“'Fuck the Pope!' I screamed in childbirth. And fuck the Taliban who behead their women for baring their heads, and fuck the crazy Orthodox Jews taking land away from a people so like themselves and for teaching nothing but myths. Fuck them for making proud Lenny Bruce crawl. Fuck them all!”—Lee Grant, I Said Yes to Everything (2014)
Lee Grant's (b. October 31, 1925, or maybe 1926?) new memoir I Said Yes to Everything (Blue Rider, $28.95) is as absorbing a read as I've had in years, a self-reflective, unapologetically feminist tour de force sprinkled with just enough Hollywood revelations to make you feel both enlightened and titillated without ever feeling preached to or guilty for craving gossip.
BOY CULTURE RATING: **** out of ****
Grant has always excelled at playing neurotics, so it wasn't surprising to me that she self-identifies as having...issues...in the book, but I was taken aback by just how frankly and intelligently she discusses the hang-ups that have limited her (especially her career) in several ways—her worries about her age (some sources put her at 88, others a few years younger), about looking beautiful enough for casting directors (she had a facelift in the '50s at age 31!), about being able to remember her lines (after the jump. watch her recall the incident that ended her celebrated stage career), about being a good mother, wife, person.
CHECK OUT MY ENCOUNTER WITH LEE GRANT HERE
Instead of being a linear cataloguing of every project she's ever done—no mention of Columbo (1971), The Spell (1977), Backstairs at the White House (1979), For Ladies Only (1981), Dr T. and the Women (2000), Mulholland Drive (2001) or her last-ever movie Going Shopping (2005)—the book instead is an intensely personal remembrance of how she came to be the person she is, the things that gave her joy, the things that perplexed her about life, her embarrassingly short-sighted mistakes, her wise choices.
Most movingly, Grant reveals herself to be an expert at observing others (real people and characters on the page) and summing them up with breathtaking sincerity, sometimes humorously, sometimes unsparingly, but without cruelty.
Achingly, Grant recalls her mother, Witia, and her aunt Fremo as a pair of fun-loving kindred spirits who doted on her, who believed she was God's gift, and who taught her the beauty of being a woman, and of being herself, a lesson she would need to re-learn after a painfully restrictive early marriage to much-0lder control freak and Communist Arnie Manoff (April 25, 1914—February 10, 1965) left her ego decimated and led to her being blacklisted from working in film or on TV for a dozen years.
She writes glowingly of her gifted daughter, Dinah Manoff (b. January 25, 1958), but also reveals how rocky their relationship was for 15 years. Things were even worse with an adopted daughter, Belinda, whom she admits to outright buying, with her producer husband Joey Feury (b. circa 1936), in Thailand:
“The doorbell rang, and a shortish man stood in the doorway with what looked like a two-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl, one under each arm. Joey checked them out and said, 'We'll take her. Let's have lunch!' We had met our daughter...The little girl's mother met us in a park near the hotel, bringing two fair-haired, fair-skinned sons with her...I asked her about [the little girl's] father. 'I don't know,' she said. 'I don't remember.' She was pleasant and ordinary and matter-of-fact. We gave her five hundred dollars; she gave me Lindah.”
And in case you're worried it's all about Grant's family, there are unforgettable speed-portraits of everyone from Elizabeth Taylor (February 27, 1932—March 23, 2011) to “cunt!” Shelley Winters (August 18, 1920—January 14, 2006) to Bruce Willis (b. March 19, 1955) to “fish-headed” David Gest (b. May 11, 1953).
Grant sums up her work impressionistically, and almost always to underscore a life lesson learned or to ruminate on her motivations as an actor, director, artist. The book is a must-read for thesps.
“My character was a brittle rich woman married to Christopher Lee (of Dracula fame); she is not someone you want around in an emergency. Olivia de Havilland is traveling with a black female companion (whom she later saves, of course). My old friend George Furth was there, too, playing a cranky person.”
She doesn't give us all the behind-the-scenes details of the making of that (or any) film, but instead uses an anecdote about de Havilland's excitement at drowning on screen to make light of her own diva attitude (Grant sheepishly admits she'd demanded a body double). Our heroine wound up doing the drowning scene herself, having been shown up by the older Hollywood legend's professionalism and curiosity, even that late in her silver-screen journey.
Grant's career trajectory was offbeat, starting like gangbusters with a raved-about stage debut and an Oscar nomination for her first film [1951's Detective Story, in which she could be playing the mother of Cyndi Lauper (b. June 22, 1953)], getting sidetracked by a long stint on the Blacklist for refusing to name names to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and then a mixture of high-class classics like In the Heat of the Night (1967), The Landlord (1970), Shampoo (1975) and low-brow dreck like Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981). Of the latter, she writes of young Michelle Pfeiffer (b. April 29, 1958) excitedly talking to a co-star about how her vegetarian diet was affecting her bowel movements.
The ping-ponging from success to failure is relatable, and is related with warmth and with regret. Finding out she was still struggling financially in her fifties, post-Oscar, is illuminating, as is her recounting of how she re-invented herself whenever reality demanded it.
Most charmingly to me, Grant doesn't hesitate to say when she doesn't remember something, even things she could have Googled and pretended to remember perfectly. This is sorely lacking in so many other Hollywood memoirs. I mean, who believes that Shelley Winters remembered specific meals she had with people in the '50s? Okay, maybe.
In short, this memoir is dazzling. Don't miss it.
Keep reading for a clip of Grant talking about Peter Falk's inability to save her when she needed saving...