Category Archives: Books

Review: Larry Luckinbill’s graphic novel about Teddy Roosevelt

Actor Laurence Luckinbill has underscored his career by performing stellar showcases, breathing life into a trio of important historical icons: Clarence Darrow, Lyndon B. Johnson and Ernest Hemingway. Then there’s, perhaps most famously, Theodore Roosevelt who has helped the actor begin a new chapter in his career: Luckinbill, along with Eryck Tait, has whittled his popular one-man play Teddy Tonight! and has turned it into a graphic novel.
Teddy (Dead Reckoning, $24.95) tells the tale of the 26th and, not quite 43, youngest President in the nation’s history (1901-1909). Roosevelt is here tonight giving a speech to a rapt crowd. Woodrow Wilson is now president, yet Roosevelt, half deaf and blind in one eye, takes center stage: “Bully! I’ve always said I’d rather wear out than rust out.” Teddy rants and raves. His youngest son Quentin had been captured by the Germans. He brings us back to his asthmatic childhood: “From age four I had to fight to love. My father taught me how. He got me breath. He got me lungs. Strength. Life.” His father is the impetus of much of Roosevelt’s drive: “My father taught me that I had to work for my bread, and work hard. He also taught me that I had to finish everything I started.”

We learn much, including Roosevelt’s obsession with nature and biology: “I supposed myself a naturalist, and outdoorsman, having collected and classified hundreds of specimens from birds to snakes to seals all my life. My rooms were a forest of dead skins … embalmed critters…and jars and boxes full of bits and pieces of them.”
He enters the legislature at Albany “as the only thing a man of my background and upbringing could be—a Lincoln Republican.” He was despised and learns, quickly, the meaning of disdain.
Roosevelt suffered double tragedy: The deaths of his mother of typhoid fever at 48 and his first wife Alice of renal failure following childbirth at 22.
Roosevelt heads West. The Rough Riders, (mis)adventures, the presidency. Pages remind readers of Roosevelt’s demands: “Equality of rights between men and women . . . old age pensions, sickness and unemployment insurance, public housing, shorter work hours. Aid to farmers and regulation of large corporations. We must protect and celebrate the glorious natural beauty of our land.”
He leaves the presidency after seven and a half years. As he ends his speech to the crowd: “Life and death are both part of the same adventure…and the worst of all fears…is the fear of living.”
Luckinbill and Tait have crafted a flawed yet flawless man who emerges out of history with a vision he refuses to lose.

Though the book is “officially” geared toward readers age 8 to 12, Teddy is important for all ages. Tait’s gray and black and white illustrations, at once dramatic and daring—extreme closeups of a moustache-less, single-chined Roosevelt, thick eyeglasses, shadowy cemetery visits—accentuate Teddy’s recollections and reminisces.
Not a word is wasted; not a stroke of the ink pen misleads.
A graphic novel that’s indeed novel.

‘The Way We Were’ adds a new chapter to its bittersweet romantic legacy

It’s one of the most romantic films ever made . . . even if the romance turns bittersweet. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of The Way We Were,  and what better way to celebrate all things Katie and Hubbell than with a marvelous book about the film, its stars, their chemistry and its long-lived appeal that with a gossipy book: Robert Hofler’s The Way They Were: How Epic Battles and Bruised Egos Brought a Classic Hollywood Love Story to the Screen ($28, Citadel ).

We spent a few minutes with the author and asked him a few questions about the book and the way they were . . . and remain.

How easy (or difficult) was it to get to Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford? What question(s) did she/he refuse to answer?
My interviews with Streisand and Redford were conducted via email. They answered my questions. When I had done more research on the book, I went back to both of them with more questions and they graciously provided answers.

Many people who worked on the movie have passed away. Who else were you able to speak to?
Fortunately, I was able to speak to [director] Sydney Pollack and [writer] Arthur Laurents about the film when they were still with us. Those interviews are referred to in my book’s epilogue. Regarding those principals who are still alive, I was very fortunate in speaking to everyone I wanted to.

Although people want to talk about Streisand and Redford, I found my interviews with assistant director Hawk Koch, second assistant director Michael Britton, script consultant Judith Rascoe, and, above all, editor John F. Burnett very significant and insightful. Former friends and associates of Arthur Laurents, like Ashley Feinstein and Zvi Howard Rosenman, were also essential.

Legacy has it that the film is being reconstructed . . .
To my knowledge the film is not being reconstructed. I know that Streisand wants to add two scenes that were cut after the first preview in San Francisco. I doubt she is going to be successful in that quest.

What did you learn after your research on the film that you did not know?
I did not know that Streisand wanted to add those scenes for a rerelease. Also, I learned that it is very unlikely that  Arthur Laurents was ever blacklisted. He might have been “graylisted.” In 1955, he was staying at the Chateau Marmont on the dime of MGM working on a film musical with Jerome Robbins. My book explores many issues that Laurents misrepresented in his memoir Original Story By.

