Monday, February 6, 2017

A look at Linda Gray's The Road to Happiness Is Always Under Construction

Lately, I've been watching old episodes of Dallas.  They offer a flashback to my youth, a time when I didn't care about things like politics.  I was very young when Dallas first started airing and a young woman when it finally went off the air.  So, I guess for that reason, Dallas is a comfort.

Many people know that actress Linda Gray played a pivotal role on Dallas.  She was Sue Ellen Ewing, J.R. Ewing's long suffering alcoholic wife.  Later, Gray starred in Models Inc., an Aaron Spelling spin off of the 90s hit Melrose Place, which was itself a spin off of Beverly Hills 90210.  Models Inc. flopped and was cancelled after one season.  But in 2012, a reboot of Dallas came along and Gray was able to be Sue Ellen again for three seasons.

I like life stories, so that's probably why I decided to download Gray's 2015 book, The Road to Happiness is Always Under Construction.  I finally got around to reading it and finished it yesterday while in my sick bed.  It's basically Linda Gray's life story mixed with the odd recipe, cute anecdotes, and Gray's self help philosophies.  I understand the book was written to commemorate Gray's 75th birthday.  She still looks good.

I learned some new things when I read this book.  I never knew that Gray had polio when she was a child.  She spent several months in bed and almost ended up in an iron lung.  Fortunately, that treatment ultimately wasn't indicated and Gray eventually recovered.  Gray is also the daughter of an alcoholic.  Her mother, who was apparently a very talented artist with a great sense of style, drank to numb the boredom of simply being a wife and a mother.  I'm sure growing up with an alcoholic mother gave Gray some cues as to how she should play alcoholic Sue Ellen.

There are a few anecdotes about Dallas, as well as a couple of funny stories about Larry Hagman, who was one of Gray's dearest friends.  Gray also writes about how she came to capture the part of Sue Ellen.  Although she'd been a model and commercial actress for years, at the time she got her big break, she was married, 38 years old, and the mother of two kids rapidly approaching adolescence.  Her husband had not wanted her to work, but Gray was finding life as a housewife unfulfilling and boring.  She went against her husband's wishes and soon became a star.  The marriage fell apart, but Gray finally found a purpose other than being a mother and a housewife.  She thrived.

I did take notice when California born and bred Gray wrote about learning how to speak like a rich woman from Dallas.  She writes that she met Dolly Parton, who told her to just emulate her.  Gray said Dolly didn't sound "Texan".  She asked Dolly where she was from and claims Dolly said "Georgia".  Um...  Dolly Parton is not from Georgia!  She's from Tennessee!  I guess Gray isn't a fan of country music.  Gray ended up finding a voice coach who taught her some tricks.  She also hung out at Neiman-Marcus in Dallas a lot, to see how rich women from Dallas behaved.

I mostly enjoyed Gray's book.  It looks like she wrote it herself, with no help from a ghost writer.  I think she did a fairly good job, although there are a few small snafus like the one I mentioned in the previous paragraph.  I liked that Gray came across as very normal and approachable.

On the other hand, toward the end of the book, she offers some advice to her readers that I don't think she herself takes.  For instance, she writes about how off putting it is when people brag.  She kind of does some bragging herself.  Not that I wouldn't have expected her to brag somewhat; she is a famous actress who has had an unusual life.  But it does seem disingenuous when an actress tells her readers about how annoying she finds braggarts right after she writes about her "come hither" eyes and "amazing stems" (legs).  Acting is not exactly a profession for people who aren't a little bit self-absorbed (although I am sure there are exceptions).  Self help advice from a celebrity often rings hollow anyway.  A little bit goes a long way.

At the end of the book there are pictures.  Many of them are too small to see, at least on an iPad.

I probably could have done without the self help sections, with the exception of Gray's life "principles", which were cleverly conceived and included funny anecdotes.  She also includes a couple of recipes-- one for a conditioner she uses on her hair and another for some kind of meat pie she made for her kids, which doesn't seem to jibe with her advice to eat clean.

I give this book 3.5 stars on a scale of 5.  It's not bad, and parts are interesting and enjoyable.  But self help advice usually puts me off, anyway.




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