Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)
It’s Pamela Anderson’s turn to debunk those sexist 1990s stereotypes
By Pamela Anderson Dey Street. 256 pp. $30 - — We are now at least a half-decade into the era of revisiting popular ‘90s and 2000s narratives around famous women and reevaluating their conclusions. And by now, we know what to expect: Nearly always, the conclusions are more cruelly and boneheadedly sexist than society realized at the time.
So it should come as no surprise that a celebrity known a quartercentury ago for her supposed vapidity or airheadedness is, up close, neither vapid nor airheaded — and is pretty hurt by the media’s distorted depiction. It turns out that Monica Lewinsky can give a hell of a TED Talk on public shaming; that Jessica Simpson was pretty embarrassed about the whole “chicken of the sea” thing and had a disarmingly funny memoir in her about that chapter of her life; that Paris Hilton was permanently scarred by the leak of a private video of her and has mounted an activist crusade against abuse within programs for so-called “troubled teens.”
Still, somehow, Pamela Anderson’s new memoir, “Love, Pamela” — out Tuesday, alongside the Netflix documentary “Pamela, a Love Story” — reveals a side of the onetime Playboy Playmate and “Baywatch” star that feels unexpected. Certainly, she’s smarter and more thoughtful than the person many late-night hosts of the 1990s thought they were talking to, though admittedly that’s a low bar to clear. But what “Love, Pamela” does best is lay bare the fact that the sexpot caricature of Anderson — the mythic, crushingly larger-than-life idea of her — obscured the charms of the real one.
The Anderson of “Love, Pamela” is more wholesomely freespirited than the one who lives in popular memory.
Anderson, now 55, recounts the story of her life, from her childhood in tiny Ladysmith, British Columbia, to the height of her stardom in the 1990s, to the past few years, during which she mounted a more aggressive global campaign for animal rights and made her well-reviewed Broadway debut.
Along the way, readers learn, she’s cobbled together a personal philosophy from a curiously wide range of sources, pulling in elements from Buddhism, from Kabbalah, from a Pepperdine University minister she met taking walks around Malibu, from the Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson and many, many more. Anderson professes to be a voracious reader, each author citation more surprising than the last: Anaïs Nin, Angela Davis, Goethe. She also collects vintage cars, trucks and boats, and in the past five years, she rather spontaneously moved from Los Angeles to St. Tropez, then to a ranch on Vancouver Island.
Anderson spends much of “Love, Pamela” channeling her inner life into free-verse poetry; her passages are short and simply constructed, interspersed between paragraphs of more traditional prose.
In the acknowledgments, Anderson explains: “This book started out as a fifty-page poem and then grew into hundreds of pages of . . . more poetry . . . from my first memory to my most recent.” An editor, she adds, “enjoyed my original writing style, but she also suggested we add full sentences and paragraphs. I told her I don’t think in full sentences, let alone paragraphs.” Happily, they found a compromise.
Of course, Anderson also embraces the slightly less wholesome, decidedly spicier kind of free-spiritedness that initially made her an icon. (“Hef called me / the DNA of Playboy,” one stanza of poetry claims.) She writes about sexuality in a frank, often funny way: She describes sex with ex-husband Tommy Lee as “always tender, delicious — never dark or weird or trying too hard. We were connected. Sex was fun.”
She details with lighthearted amusement an anecdote others might describe with a grimace: making erotic eye contact with Jack Nicholson while he was otherwise involved with two women at the Playboy Mansion. “Love, Pamela” gets its arguable thesis some three-quarters of the way through when Anderson writes, “I’ve always believed that striving to be a sensual person, or being sexy, should not conflict with intelligence.”