There happens to be another book on the exact same subject…
I have not read the other book on The Way We Were and I have no comment to make on it.

Mike Purewal is on his way to the right stuff as he begins a new career chapter

Mike Purewal decided to make a change in his life.
A big change.
He spent 20 years in the corporate world, leaving the company  as a Vice President of Sales.  He says he “experienced severe burnout, due to stress related health issues, from the intensity of my career. For the majority of my life, I didn’t feel like I made a positive impact to society.”
And so he left in 2020 to “pursue a path of passion that includes writing. My ultimate goal is to bring more laughter and joy to the world for both children and adults alike when they are snuggling together enjoying one of my books.”

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Purewal’s first book On Your Way! (Olympia Publishers, $10.99; amzn.to/3DFMDOa), is geared for ages 4 to 8.
His inspiring story was documented in a commercial by ManuLife Financial and can be watched here.
Here, Purewal recalls his path.

You began your journey by taking a year “unplugged.” How did that help shape you today?
In 2010, before mindfulness and meditation was mainstream, I took the road less travelled by living in an Ashram in Northern California. I studied happiness, mindfulness and became devoted to my meditation practice. This experience radically changed my outlook on life. I weave the main essence of mindfulness in my stories using a fun and simple approach that children can relate to.

What is On Your Way! about?
It is a rhythmic story that inspires children to be adventurous, imaginative and explore what’s around them and within them. Yielding a superhero vibe, this magical journey takes children from outer space to the center of the universe. With rainbow trees, rocket ships, dances with the stars and tapping into the powers of the universe, this story inspires immense creativity.

Are there secondary messages in On Your Way!?
Absolutely. The book has a mindfulness component by touching upon the mental obstacles we all face, such as anger, worry and fear, assuring that they are natural but can be overcome. Mental health and wellness are such critical issues in our society and I want to ensure that children are heard and understood. Another central theme throughout the story is encouraging children to get off their electronic devices such as their tablets and TVs to explore the world and make new adventures.

From where did the idea to write the book come?
After I left corporate, I naturally gravitated towards writing. I started with deep reflection and poetry. During this time, my daughter Bianca and I went through a phase of reading Dr Seuss books. Our favorite was Oh, the Places You’ll Go! I thought, why don’t I try rhythmic writing, something as I enjoyed doing that when I was younger. I planned out multiple scenes for the main character to explore and created this rhythmic text to match! The rest is history.

What was it like having your daughter illustrated as the main character?
It was an incredible bonding experience. At the onset of production, I sent my illustrator pictures of her to be utilized in the story. Every time there were creative revisions, Bianca and I would sit down and she’d give me her perspective. It was so cool for her to see the illustrations evolve and see herself as the main character. I’ll forever cherish those moments when we’d discuss what we loved and what needed changing.

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Mike Purewal

Why is it important to you having BIPOC representation in the characters?
I’m a huge advocate of increasing BIPOC representation for authors and young readers. On Your Way! features children from all backgrounds, with the main character a South East Asian girl. Growing up, I rarely saw children that looked like myself in books. This needs to change. I wanted Bianca to feel seen and heard in her
lifetime. This is a story that she can see herself in.

What are your future writing plans?
I have a second children’s book called Boban from Zoltan that will release in early 2023. This story is about Boban from Zoltan, a wise and witty wizard.  He shows how the world works in a way you’ve never heard of. He reminds children of the day-to-day things to be grateful for, including the little miracles in life that are taken for granted . . . all while explaining Boban’s crazy, rhythmic way.

For more information, visit mikepurewal.com

Journalist Hayley Campbell brings death to life in “All the Living and the Dead”

We are surrounded by death. It is in our news, our nursery rhymes, our true-crime podcasts. Yet from a young age, we are told that death is something to be feared. How are we supposed to know what we’re so afraid of, when we are never given the chance to look?

Fueled by a childhood fascination with death, journalist Hayley Campbell searches for answers in the people who make a living by working with the dead. In school, her questions about death were rarely answered, and when a 12-year-old friend drowned, the casket at the funeral was kept shut. Along the way, she encounters mass fatality investigators, embalmers, and a former executioner who is responsible for ending 62 lives. She meets gravediggers who have already dug their own graves, visits a cryonics facility in Michigan, goes for late-night Chinese with a homicide detective, and questions a man whose job it is to make crime scenes disappear.

In All the Living and the Dead: From Embalmers to Executioners, an Exploration of the People Who Have Made Death Their Life’s Work (St. Martin’s Press, $29.99), Campbell takes readers on a trip behind closed doors and speaks with people who have hands-on experience with the dead, fashioning long-running careers in the service
of the departed. These are the people who look after the dead so the rest of us don’t have to, and perhaps in doing so take away something about death that society needs to understand.

Campbell talks with funeral directors, embalmers, crematorium workers, and gravediggers to discover what insights their regular contact with the dead and the mourning has brought them; she meets with a man who makes death masks, a bereavement midwife, and a cleaner of crime scene sites, to learn what people’s reactions to death really tell us; she sits down with an executioner and with a homicide detective to discuss their careers spent confronting death, and attends forensics autopsies, one of which makes an devastating impression on her.

