I felt to be loved meant you had to feel ter­ri­fied too

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AC­TRESS Sally Field has taken a long time to write her life story – seven years of soul-search­ing, delv­ing into her deep­est, dark­est mem­o­ries of the peo­ple, places and events that have framed the per­son she is now.

Meet­ing her to­day, at 71, she still has the same fa­mil­iar elfin looks, pe­tite physique and warm smile that have served her well over the years – from her early days of Amer­i­can TV star­ring in the bizarre se­ries The Fly­ing Nun, to her Os­car-win­ning per­for­mance in 1979’s Norma Rae (about a fac­tory worker-turne­dunion ac­tivist), and por­trayal of Mary Todd Lin­coln op­po­site Daniel Day-Lewis in 2012’s Lin­coln.

In Pieces is no celebrity me­moir, how­ever. Her box-of­fice suc­cesses in films in­clud­ing Mrs Doubt­fire, For­rest Gump and Steel Mag­no­lias are skimmed over in a few lines, while her three-year re­la­tion­ship with Burt Reynolds – whom she paints as a con­trol­ling force – makes barely three chap­ters.

“We were a per­fect match of flaws,” she writes. “Blindly I fell into a rut that had long ago formed in my road.”

The an­chor in the book is her com­plex, lov­ing and trou­bled re­la­tion­ship with her mother Mar­garet, whom she called Baa, an ac­tress who di­vorced her fa­ther Dick when Sally was three and then mar­ried stunt­man Jocko Ma­honey – who sex­u­ally abused Sally from the age of seven to 14.

“My whole book is about my try­ing to un­der­stand and un­weave the sur­vival mech­a­nisms that I set in place as a child and how some­times they dis­al­lowed me from see­ing what was re­ally present,” she says now.

Act­ing helped her find her voice, but there were strug­gles along the way – an abor­tion at 17, de­pres­sion, lone­li­ness, self-doubt in her ca­reer, as well as two failed mar­riages and the ther­apy she needed to talk frankly to her ter­mi­nally ill mother about her step­fa­ther be­fore she died. Sally started the me­moir af­ter her mother’s death seven years ago.

“Af­ter she was gone, I felt deeply dis­qui­eted. It wasn’t just grief, there was some­thing miss­ing. I felt like I had a ma­lig­nancy, some­thing gan­grenous grow­ing on me and I didn’t know why I felt this way.

“I had to find a way to dig out all the pieces that I had hid­den away both in my mind and in boxes of mem­o­ra­bilia that I’d never been will­ing to look at, that I didn’t want to see.”

When her mother left her fa­ther, she took Sally and her older brother Ricky to live with their grand­mother Joy, borne of a gen­er­a­tion of women who were ex­pected to put their own needs sec­ond to the de­sires of the men around them.

Many of the men Sally writes about, both pro­fes­sion­ally and per­son­ally, are con­trol­ling.

Mar­garet mar­ried Ma­honey in 1952 and had Sally’s half-sis­ter Princess six months later. When the abuse started, Sally’s sur­vival mech­a­nisms kicked in fur­ther as she with­drew. The abuse un­doubt­edly af­fected re­la­tion­ships with men as she grew older.

“My sur­vival mech­a­nisms af­fected ev­ery part of my life and cer­tainly af­fected my abil­ity to see men. I was used to be­ing treated a cer­tain way by my step­fa­ther and so when those pat­terns would re­peat them­selves, they were like pre-formed ruts in my road.

“There were times in my life when I could have said, ‘I don’t like this be­hav­iour, I’m gone, good­bye’, but sys­tems were al­ready set into place. I didn’t have a choice, I didn’t see a choice.

“My step­fa­ther was ador­ing or­ing me, he held me all the time, yet I was ter­ri­fied,” she con­tin­ues. “For the rest of my life, it meant that to feel re­ally loved you also have to feel ter­ri­fied. It’s very hard to de­tan­gle that.”

Mar­garet later di­vorced Jocko but so much had been left un­said aid that the dis­con­nec­tion be­tween mother and daugh­ter con­tin­ued, even though Mar­garet was there for Sally when­ever she needed her, look­ing af­ter her three chil­dren when she was on lo­ca­tion film­ing, sup­port­ing her emo­tion­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally.

Sally, who lives alone in the Pa­cific Pal­isades, an up-mar­ket neigh­bour­hood on the Los An­ge­les coast, be­gan her book long be­fore the #MeToo cam­paign was even thought of, yet had her­self been the sub­ject of un­wanted ad­vances.

She claims that one di­rec­tor asked her to re­move her top so he could see her breasts as there was a nude scene in the film. She com­plied. When she had put her top back on, he said the part was hers if she kissed him. She com­plied. “I had won the role, yes. But I had lost some­thing im­por­tant, some­thing I was also fight­ing for: My dig­nity,” she writes.

“I had some episodes that were egre­gious,” she says now. “The only rea­son I wrote about them was be­cause they af­fected me and im­printed on my life.”

Does she think the movie in­dus­try has moved on?

“It’s not just the movie in­dus­try, it’s ev­ery sin­gle in­dus­try in the world, where men and women work to­gether, it’s just the movie in­dus­try is more vis­i­ble. This is the way so­ci­ety has been act­ing al­ways and in some cul­tures, it’s a hell of a lot worse.

“But if the mo­tion pic­ture in­dus­try is more vis­i­ble, and it’s used in that vis­i­ble way to make the out­rage more pal­pa­ble, then that’s a good thing.

“But on the other side of the out­rage – which I com­pletely ap­plaud and for which I’m grate­ful – there has to be some­thing else.

“We have to work out how we move so­ci­ety for­ward, not only so that women feel they have choices and men don’t be­have in crim­i­nal ways or are just jerks.

“One of the great things is that women are run­ning for of­fice. Things will be dif­fer­ent if women are in the front of­fice of ev­ery sin­gle in­dus­try.”

The book reaches an emo­tional con­clu­sion when mother and daugh­ter fi­nally find a way to talk about the parts of their lives which had re­mained un­said, and cre­ated bar­ri­ers in their re­la­tion­ship.

This hap­pened when

Mar­garet was dy­ing of cancer, and Sally had found a ther­a­pist who could open those long-closed av­enues of com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“My mother was dy­ing, I felt like I was dy­ing, we were liv­ing in the same house yet I didn’t want to run into her, at the same time Lin­coln was brew­ing and the part of my brain was say­ing I wasn’t go­ing to get to do it. The ther­a­pist was in­stru­men­tal dur­ing this time.”

It turned out that her mother knew of a sin­gu­lar act of abuse which Ma­honey con­fessed to her and which con­trib­uted to their di­vorce. She was shocked to hear that the abuse had con­tin­ued through her daugh­ter’s ado­les­cence, but as­sured her that she wouldn’t be alone any longer in her pain.

“She was my de­voted, per­fectly im­per­fect mother. I loved her pro­foundly and I will miss her ev­ery day of my life,” Sally con­cludes.


Sally Field with her Best Ac­tress Os­car for Norma Rae in 1980, pic­tured with Dustin Hoff­man who was named Best Ac­tor for Kramer Vs Kramer Sally Field, left, and her book, In Pieces, in­set be­low

Sally Field in Norma Rae (1979), for which she won a Best Ac­tress Os­car

In Pieces by Sally Field is pub­lished by Si­mon & Schus­ter, priced £20.

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