The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday
The antidote to vapid Hollywood memoirs – Laura Dern
“Do you feel like I screwed you up?” Diane Ladd asks Laura Dern halfway through this riveting motherdaughter memoir. “Absolutely,” Dern replies. “I bet you’re thinking of the time I slapped you,” Ladd says. “You mouthed off to me, and I’d had a horrible day. You were only 10, and you said something really teenage-smart at the refrigerator... I thought, What am I doing wrong as a parent?” Dern – angered by Ladd’s failure to apologise – snaps back that she was 14, not 10, and that her mother was “really unhappy at work and wanted to come home and blame someone else”.
Most Hollywood autobiographies are stuffed with therapy-endorsed selfexculpation. So it’s gripping to hear these two Tinseltown titans, Oscar-winning (Dern) and Oscar-nominated (Ladd), here holding each other to account in a series of conversations they recorded after Ladd was given six months to live. Ladd’s doctor advised Dern that her mother’s scarred lungs might hold out longer if she could manage a few walks, distracted by conversations about the big stuff: love, sex, divorce and death.
Honey, Baby, Mine will resonate with anyone trying to communicate across the intergenerational barricades. Ladd, 87, is a veterinarian’s daughter from Mississippi who sees herself as a feminist rebel. Her mother was a Southern belle who filled her daughter’s hope chest with linen and lace in expectation of a good marriage, and was appalled when Diane left home at 16 to pursue a career on the stage. Dern, 56, is the daughter of actor Bruce Dern, who met Ladd when the pair appeared in a 1960 production of Orpheus Descending, by Ladd’s cousin, Tennessee Williams. The couple’s first daughter (also called Diane) died, aged 18 months, in 1962 after falling into their swimming pool and hitting her head.
Laura was born five years later, but here Ladd admits that the marriage never recovered from the death of their first child. By the time Laura was two, Dern was cheating. Ladd picked up the phone to hear him talking to a lover on the other extension, and ended their union with the terrifically Hollywood pronouncement: “Bruce, that’s a wrap! It just so happens I have an appointment with my therapist right now – and I sure need him!”
It seems that they were, by turns, likeably direct and bewilderingly opaque when teaching their daughter about sex. Dern recalls her father telling her