Tuesday 26 September 2017

Review: Memoir: Both of Us: My Life with Farrah by Ryan O’Neal

The Robson Press, £20, hbk, 276 pages
Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350

Tawdry tale: Charlie's Angel Farrah
Fawcett
Tawdry tale: Charlie's Angel Farrah Fawcett

Chrissie Russell

Hollywood couples are notorious for their flamboyant romantic gestures. Richard Burton dazzled Liz Taylor with an endless parade of extravagant gems, Joe DiMaggio sent long-stem roses to Marilyn's grave for 20 years. Even Nicholas Cage scoured the globe to find JD Salinger's autograph in a bid to impress Patricia Arquette.

Then we have Ryan O'Neal hand-washing pants to win the heart of Farrah Fawcett.

The unusual demonstration of affection occurs in Morocco. Fawcett, we learn, hates paying hotel laundry fees so her lover has come up with a solution.

O'Neal writes: "Neither Farrah or I are cheap, but that feisty Texas girl doesn't like being taken advantage of.

"So one day, while Farrah is on set, I gather all her delicates and wash them by hand as a surprise. When she gets back to the room and sees her bras and undies hanging neatly across the shower rod drying, she gives me an eskimo kiss, then whispers in my ear why she loves me."

It's just one instance of over-sharing in O'Neal's memoir that leaves the reader feeling a little grubby.

O'Neal and Fawcett met in 1979 and were together, on and off, for 30 years until Fawcett's death in 2009 from cancer, aged 62.

With their gleaming smiles and bouffant hair, they looked every inch the beautiful, Hollywood power couple. But with each revelation disclosed by O'Neal, their story gets progressively uglier.

His career is on a downward trajectory since his huge hit Love Story when he starts dating former Charlie's Angel Fawcett, who at the time is married to Lee Majors.

He sulks and pouts about box office flops and missing out on roles before deciding that the best thing he can do is focus on Fawcett's ascending star.

Thus he coaches her on scripts, directs her on set -- much to the chagrin of the actual director -- and washes her lingerie.

"My career isn't what it once was, but Farrah's is about to ignite and I want to contribute to her growth and success. She responds well to my coaching and it solidifies us as a couple," he writes.

Except, of course, that it doesn't. Self-awareness isn't O'Neal's strongest suit but even he comes to realise that playing second fiddle doesn't sit well with a self-confessed eternal adolescent like him. One of his more nauseating traits is to refer constantly to Fawcett as "this sweet girl" or "my girl".

But his insights into Fawcett's fiery temper tantrums make it clear she's no sweet innocent. She kicks O'Neal in the groin, slings pots at a former manager, threatens taxi drivers with a stiletto heel -- she's no girl, and no lady either.

The pain the pair inflict on each other makes for gruesome reading but it pales in significance compared with the disastrous effect their relationship has on their children.

At age six, the couple's only son Redmond, dressed in Winnie the Pooh pajamas, pulls out a butcher's knife and threatens to stab himself if his parents don't stop arguing.

Later he turns to drugs, falling in and out of rehab and jail until even his final goodbye at his mother's death bed is made in shackles before he is led back to prison.

Griffin and Tatum, O'Neal's children from his first marriage to actress Joanna Moore, likewise end up battling drugs and alcohol.

O'Neal's relationship with his daughter is particularly tempestuous. When he begins his affair with Fawcett, Tatum misses being the most important female in her father's life.

In a stomach-churning episode O'Neal tells his teenage daughter: "You're asking me to choose the girl I don't sleep with. You can't ask that of a man . . . I love you, you're my daughter, but there are certain aspects of my life you cannot fulfil."

The notorious incident at Fawcett's funeral, where Tatum unexpectedly turned up and Ryan, not recognising his daughter, tried to pick her up, is not mentioned.

It's interesting that his son Patrick, born to second wife Leigh Taylor-Young, doesn't get much space in the book.

Out of the four, he is the only one to build a successful career and homelife and recently spoke out in support of his father: "His legacy is not going to be that he was a bad parent, because I'm here to say that in my case that is not true."

But like the press he condemns, O'Neal, too, seems more fascinated by the most tawdry aspects of his life story.

Like the subject matter discussed, the writing is often messy and disjointed. The author skips back and forth in time and dithers between admitting his failures and playing the hard-done-by victim.

It's not easy reading, but there is a car-crash sense of romance there. For all their flamboyant gestures, Richard and Liz, Joe and Marilyn et al, didn't make it. O'Neal was at least there to the end.

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