Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Learning to Live Out Loud by Piper Laurie

"I had achieved my childhood dream of becoming a movie star and then left it all behind for a second career as a serious actor." - Piper Laurie

Learning to Live Out Loud: A Memoir
by Piper Laurie
November 2011
Crown Archetype (Random House)

It's a given that reading an autobiography is a much different experience than reading a biography. Any good biographer can dig up the facts on an important figure but they cannot present those facts with personal context. The autobiographer presents his or her story with a layer of nostalgia and a sense of pain that is the result of drudging up the past in a way that no biographer can. Film actress Piper Laurie wrote this autobiography in a storytelling style. This is much different than the conversational style of Ernest Borgnine's autobiography. Piper Laurie is not having a conversation with her readers, she doesn't even acknowledge them, she's just telling the story of her life and all the people who happened to be a part of it.

The title "Learning to Live Out Loud" stems from the actress' problems with being able to vocalize. It was less shyness and more just an innate instinct to be quiet and listen. It took her years just to be able to laugh out loud and speak up for herself. I think it's a wonder she became a movie star!

The book reads chronologically from the very beginning of her life as Rosetta Jacobs and continues on to her movie and acting career as Piper Laurie. At a very young age, her parents sent her off to a sanitarium with her older sister Sherrye. This experience proved very traumatic for the young Rosetta who just wanted to be loved by her parents, especially her mom. By the age of 17, and with some theatre experience under her belt, Rosetta became Piper Laurie the film star. She had a 7 year contract with Universal which got her several B movies that left her frustrated as an actress. Laurie eventually got out of her contract and started making better pictures including The Hustler (1961). After The Hustler, she didn't make films for quite a long time but continued to act in theater and on TV. There were three phases of her career, her B movie/ Universal film career as a young starlet, her work in the late 1950s and early 1960s, then her work as an older woman starting from Carrie (1976) and on to various movies and TV shows.

Piper Laurie's autobiography was an absolute pleasure to read. Her writing style takes some getting used to but once you dive in you don't want to put the book down. Laurie's narrative is very charming and while she remembers a lot of specifics there are some failings of memory that are natural for someone who has had such a long and interesting life as she had. Laurie is not scared to talk about her many lovers. Some of her stories might shock you even though she never goes into any explicit details. I think highly conservative people may not enjoy reading about her experience with Ronald Reagan or a particular choice she made in her life. However, it's by no means a salacious tell-all. Laurie just happens to be a very independently minded woman who learned to live life on her own terms.

Laurie writes a lot about her experiences shooting different films. I enjoyed reading about The Hustler (1961), Until They Sail (1957) and even Carrie (1976) although I haven't seen that film. She also talks about notable Hollywood figures including Dennis Morgan, Donald O'Connor, Walter Matthau, Rock Hudson, Mel Gibson, George C. Scott, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Clark Gable,  Joseph Mankiewicz, Howard Hughes, Ronald Reagan, etc. Notice how all of those people I listed are men? Piper Laurie rarely talks about other actresses or women in the business. She did develop a friendship with her Until They Sail co-star Jean Simmons, Joanne Woodward, Elia Kazan's wife and a few other women but the only really important women in her life were her mom, her sister Sherrye and her daughter Anna. Laurie really thrived on her relationships with men.

What's interesting about Laurie's reminiscences of her film roles and theater productions is that she not only talks about the behind the scenes goings on but she also relates how she prepared for the roles, how she researched them (sometimes even putting herself in danger to do so) and the acting methods and techniques she learned and used. While a biography would give you cold hard facts, an autobiography like Piper Laurie's can give you so much more.

Even if you don't necessarily have an interest in Piper Laurie's acting career, I think classic film enthusiasts should read this book. The span of time between 1949 and 1961 is very telling about how the Hollywood machine would treat young starlets and it's great fun to read about the other major stars of the day. Laurie grew up enamored with film stars so she was star struck when she met many of the big legends in person. It's fun to be a classic film fan reading about another one.

Disclaimer: I contacted Crown Archetype to get this book to review.

Read my review of The Hustler (1961) as well as my Match.com inspired profile for the main character Fast Eddie Felson.

It's giveaway time! Thanks to the good folks at Crown Archetype (Random House), I'm giving away one copy of Learning to Live Out Loud by Piper Laurie. Just fill out the form! Contest ends 11/10/2011. US Only.

UPDATE: The giveaway is now over. Winner will be announced in a separate post.


  1. Hi Raquelle,

    I'm envious of how many interesting books you've been able to read lately! Thanks so much for sharing the feedback on each title, I'm enjoying your reviews! Laurie's story sounds quite unique.

    Hoping to have some reading time freed up towards the end of the year -- I'm really enjoying Julie Adams' autobiography and expect James Garner's autobiography to arrive today from Amazon! :)

    Best wishes,

  2. Laura,

    I'm curious to read your review of the James Garner autobiography. I'm still undecided about getting the book because I haven't seen enough of his films yet to really know and appreciate his work.

    Thanks for the nice compliment. This year I've been really pushing myself to read more books about directors and actors/actresses. I'm sort of putting myself through a sort of classic film school per say. I'm a very slow reader so it's been good practice for me to sit and read 100 pages at a time. Usually, I don't have the attention span for it. :-)


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