“Why didn’t you say something?” That’s been one of the frustratingly common responses to the #MeToo movement, and one of the things that victims often feel they need to somehow justify. It’s also become the root of a very distinct thread in this social dialogue, where people unpack the conditioned responses and emotional/mental gymnastics they went through in the heat of the moment, and in the days/weeks/years afterward. One thing is certain though: no one is immune. Not even national treasure Sally goddamn Field.
Sally Field is on another level, as a celebrity. She’s an institution — a high-profile actor since the mid-60s, she’s always seemed to be this untarnished balance of successful, talented, and approachable. The kind of woman who would accept an Oscar for Best Actress by famously noting, “You like me!” (to be fair, that’s a moment that is often misquoted). And according to a new profile with The New York Times ahead of the release of her new memoir, she’s also a woman who was sexually abused by her stepfather as a child, and didn’t reveal the truth to her mother until she was cast in 2012’s Lincoln. Even now, after all these years, her recollection is defined by her own conflicted feelings:
After Margaret Field filed for divorce from Sally’s father, Richard, in 1951, she got remarried in 1952 to Jock Mahoney, a stuntman and actor (“Tarzan Goes to India”) known by the nickname Jocko.
As Sally Field writes of Mr. Mahoney in her memoir, “It would have been so much easier if I’d only felt one thing, if Jocko had been nothing but cruel and frightening. But he wasn’t. He could be magical, the Pied Piper with our family as his entranced followers.”
He also frequently summoned Ms. Field to his bedroom alone. “I knew,” Ms. Field writes. “I felt both a child, helpless, and not a child. Powerful. This was power. And I owned it. But I wanted to be a child — and yet.” Ms. Field said her stepfather’s abuse of her stopped after she turned 14. Her mother divorced Mr. Mahoney in 1968, and he died in 1989.
“I didn’t know I had a voice,” is a comment Field makes regarding the writing of In Pieces, her uncomfortably honest memoir about everything from motherhood to being a movie star — a book that took her 6 years to compose. But it also could apply to the act of speaking out in general, from telling her mom what happened with her stepfather, and then telling the world about that and so many of the other stories in the book. Because no, that isn’t the only revelation Field makes. And though the book won’t be out for another week, this Times profile reads as an example of why it can be so hard to have a voice. For nearly every truth she shares, there is a refutation or awareness of the other side of the story. Yes, that’s because this is a journalistic profile, and the paper reached out to the concerned parties for comment. But seeing it all laid out, one after the other, there’s a sense that even now her voice is somehow not enough — that her story can’t stand on its own.
She details the more complicated side of her romance with Burt Reynolds (on his passing, she remarked: “I felt glad that he wasn’t going to read it, he wasn’t going to be asked about it, and he wasn’t going to have to defend himself or lash out, which he probably would have. I did not want to hurt him any further”). She talks about kissing a director during an audition because he said “I can’t hire anyone who doesn’t kiss good enough” (that man, Bob Rafelson, called Field’s account “totally untrue”). She also talks about the time she woke up to find her then-boyfriend, musician Jimmy Webb, “grinding away” on top of her after they both smoked hash.
Ms. Field told me she did not think Mr. Webb had acted with “malicious intent — I felt he was stoned out of his mind.”
In an email, Mr. Webb said, “I am being asked to respond to a passage in a book that the publishers refuse to let me read, even at my lawyer’s request, so all I can do is recount my memories of dating Sally in the swingin’ 1960s. Sally and I were young, successful stars in Hollywood. We dated and did what 22-year-olds did in the late 60s — we hung out, we smoked pot, we had sex.”
He added, “I have great memories of our times together and great respect for Sally — so much respect that I didn’t write about her in my book because I didn’t want to tarnish her Gidget image with our stories of drugs and sex.”
Even though Field started writing her memoir years ago, she’s acutely aware of the world into which it will be released. And honestly, we could use her story now more than ever.
Though the frankness of “In Pieces” might resonate in a #MeToo era, Ms. Field was reluctant to offer up her book as a paradigm for others who might want to disclose their survival narratives.
“People should tell whatever story they want to tell,” she said. “This is just my story and it happened the way it happened.” Outrage at the abuses that others have suffered is warranted, she said, but it “is the first part of it, it’s not the fix. Outrage has to come first and it can’t just be quieted and go away.”
Everyone has the right to their version of events. But this is HER story, the way she experienced it. And no matter what anyone else claims, or how much time has passed, it has a place in the narrative. Because while there may be a statute of limitations on crimes, there isn’t one on our outrage. And we need to get it all out so we can begin to change as a society.
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