Wednesday 13 December 2017

Review: Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

Henry Holt & Co, €24.99

HIGHS AND LOWES: Rob Lowe, pictured with his wife Sheryl, is the first of the Brat Pack to write an autobiography and in it
he proves he has learned to glide away from conflict… sometimes at the expense of emotional truth
HIGHS AND LOWES: Rob Lowe, pictured with his wife Sheryl, is the first of the Brat Pack to write an autobiography and in it he proves he has learned to glide away from conflict… sometimes at the expense of emotional truth
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

There was a time, a couple of decades ago, when an autobiography of Rob Lowe could only have been a salacious attempt to cash in on the actor's infamy.

At the height of his Brat Pack fame, in the late Eighties, he became the first Hollywood star to have a "sex tape" -- a 16-year-old girl was involved -- and blazed a trail by publicly entering rehab.

This was before either of these acts became de rigueur for any rising star, and Lowe's reputation and career suffered. By the early Nineties, he was languishing in TV movies and his name became a sniggered byword for bad behaviour. The dreamboat had sprung a leak and was sinking fast.

All of that was before The West Wing and Lowe's wonderfully redemptive performance as White House deputy communications director Sam Seaborn. The role earned him a slew of awards and gave his career a much needed fillip. Eighties nostalgia and a slow realisation that Lowe wasn't, by contemporary standards, all that wild after all helped too.

And 20 years after he was sent to sit on the naughty step, Lowe can finally tell his story and prove, via a shirtless Vanity Fair cover, that he's none the worse for wear. Nobody can decide if the fact that he's 47 and looks so good is heartening or sickening.

Perhaps inevitably though, Stories I Only Tell My Friends does have a squeaky, therapy-learned positivity that can grate. When he meets Tom Cruise on the set of Risky Business, for instance, it should be a bonding moment since the pair go way back. Instead, Cruise "has a new perspective on his acting style" and tells Lowe: 'I want to hang with you but Joel (his character in the movie) doesn't.'"

Rather than splutter with indignation -- which is what he surely felt -- Lowe refuses to admit feeling annoyed and ties a neat little bow around the anecdote. He has learned to glide away from conflict, and does so, even at the expense of emotional truth.

That's not to say Lowe doesn't dish -- a famous (and proud) lothario, he cut a swathe through Hollywood's pretty young things and names a lot of names here.

Princess Stephanie of Monaco was a conquest and there's a funny scene where he recounts actor Robert Wagner telling Cary Grant and Prince Rainier of Monaco: "Ya know guys, I think that kid has banged every one of our daughters."

The book is also chock full of interesting anecdotes involving fellow actors, and a surprising number of them date back to a time before Lowe was famous. When he was a child, his mother moved the family from Dayton, Ohio, to Malibu in California. This turned out to be a fortunate move, as one of Lowe's home-movie-making classmates turned out to be Chris Penn, brother of Sean. Chris's best friend was Charlie Sheen, whose father Martin had been in Apocalypse Now. The director of that movie, Francis Ford Coppola, would go on to cast many of the young bucks for his new teen-angst movie The Outsiders, from that one little suburb of Malibu. And Lowe's break into the movie business had come.

He does a great job recalling the headiness of that time, providing illuminating character sketches of the young co-stars. Tom Cruise was "lobotomised". Patrick Swayze, by contrast, was possessed of a down-to-earth normality. Lowe recalls his naked dismay when he realises that he has almost been entirely cut out of the finished film. With remarkable self-deprecation, he later admits that it would be hard for anyone to take a 19-year-old who looked as "pretty" as he did seriously. But being pegged as the runt of the litter hurt, even if he did get to "learn on the job" from the best in the business.

There are, however, some stories that Lowe will apparently not even talk to his "friends" about. The sex tape is, alas, glossed over in a few paragraphs and another scandal from 2008, involving one of his nannies spreading "malicious lies" (and getting sued by Lowe) is missing entirely from this account.

His description of his relationship with actress Melissa Gilbert also doesn't tally with hers from her autobiography of two years ago. He deals with it breezily and in the context of his blossoming affair with Nastassja Kinski, whereas she seemed to consider it a central relationship in her life and sounded heartbroken. Overall, though, this is a charmingly indiscreet account of life behind the scenes in Hollywood and Lowe's wry, self-mocking tone is a nice counterbalance to his lantern- jawed handsomeness.

He is the first of the Brat Pack to write an autobiography (we won't count Molly Ringwald's lamentable self-help effort) and, even allowing for airbrushing, nobody considers him the runt of the litter any more.

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