Cher! By Vicki Pellegrino

The child bride turned vamp!

cher

Unlike the last week’s quickie celebrity biography, in which the subject had not yet done much of note, the author here has to contend with a subject that might just be (GASP!) washed up.

With a publication date of September, 1975, Cher! came at a low point in Cher’s career: recently divorced from Sonny Bono and mired in lawsuits, hit TV show cancelled due to the divorce, and re-married but legally separated from Gregg Allman, Cher’s life is kind of a mess. Author Pellegrino also undertakes to make the biography as breathlessly sensational as humanly possible, relying on sources identified as “former friends”, as well as Cher’s estranged father.

The whole thing is pretty sleazy behind that teen-mag style cover. By the end you just want to yell “DON’T WORRY, CHER! THERE WILL BE HIT ALBUMS AND ACADEMY AWARDS SOON! HANG IN THERE!”

Some Highlights:

The cover touts Cher’s father tells all! And in the very first chapter Pellegrino notes that John Sarkesian is suing his daughter for $4,000,000 for slander after she quipped in People magazine that she hadn’t heard from him in years and “I don’t even know what he’s doing, but it’s probably nothing legal.”

Cher’s parents both actually sound like walking nightmares. Her oft-wed mother (twice to Sarkesian) named her after Lana Turner’s daughter, Cheryl Crane (talk about being born under a bad sign). Her father opens with this:

“We went together about eight months, then got married. Cher was born in the watermelon season.

“When Cher came along, it put a burden on us. It was still hard to find an apartment, and it was harder to rent with a child.” Cher came, john says, “that close [holding up two fingers together] to being an abortion.”

Dropping out of high school in the 11th grade, Cher meets the much older Sonny Bono through a mutual friend. He is working as an A&R man for Phil Spector, and he gets Cher gigs singing backup vocals. In short order, A Star Is Born.

Also, since I have the benefit of living 40 years in the future, I know that Sonny and Cher would eventually reconcile professionally and personally, but at this point Sonny comes off like a no-talent turd. Following the failure of their first movie, Good Times, by sinking their not-inconsiderable personal fortune into financing the “art film” Chastity, which he also directed:

Sonny explained that the movie was about “the increase in frigidity and the increase in lesbianism… the lack of manhood. The independence woman has acquired but doesn’t necessarily want. So many young girls are just spinning wheels.”

Even the author ponders:

What does he mean, women really don’t want independence? Is he saying that this drive to independence leads to frigidity and lesbianism? If so he, was out of step with the times, and perhaps with his own wife.

Sonny (who calls himself “El Primo!”) is definitely, according to Cher, a male chauvinist. He believes that women “must do” what man says. That means, really, walking “three steps behind.”

Beginning in 1971, Sonny and Cher would host  The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, which would be a massive hit for three seasons, under the writing of Laugh-In alum Chris Beade, who…. oh, great, also sounds like a prince among men:

“Cher had a lot of ability. But she is an instrument and is only as good as the person who’s playing her. She’s a Ferrari but she has to be driven right. She needs to be told what to do. In the right hands, she is a marvelous performer. In the wrong hands, she’s just a dull girl. I used to stand outside the camera and say “Now get in there and shake your tits!” She needs that.

CBS cancelled the show after the Bonos filed for divorce and became mired in lawsuits, including Cher suing Sonny over a contract that she claimed violated the 13th amendment, and Buddy Hackett suing them both after a cancelled Las Vegas gig, which resulted in Cher being barred from the state of Nevada (!!!) Sonny sues for custody of daughter Chastity after Cher moves David Geffen (of whom Pellegrino notes, apropos of nothing, “has had his nose fixed”) into the marital home.

At the start of the 1974 fall season, ABC gave Sonny his own show, The Sonny Comedy Revue, which sank without a trace by December. Back at CBS, Cher was given her own midseason replacement, Cher, which was the bigger hit (I mean, duh.)

After this book went to press, Sonny and Cher would professionally reconcile and Cher would morph into The Sonny and Cher Show, which would run for two more seasons, giving them honor of being the first divorced couple to host a prime-time variety show (!!!)

But all of that is in the future, and ending a book on the note of custody battles and lawsuits is a downer. So the last chapter is devoted to Cher’s beauty regimen, complete with the addresses of her personal stylists, facialists, manicurists and make-up artists, in case you want to book an appointment for “Electrolysis in the crotch area, which can cost from $150 to $1,000” or a date with a cellulite-melting machine called Cellutron, which sounds absolutely terrifying.

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John Travolta: An Illustrated Biography By Suzanne Munshower

TV’s most popular Sweathog and one of today’s most promising actors!

travolta

Pity the poor celebrity biographer, charged with turning out a quickie mass-market paperback on a star that may turn out to be HUGE, but at the moment is a 24 year old that has done little of note.

