Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography

by Rob Lowe
Henry Holt

Yes, it’s a celebrity bio. Though it’s on the cover of Vanity Fair, it’s also in the New York Times Book Review. Pretty boy celebrities are people, too—and an actor who lives in a world populated by the most accomplished film and stage artists as well as the Washington political equivalents is positioned to have some good stories, and possibly even insights into these worlds and their impact on the commonalities of real life. This book has something to say on all these elements.

First there’s the journey to get to those worlds, and Lowe’s was an odd one: from a broken home in Dayton, Ohio to a serendipitous shot in the dark with his mother and her new boyfriend which happened to land them in Malibu down the street from the Martin Sheen family. So his 7th grade pals were Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen and Sean Penn. (If you're wondering how Charlie Sheen got so crazy, it's worth being reminded that his dad as a young man was fairly outrageous himself. Lowe has some stories on that score.)  Athletic as well as an artistic outcast, Lowe lost a race to Superman—or a kid who would grow up to play him (Dean Cain of “Lois and Clark.”)

Lowe broke into movies in the Brat Pack teen film era of the 80s. I was probably one of the few in my older demographic who actually liked those movies. But my chief curiosity was Lowe’s reincarnation as Sam Seaborne in “The West Wing.” His departure from the show after four seasons was never really explained. He’s informative but remarkably restrained about it. He only praises the show and the people involved, while letting declarative statements suggest deceptions and remaining mysteries. Watching people suddenly turn on you without ever knowing why—this at least is familiar outside Hollywood.

As well as rags to riches, there’s the fall (sex and scandal, ego and alcoholism) and resurrection: rehab, new mastery and success, a more balanced life of love and family. Easy to cynically recite, but worthwhile in the differences and details.

It’s a pretty well written book, though not to the level of Sting’s autobiography (Broken Music, or for that matter almost any memoir written by a Brit)—and yes, Sting’s in it, too. It too-regularly employs a revelation device (the girl named Sarah that turns out to be...Sarah Jessica Parker!) that Steve Allen was making fun of in the 50s. But the revelations are interesting anyway. Rob Lowe finds a tone that’s flexible and appropriate—that sounds easy but is usually hard to achieve. It also helps if your stories involve dating Cary Grant’s daughter and riding with 9/11 hijackers.  It's a different world, but how to be human in it?  That does have its fascinations for those of us who've glimpsed it, felt it up close, and then quickly gone back outside.

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