Reviewer: 'O'Connor's book reads like a menu'
I Think I'm Outta Here : A Memoir of All My Families
Pocket Books, $24
by Carroll O'Connor
Review by Chuck Westbrook
Web posted on: Thursday, July 23, 1998 4:02:18 PM EDT
(CNN) -- Carroll O'Connor has feasted at the banquet of fame. The appetizer: a series of roles as a character actor in major films and on television. The main course: an extensive run as Archie Bunker on the pivotal television show "All in the Family" and its sequel, "Archie Bunker's Place." For dessert, another successful television show, "In the Heat of the Night."
Yet, instead of giving us details of the flavors and aromas of a unique experience, O'Connor's autobiography reads like a menu, a listing of events, sparse in details and devoid of personal insight.
"All in the Family" itself gets less than a chapter. O'Connor notes his inconvenience in shooting the pilot episodes and his derision of series creator Norman Lear. O'Connor's says Jean Stapleton's character, Edith, was important and that it was entirely the actress' invention. He likes Rob Reiner, who played his son-in-law. Infer what you wish about Sally Struthers, who played his daughter. He doesn't mention her other than to complain about the way her spinoff from the series was mishandled by its production team.
You'll have to infer a lot of other things from this book. The book flap trumpets that O'Connor vividly recalls classic moments with Clint Eastwood during the filming of "Kelly's Heroes" and Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in "Cleopatra." Perhaps that was what he was supposed to do. He happens to mention he was in the films while he is recalling his travels through Europe. I suppose he met the stars. He certainly doesn't write about it.
He does write extensively about Ireland, its history and his opinions of its politics. He also pontificates on World War II, the evils of reviewers, and the idiocy of Hollywood. An autobiography is certainly a place for one's views, but most of us are expecting to share an experience, not suffer through a sermon.
He left his fiancee in the U.S. for a year while he studied in Ireland. What was the separation like? How has his marriage lasted so long? We learn that O'Connor's son was adopted. Why did the couple adopt, how did they select Hugh, how were his early years?
O'Connor's son committed suicide after years of drug abuse. In interviews afterward, O'Connor was eloquent and touching in his grief. His book, however, reduces that experience to a series of diary entries, detailing unpleasant dinners, worried moments at parties, and horrible nights of calls from his drug-addled son. Perhaps this would have been effective if, afterward, there was some opening up. How did it feel? How did he cope? The entry about Hugh's death simply states that he died. You assume O'Connor has never been the same, that the death was debilitating. You have to assume so. The author never tells us.
This is an autobiography written by someone who wants to protect his private feelings and details about those closest to him. It is an account of a Hollywood actor who doesn't want to mention other stars. This may be noble, but it is also dreadful and dull.
Ideally, we wish we had been offered a seat at this banquet of fame. Instead, the menu has been slipped under the door. And somehow, we still got indigestion.
Chuck Westbrook is Managing Editor of CNN Interactive.