10 February 2013

Prairie Tale

Synopsis: To fans of the hugely successful television series “Little House on the Prairie”, Melissa Gilbert grew up in a fantasy world with a larger-than-life father, friends and family she could count on, and plenty of animals to play with. Children across the country dreamed of the Ingalls' idyllic life – and so did Melissa.

She was a natural on camera, but behind the scenes, life was more complicated. Adopted as a baby into a legendary show business family, Melissa wrestled with questions about her identity and struggled to maintain an image of perfection her mother created and enforced. Only after years of substance abuse, dysfunctional relationships, and made-for-television movies did she begin to figure out who she really was.

With candor and humor, the cherished actress traces her complicated journey from buck-toothed Laura “Half-Pint” Ingalls to Hollywood starlet, wife, and mother. She partied with the Brat Pack, dated heartthrobs like Robe Lowe and bad boys like Billy Idol, and began a self-destructive pattern of addiction and codependence. Left in debt after her first marriage, and struggling to create some sense of stability, she eventually realized that her career on television had earned her popularity, admiration, and love from everyone but herself.

Through hard work, tenacity, sobriety, and the blessings of a solid marriage, Melissa has accepted her many different identities and learned to laugh, cry, and forgive in new ways. Women everywhere may have idolized her charming life on “Little House on the Prairie”, but Melissa's own unexpectedly honest, imperfect, and down-to-earth story is an inspiration.

First line: My mother was nearly a month past her husband's funeral when she turned her attention back to my desire to write a memoir.

Stats for my copy: Hardback, published by Simon Spotlight Entertainment, A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.; 2010; purchased new from Amazon.com.

My thoughts: Everyone knows who Melissa Gilbert is, and many of us grew up watching her play Laura Ingalls (she is barely seven months younger than I am). In her – and my – young adult days, I have very vague memories of her but at that time I was not much of a TV watcher or movie goer, and I did not keep up with actors and actresses nearly as much as I do now. I knew she'd had a relationship with Rob Lowe, and that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge of her from those days. I've been following her on Twitter for awhile now, but not being a fan of reality shows I didn't see any of her performances on Dancing with the Stars.

Regardless, I've always been a fan of sorts, meaning I have fond memories of “Little House” (well, who doesn't?), and enjoying the occasional TV movie when I caught one. Though reading this made me realize that I've not really seen much of her work, or not as much as I thought I had, and I now want to add everything she's done to my Netflix queue, except I already have 500 movies on there so I'll have to add them one at time.

Anyway, the book. Melissa writes very openly about her life, in a no holds barred and self-deprecating manner. She has a wonderful outlook on life and obviously has a good sense of humor. Yeah, she's been through some shit – drugs, alcoholism, self-doubt, and so forth, like millions of other people. She's come through it all a stronger person, and I very much enjoyed reading her accounting of her life.

The only part of the book that was hard for me was her struggle with her feelings about being adopted, her feelings that she started out her life, for the first twenty-four hours anyway, as an unwanted child. I work in the adoption field, and the majority of the birth mothers we work with are not giving up their child because they don't want him or her, they are doing it because they want the child to have a better life than they feel capable of providing. It is the ultimate sacrifice for these women. Fortunately, Melissa does seem to finally find some peace with that aspect of her life.

The blurb mentions “the blessings of a solid marriage”, and of course since the book was published that marriage has ended, and Melissa is now engaged to Timothy Busfield. Marriage is hard work, and all the stress and pressures that celebrities face has to make it doubly hard. I would imagine that writing her memoir was cathartic, and I truly wish her the best in her life. I guess I was really just a little bit of a fan before, but now I find myself adoring her.

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