Monday, May 9, 2011

ROB LOWE: Misunderstood child to Hollywood star

ROB LOWE: Misunderstood child to Hollywood star
Rob Lowe writes about his parents’ divorce, moving to California, rehab and his acting life


STORIES I ONLY TELL MY FRIENDS. Rob Lowe. Holt. 308 pages. $26.

On the cover of his memoir, Rob Lowe, pictured in a black-and-white head shot worthy of Vogue, shields his eyes with his hands, as though he’s staring into a golden Pacific sunset. His hair is thick and dark, his nose perfectly straight, his jaw chiseled.

I recalled the scandal that occurred after a videotape of Lowe having sex with two girls (one of them underage) surfaced. So I thought, right, stories of sun, surf and sex in Malibu. But Lowe only briefly discusses the incident (a “mess,” a “doozy” of a problem), assuming (no doubt correctly) that almost everyone knows the details. He does recall losing his virginity at 14 and acknowledges that by a certain point in his life, he seldom went without sex for more than 30 hours. But otherwise most of the stories he only tells his friends in this appealing and attitude-free autobiography are shot through with pain, anxiety and unhappiness.

Lowe spent his early years far from Malibu, in Dayton, Ohio. When he was 5, his mother told him she was divorcing his father, ending an unhappy marriage in which “claw hammers were thrown” and “lipstick was found in places it shouldn’t be.” Long after that day, Lowe writes, “anything painful surrounding my parents’ breakup I sealed off and buried, left unexplored and undisturbed, like nuclear waste.”

After divorce No. 2, his mother packed him and his brothers into a car and struck out for California’s cleaner air. Lowe’s life there as a young teenager was often bizarre. One classmate, thinking he was doing cocaine, snorted rat poison and died instantly. Another friend lost control of a 10-speed, impaled his head on a eucalyptus tree and bled to death. When Lowe sought escape by acting in plays, classmates shunned him as “an acting fag.” He had the good luck to fall in with neighbors Sean and Chris Penn, Emilio Estevez and brother Charlie Sheen as they (mostly) steadied their lives by ardently learning the actors’ craft and trade.

Lowe copped his first movie role in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders. He recalls being on location in Tulsa and putting in 14-hour days that became “a euphoric and toxic mix of excitement, boredom, anonymity, recognizability, and loneliness.” Coppola’s weekly food-and-wine festivals and the “frenzied, available” local girls soothed Lowe’s nerves.
Officially a movie star after The Outsiders, Lowe worked a lot in films and played more in bars, clubs and bedrooms. By age 25, he felt he was “way past warranty.” One night in 1990, when he was “so hammered (he could) barely stand,” he decided to check into an Arizona rehab facility.

The years since recovery have brought Lowe marriage, two sons and a four-season run on the hit TV series The West Wing, followed by three more TV series and a film — I Melt With You — to be released this year. Looking back, he sounds wise, mature and content. “Nothing in life is unfair. It is just life. To the extent that I had any inner turmoil, I had only myself to blame.”

Lowe’s writing lacks a distinctive voice, but his attitude is so straightforward and vulnerable that many readers, appreciating his cautionary tale, might want to shake his hand. But why did Lowe, just 47, pen a memoir? Considering his frequent, enthusiastic involvement with liberal political causes, I wondered if the former star of a TV series set in a fictional Washington is thinking of working in a real Washington. Actors less good-looking — and less self-reflective — have made that transition.

Gerald Bartell reviewed this book for The Washington Post.

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