In the movie Postcards from the Edge, Shirley MacLaine plays a showbiz legend who upstages her actress daughter at every turn, and thinks vodka is an essential ingredient in a breakfast smoothie. In real life, MacLaine didn't have much more maternal instinct, to hear her daughter, Sachi Parker, tell it. In her new memoir, “Lucky Me,” Parker writes about being sent to live with her father and his mistress in Japan at the age of two, and then shuttling in and out of her mother’s life for the rest of her adolescence.
She describes her mother as unsupportive of her acting career, and vacillating from suffocatingly affectionate to icily indifferent towards her only child. MacLaine has denied the characterizations in the book, while Parker has said the writing process – and being a mother herself – helped her heal from her unhappy childhood. She’s not the first, or last, writer to settle the score in print, proving sometimes memoir is the best revenge. Here are some other writers who've written less-than-adoring portraits of friends and family:
"Hell Hath No Fury" by Anna Holmes
What do Anais Nin, Sylvia Plath, Emily Bronte, and Virginia Woolf have in common? They all loved, lost, and wrote about it. In this collection of break-up missives, editor Holmes selects the best – which is to say the snidest, sharpest, meanest, and most heartbreaking – end-of-affair letters from writers famous and unknown. The selections are organized by subject, ranging from marriage refusal to divorce requests, and while most of the authors probably never intended for their notes to become public, Holmes certainly did – the book was inspired by a break-up letter she sent an ex-boyfriend, and then circulated on the internet.
"A Paper Life" by Tatum O’Neill
In the 1970s and 80s, Ryan O’Neill and Farrah Fawcett were Hollywood’s golden couple, photographed everywhere, gorgeous and crazy in love. O’Neill’s daughter, Tatum, was often left out of the picture, even though she’d won an Oscar at the age of ten for her role in Paper Moon, playing opposite her father. Tatum became her dad’s buddy and partner-in-crime, accompanying him to parties and indulging in vices well beyond her years, but what she missed, as she writes in this memoir, was a real childhood. No one – not O’Neill, not Fawcett, and not Tatum’s former husband, tennis player John McEnroe – is spared in this earth-scorching memoir of a little girl lost in the limelight.
"Leaving a Doll’s House" by Claire Bloom
Bloom was a celebrated stage actress (Gore Vidal called her the best interpreter of Ibsen) who had affairs with fiery actors including Yul Brynner and Richard Burton. But it is her eighteen year relationship with the writer Philip Roth she focuses on here, and this is the score she wants to settle. Describing Roth as violent, abusive, manipulative, and cold, Bloom likens herself to a prisoner in their long affair and brief marriage. She details the writer’s habits, peccadillos, and peculiarities, while also admitting that his brilliance attracted her and kept her captivated throughout their time together.
"High on Arrival" by Mackenzie Phillips
It seems somewhat ironic that John Phillips came to fame as a member of the group The Mamas and the Papas, because to read his daughter, Mackenzie’s, story, he was anything but an ideal dad. According to the author, Phillips introduced his daughter to cocaine when she was ten years old, and was soon setting her up for sexual assignations with his celebrity friends, including Mick Jagger. Even more disturbing is Mackenzie’s allegation that her father raped her one night after she had passed out on drugs, and they began a sexual relationship that lasted a decade. Meanwhile, the writer was appearing on TV as the ebullient, grounded Julie on the sitcom One Day at a Time, but in real life was sliding deeper into the addictions she would struggle with throughout her adulthood. After this book was published, Mackenzie’s family disowned her and denied her claims of incest, which the writer addresses in a new introduction.