Dirt is one of the most gleefully disgusting tell-alls ever, and I actually recommend reading it before reading Tommyland, only because it’s nice to see why Tommy had to double down so very much in his own, solo memoir and…co-write Tommyland with his penis. Yes, Anthony Bozza may be credited as the co-author, but “Dick” is introduced immediately and has his (?) own dickish font that looks like Papyrus distressed with a Photoshop grunge brush. Dick interjects comments on practically every page (“Hand me the mike, bro! You know I can sing!” “Halle-fucking-lujah! Condoms? Hate ‘em!” “The anaconda was taking a walk!”) and at one point offers to draw a map of Pamela Anderson’s genitalia “if you [pay] me,” which probably would have been a more succinct and profitable way to follow up The Dirt, if I’m being honest.
Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg (2012)
No one has ever embodied the good, giving, and game philosophy like Scotty Bowers. Would anyone else take the experience of getting picked up at a (full service) gas station in 1946 by Walter Pidgeon and “milliner to the stars” Jack “Jacques” Potts and use it to embark upon a lifetime of literal and figurative star-fucking for fun and profit? According to Scotty, he serviced and/or arranged services for Cary Grant, Vivien Leigh, Vincent Prince, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn (over 150 women throughout her lifetime!), the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (“Eddy and I had a lot of fun together, and Wally was also not as straight as she seemed”) and many, many more. Furthermore, Scotty only took money for his own “services;” his pimping was entirely pro bono! Of course, there were apparently some fringe benefits to be had, as evidenced in this story starring a very drunk Errol Flynn:
By one o’clock in the morning he would have already consumed an entire bottle of vodka. Then he would stagger over to the girl, and, slurring every word, he would sweetly whisper to her, “I’m going to make love to you like nothing you’ve ever experienced.” And then he would sway backward and forward once or twice and, in a mighty crash, fall face-first on the floor, out for the count, totally wasted. By then the poor girl was so horny after all the buildup, the sweet talk, and the kissing that she couldn’t wait to have sex. I would carefully push Errol aside, get undressed, and oblige the lady myself!
All in a day’s work! This book has both ruined and enhanced watching classic movies for me; as every beloved star of yesteryear appears onscreen, I rack my brain and try and remember if he or she is in Full Service and if so, what extremely private secret was revealed in Scotty’s casually glib, exceedingly purple prose.
You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again by Julia Phillips (1991)
This book should be much more famous than it is. Julia Phillips was the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Picture—she co-produced The Sting, along with Taxi Driver, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and, bizarrely, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. She also had an absolutely GOBSMACKINGLY LUDICROUS cocaine problem, as detailed in astounding detail in this book, which I actually read around the same time as I read Little Girl Lost (they came out at the same time.) This book had the actual “oh, cocaine is really bad” effect on me that Little Girl Lost only dreamed of. Sure, there are paragraphs like this:
By the time we hit the [Taxi Driver] screening, I am halfway between high and nauseated, kind of a nitrous buzz. I am in a Kenzo jumpsuit, Ferragamo boots, and Andrea Eastman’s mink. I have very high color in my cheeks and white light in my eyes from the drugs. Marty tells me I look beautiful. Even with his Mephistophelean beard his face looks open and young for the first time since I’ve ever known him. I kiss his head, profoundly moved.
But also this:
I don’t make it to my mother’s funeral, either. I let Rottweiler beat me up the night before, after a long day of martinis and coke, and I oversleep. Something in me couldn’t make it. She had wanted me and my brother to speak, and the only thing I could think of to say was that we had been bitter enemies all our lives, and that I would miss her more than any of her friends would. Mine anomie grows older…but not older enough…
Amid these severe highs and lows, there are an eye-popping number of mean comments about everyone from Richard Dreyfuss (constantly “sleeping something off on the couch”) to Goldie Hawn (“borderline dirty, with stringy hair”) to David Geffen (“the Donald Trump of show business”)…on and on. There’s a robust index if you want to look up your fantasy frenemies. Julia was supposedly shocked when Hollywood responded poorly to her magnum opus; her obituary quotes her as saying “I thought people had a sense of humor. I really did.” Even I know famous people don’t have senses of humor about themselves, Julia Phillips!
I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie by Pamela Des Barres (1987)
Pamela Des Barres and I are both lifelong boy-crazy diary keepers; she kicks off her tell-all with a quote from her 1962 diary:
Dear Diary…DION!!! Oh help!!! I’m so excited, I think I’ll just DIE!!! I was runnin’ around, chokin’ and cryin’ and yellin’ and screamin’ wow wow cute cute CUTE!!
Now here’s a quote from my 1986 diary:
I saw David Lee Roth’s new video of his song “Yankee Rose.” His buns show and his you-know-what bulges out of his pants! OH MY GOD! (D.L. ROTH’S A HUNK!!!!)
Pamela Des Barres went on to sleep with everyone she ever wanted to from Mick Jagger to Jim Morrison to Waylon Jennings (he was really hot!). I went on to have an exceedingly awkward conversation with Evan Dando one time and then studiously avoided doing anything that could result in me “going backstage to say hi” for the rest of my life. Different strokes! This book is the fluffiest, pinkest, strawberry lip glossiest thing I’ve ever read. If it’s this much fun to read Miss Pamela, I can only imagine what it was like to have her waiting backstage. I mean:
I climbed my Snow White wallpaper waiting for a long-distance call from my demented prince across the sea, and my baby-blue phone sat mute and mocking, only ringing when local yokels felt like saying hi…I really wanted to avoid sleeping with someone new, to prove to Jimmy [Page] that I was dead serious about sleeping with him, but this pent-up passion didn’t keep me from looking, gazing, staring, dribbling, and contemplating.