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Great Actress. But Kind of a Dip

By Snuggiepants/Kriegerfrau | Books | July 12, 2010 |

By Snuggiepants/Kriegerfrau | Books | July 12, 2010 |

I love autobiographies. And I’ve long been a fan of Ellen Burstyn, specifically in her roles in Same Time, Next Year, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (my husband’s favorite role of hers), The Exorcist, and certainly her amazing performance in Requiem for a Dream.

So I picked this up at the library, despite the nearly 500 page heft (I’m not scared off by thick books, I just think a super-long autobiography or biography better be about someone you find incredibly compelling). The first third goes well: she has an unhappy childhood and she tells the story in a crisp, no-nonsense and impressionistic manner, combining images she remembers with incidents she can’t forget. It’s great. Sad, but great.

The latter two-thirds was a slog. I was determined to finish it, but she included so many tiny details that I found my eyes glazing over. It was hard to keep up with all her sexual partners, boyfriends, husbands, and married lovers (by the early 60s, I stopped trying to keep up — that’s not a moral judgment, just a judgment as a reader!).

Then there was what I call her flaky side. Here are some examples: she couldn’t have children, so she believed her dalmation, Daisy Mae, “carried” her fertility for her. She allowed the dog to get pregnant many times, finally dying while giving birth to ten puppies.

She once said in front of another one of her dogs that she thought he wasn’t so bright. Later, he ran away from home. She said from that experience she learned to be careful what she says in front of dogs, because she believes he understood what she said and left because of that. Can you see me rolling my eyes yet?

She gets very new agey, includes snippets of poems she wrote to herself over the years (when poems start “Momma Moon…” I tend to drift), and includes a ton of detail about her time spent with spiritual teachers (including one guy who apparently couldn’t make a single decision without consulting some sort of pendulum—clockwise meant yes, counterclockwise meant no). It was hard to be patient through all that. She seemed to be the type of woman who is always looking for some new thing, some new school of thought to get occupied with. The growth she’s experiencing now is IT! THIS is who she’s meant to be. Until the next thing comes along.

Maybe I’m being too harsh, but after 400 pages of that, I’m a bit worn out. I still think she’s a brilliant and underrated actress. But I’m hoping to forget most of this autobiography and go back to just thinking of her as a good actress I don’t know much about.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Snuggiepants’ reviews, check out her blog, KRIEGERFRAU.

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