This is the dilemma author Munshower must have been faced with in 1976, when writing this extremely lightweight volume on John Travolta, less than a year into stardom thanks to “Welcome Back, Kotter” (I have a second edition [!!!] with a 1976 & ’78 copyright, which can only speculate on how much people will surely love him in his upcoming roles in Saturday Night Fever and Grease). Continue reading

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Checking In With The Imaginary Summer Book Club: Sybil By Flora Rheta Schreiber

(Click here for information on the 2016 edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of Women’s Literature. As all of the four selected titles have filmed adaptations, we will be looking at the movie versions as we go along. This month, the June selection, Flora Rheta Schreiber’s Sybil.)

SYBIL

Purporting to tell the true story of one of the first documented cases of Multiple Personality Disorder (now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder), it is difficult to separate fact from fiction in Schreiber’s account. In the 40+ years since the books initial publication, and a very popular 1976 TV mini-series, several books have been published debunking the case, and accusing Schreiber of colluding with the subject and her psychoanalyst, Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, to create a cottage industry to make money off of the case.  A 2007 TV movie claimed to tell the “real” story of Shirley Ardell Mason, the patient who took the pseudonym of “Sibyl Dorsett” in the book, but further muddied the water by offering contradictory information. Continue reading

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Buddies By Barbara Park

How could just one person ruin an entire summer vacation?

buddies

Summer Camp stories usually are usually either given a paramilitary setting, with demerits and saluting and color wars, or just leave the fictional campers completely unsupervised and let them do, like, whatever. (Getting sent to camp is also usually treated as a punishment, I guess because kids are super-eager to spend the summer hanging around with their parents?)

This one falls into the latter category, although the whole enterprise is so underdeveloped that one wonders why the author even bothered at all.

The Plot: Thirteen year old Dinah Feeney has actually begged her parents to be sent to Camp Miniwawa for two weeks, so at least there is that. Continue reading

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Summer of Fear By Lois Duncan

Rachel’s not jealous of her cousin. But she is afraid.

summeroffear

Like many readers, I was saddened to hear about the sudden death of Lois Duncan last week, at the age of 82. Best known for her YA thrillers, she was a contemporary of Judy Blume, taking on some of the same social issues of Gen-Xers (particularly relating to the Women’s Movement), but never quite reaching Blume’s stature in the popular imagination, probably because she backgrounded those issues with occasionally lurid tales involving witchcraft, psychic powers, kidnapping and murder.

Despite (or more likely, because of) the genre trappings, Duncan was able to occasionally push the envelope even further than Blume, Norma Klein, Sandra Scoppettone, and other “serious” YA writers when dealing with these issues, while never sacrificing the emotional honesty she affords to her (largely teenage and female) characters.

Duncan wrote roughly a dozen and a half YA novels in this vein between the early 1960s and the late 1980s, before taking a hiatus due to a personal tragedy: the murder of her youngest daughter in 1989, a case which remains unsolved. Duncan would be consumed by her personal investigation into the murder for the rest of her life, writing two books on the subject, Who Killed My Daughter? (1992)  and One to the Wolves (2013). She returned, in fine form, to YA Thriller genre for one last time in 1997, with the novel Gallows Hill.

Duncan also had the reputation of being incredibly generous in interacting with her readership in the internet age, including this writer. When she “stopped by” a few years ago, she shared a few comments on the inspiration and writing process for Killing Mr. Griffin, When the Bough Breaks and The Twisted Window. Continue reading

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The Against Taffy Sinclair Club By Betsy Haynes

It was bad enough when snobby Taffy Sinclair was just a pretty face. But now, she’s gone an developed you-know-whats…

taffysinclair

I read this one as a pre-teen, and remember not being able to relate to it because the protagonists are such jerks and they never get their comeuppance. This time around  I was completely distracted by the fact that it is such a blatant rip-off of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret without any of the emotional honesty that Judy Blume brought to that work.

The Plot: A brief perusal of the reviews on Amazon tell me that I’m not the only one thinking that this concept wouldn’t fly today: five fifth-grade girls form a club specifically to torment and gossip about a classmate that they deem stuck-up. Continue reading

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Being Your Best: Tina Yothers’ Guide For Girls By Tina Yothers and Roberta Plutzik

Tina Yothers of N.B.C.’s Family Ties knows all about the problems you face today.

Being Your Best

I know, I know- this is like 8 weeks in a row that I’ve “No, seriously, guys, THIS is the weirdest book intended for a teenage audience!!!”

But starting with the weird grammatical choices (the plural-possessive of “Yothers”, the odd insistence on punctuating “NBC”) this one is pretty weird.

Background:  Tina Yothers played the younger daughter, Jennifer, on “Family Ties”, which started with the premise that two idealistic flower children were unprepared to raise teenagers in the go-go 80s, and fairly quickly turned into the Michael J. Fox juggernaut, which is fine because he is literally the only part of that show that is watchable 30 years on. Continue reading

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