Get­ting Lowe down ... but not too dirty

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - David Free

ROB Lowe has al­ways had the ideal Amer­i­can face. It looks plas­tic but it’s real. It’s the face of a cherub, a cherub who filmed him­self hav­ing two sep­a­rate threesomes (in one of which he wasn’t the only dude) and got away with it, back in the days when things like that were still con­sid­ered mildly em­bar­rass­ing. It’s the face Michael Jack­son’s sur­geons al­ways seemed to be chis­elling their way to­wards.

Placed on the cover of an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Lowe’s face threat­ens the kind of skin-deep en­ter­tain­ment you get from one of his movies. He be­came a star in the 1980s, the bland­est decade in the his­tory of Amer­i­can film, and his per­for­mances in those home­made pornos were by no means the most wooden of his ca­reer: he was the kind of ac­tor who, to por­tray a tor­tured sax­o­phone player, sim­ply messed up his hair and walked ev­ery­where with a sax around his neck.

So it’s a bit of a sur­prise to hear peo­ple talk­ing as if Lowe’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy has sub­stance. It’s even more of a sur­prise to dis­cover they’re not wrong. The blurb writer who hails Sto­ries I Only tell My Friends as ‘‘ a ma­jor pub­lish­ing event’’ goes a bit far. But Lowe has solid in­stincts as a mem­oirist: he knows what sort of things you’ll want to hear, and he’s more per­cep­tive and thought­ful than you ex­pect some­one who looks that good to be. He re­counts his early child­hood in a se­ries of rapid fades, which is a shrewd way of fast­for­ward­ing to the show­biz stuff with­out miss­ing any essen­tials. His par­ents sep­a­rated when he was four, a trauma he evokes with some ef­fect. His teen years in Mal­ibu are packed with cameos from past and fu­ture stars. He plays base­ball in Martin Sheen’s back yard with Char­lie and Emilio; makes home movies with the Penn brothers; dates a girl whose fa­ther turns out to be Cary Grant.

We’ll have to take Lowe’s word for it that he was un­pop­u­lar at school, es­pe­cially with the ladies. But at 15 he got cast in a half­suc­cess­ful sit­com. This failed to im­press girls who knew him, but girls who didn’t were sud­denly in­ter­ested. Mobbed and pal­pated at a pub­lic­ity ap­pear­ance, the young Lowe gets an in­sight into the hol­low­ness of fame. ‘‘ If you re­ally knew me,’’ he thinks, ‘‘ you wouldn’t like me nearly as much.’’

The book’s cen­tre­piece is a de­tailed ac­count of Lowe’s work on his first fea­ture, Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola’s 1983 adap­ta­tion of S. E. Hin­ton’s The Out­siders. It wasn’t a bad film to de­but in, with Cop­pola di­rect­ing and co-stars in­clud­ing Tom Cruise, Matt Dil­lon, Pa­trick Swayze and Diane Lane. (Dil­lon won the hotly fought con­test for Lane’s af­fec­tions.)

Come to think of it, Lowe’s ac­count of the film’s mak­ing is a lot more in­ter­est­ing than the film it­self. He has an ex­cel­lent mem­ory for de­tail. His big break­down scene re­quired him to cry on cue for take af­ter take. He did so. Then the in­ef­fa­ble Cop­pola strolled on to set and an­nounced it was time for the close­ups: Lowe had blown out his tear ducts on wide shots.

Af­ter the cast scat­ters to make other films, Lowe pays a telling visit to Cruise on the set of his break­though film Risky Busi­ness. The old fra­ter­nal spirit has waned. ‘‘ Tom has a new per­spec­tive on his acting style, telling me, ‘ I want to spend time hang­ing with you but Joel [his char­ac­ter] doesn’t.’ ’’ Is Lowe tak­ing a wry jab at the great man here? It seems dis­tinctly pos­si­ble, un­less Cruise re­ally needed the Method to help him dance around in his Y-fronts and go toe-to-toe with the guy who played Booger in Re­venge of the Nerds.

If the whole book had the in­ten­sity of the pages about The Out­siders, it would be one of the most in­ter­est­ing ac­tors’ au­to­bi­ogra­phies of re­cent times. But Lowe cov­ers noth­ing else in quite the same de­tail. Writ­ing about his video­taped menages, he’s de­cid­edly stingier with be­hind-the-scenes anec­dotes. He does ex­plain, though, how he man­aged not to no­tice that one of the fe­male par­tic­i­pants was un­der­age. The bar he met her in, you see, had a door­man who was hy­per-vig­i­lant about check­ing IDs.

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