Lee Grant certainly proves that she said yes to everything during her time on and off the Hollywood screen. It’s the trouble explaining and contextualizing where the “yes'” came from that’s the problem. Make no mistake, Grant’s candid memoirs sees her naming names, ironic considering her blacklisting in light of the McCarthy hearings, and discussing her fervent romancing with some of Hollywood’s finest. But, for me, the book really would have benefited from an editor or someone keeping Grant on track as her divergences and returns to events leads to a somewhat disjointed series of half-recollections.
It’s hard believing how long Grant’s been in the spotlight, considering her movie career didn’t blow up until the late-60s with her scene stealing performance in In the Heat of the Night. The reason for this was her listing in Red Channels, a “directory” of presumed Communists living and working on the New York stage. Grant attributes this as the reason she struggled to find work in television and film for decades. She, and several others including Dalton Trumbo, would be vindicated in the 2000s.
Grant recounts the entirety of her life’s journey, starting out as the child of immigrants living on 148th St. in New York. Her Jewish roots are strong and she references the harsh discrimination she saw as a result of being Jewish. The examination on her family feels slight, but there are touching moments involving her mother and aunt, Fremo. Their deaths had a severe impact on Grant and it’s obvious she holds a lot of guilt in the light of their passing.
What’s surprising is how forthcoming Grant is about her life. I Said Yes to Everything could be the most candid autobiography I’ve read in awhile. Grant has no qualms with naming the men she’s been with, and talks about steamy, off-screen kisses with Warren Beatty and the struggles with her first marriage. However, when Grant holds back it’s apparent. The aforementioned Beatty moment comes out of nowhere, especially since Grant spends much of the chapter on Shampoo detailing the struggles of working with Beatty’s acting style. When he arrives, just to kiss her (something that doesn’t fit Beatty’s personality with women), the whole thing feels like there’s more we’re not privy to. Maybe because Beatty is still living, Grant didn’t want to divulge too much?
Grant’s clean, poetic prose lends a wistful, nostalgic quality to her writing. But too often she goes off track and has to reorient herself, all of which is told on the page. She references a nose job and facelift at one point with no context, only to describe having the nose job and facelift several chapters later. The start/stop narrative comes off like a person telling a story, nodding off, and restarting it again, not knowing they’ve told you the punchline. She’ll also do this with transitions, such as talking about a play and ending it with a throwaway line about Shelley Winters. You’re not sure how Winters plays into the story, nor why she’d be the concluding sentence in the paragraph, only to have Grant elaborate on Winters later. Thankfully, much of this is limited to the first few chapters and she seems to have gotten the hang of it by the end.
I Said Yes to Everything is a heavily authentic autobiography in a year where most celeb “tell-alls” are ghostwritten. Grant’s voice is scattered, but it shines through. There’s a lot of names dropped and movies explored, so if you’re a fan of Grant or her movies you might want to read it.
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Categories: Book Reviews