All the Living and the Dead is an absorbing panorama of the industry that dismantles the dead and puts all the pieces away. These are the people whose voices are rarely heard—oftentimes because many
people tell themselves they’d be more comfortable not hearing them—but who have intriguing stories to share and who contribute to an awareness of death that, according to Campbell, we’ve all been avoiding for a long time. The result is a fascinating book that offers much food for thought and brings readers closer to a workaday world focusing on life’s closing chapter. For Campbell, death is very much a thing that people can face, and her book will have readers sharing that opinion.

“Pack rat” doesn’t begin to describe Andy Warhol . . . Hoarder, indeed!

He wore a toupee and a girdle, suffered from bad, pasty skin and disdained physical contact. Yet he would be seen at all the big events and major openings, rubbing tuxedo-clad elbows with the rich and (in)famous, the high and the sober. He was a celeb’s celeb, posing with, then photographing, the likes of Liza and Dolly and Diana and Liz, then painting their portraits … then asking them for their autographs.

You and I know him as Andy Warhol, the Pop Art prophet whose posthumous profits have earned him first place among artists at auction and who is forever honored with his own artful museum.

Yet to paint an accurate portrait of Andy, we need to forget (just for a few paragraphs) Marilyn and Mao and those dollar signs he so obsessively silk-screened. The real star in Andy’s life was his obsession with “stuff.” He collected everything — and, after a recent visit to the Warhol archives proved — I mean everything.

He was the ultimate Pack Rat, and I don’t use the capitalization lightly.

Starting in 1974 and continuing through 1987, Andy would toss this and that into corrugated cardboard boxes — things he bought, things he was given, things he got for free, things he “borrowed” from hotels — “time capsules,” he called them.

Image 1 - Andy Warhol Signed Photo with Beckett Letter of Authenticity 8" x 11"

Armed with a $650,000 grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Andy Warhol Museum is embarking on an effort to photograph, digitally scan, catalog and preserve the contents of hundreds of capsules. They’ve already opened and begun to inventory 100, and have 472 more to go, a project that should take six years.

During a recent visit, I browsed through Time Capsule No. 20, the contents of which spanned 1982-85. The latter was the year Andy went to Los Angeles for a guest spot on “The Love Boat” — there’s a healthy stack of unused stationery from Beverly Hills Hotel, a box of bath soap, a pile of phone messages, one of which is from B-actress Mamie Van Doren.

Wearing ill-fitting white gloves that allow me to safely handle the “art,” I open a small sampling of the many letters and notes addressed to the artist (no gossip, no secrets, just cryptic missives from unknowns). There’s a rough skin scraper (bought in Manhattan at Duane Reade), hair dye, mascara, nail polish, lipstick, vials of perfume samples. There’s junk jewelry, a gay porno magazine, a promotional brochure from a Russian airline, several bottles of homeopathic drugs and enough pimple medicine to keep the teens of Fox Chapel acne-free for years.

And I haven’t even begun to snoop what’s on the other shelves.

Some people would call it junk. It’s a word at which archivist and project supervisor Matt Wrbican bristles. “Andy considered the capsules to be works of art — they are pieces of a larger historical timeline,” he  said, adding that the “strangest thing” found to date was a mummified human foot, analyzed by scientists at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and confirmed to be a relic from Ancient Egypt.

But sometimes even timelines show their age, and lines must be drawn. For a Time Capsule, that means destruction. Collections manager Allison Smith reveals the museum junked a “leaking half-empty bottle of Chloraseptic,” but not before the over-the-counter medicine was photographed and all pertinent info logged into the database.

Many people have trashed Warhol while he was alive, but this causes a lump in my throat. Maybe a spritz of Chloraseptic would help?

Matthew points to a sandwich bag of AA batteries that have leaked; they will also hit the garbage bin. “Actually,” he explains, “we’ll put them in a battery recycling program.” Once, of course, they are photographed and cataloged.

I ask nicely if I can have the batteries, sort of an awesome alkaline souvenir from my visit.

I also figure that in some circles, I could claim to have an original Warhol.

I am nicely told, “No.”

I leave empty-handed, but brimming with reminders to do some spring cleaning.

And have that garage sale.

IF YOU GO
The Andy Warhol Museum
117 Sandusky Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
412.237.8300
warhol.org

“Is This My Home”? takes a delightful, interactive look at a traveling nurse’s adventures

It’s just what the doctor ordered, a most delightful interactive children’s book that follows Nanette, a young nurse travels across the country caring for wee ones who find themselves needing a nurse’s love.
Is This My Home? (Made For Me, $16.95/$12.95) is the first book in the Tales of a Traveling Nurse series, a most welcome treat that gives young readers ages 4-8 a look into the adventurous profession of travel nursing. Kids will have fun searching for Nanette as she enjoys a new city while following the children who find themselves needing a nurse’s care, from California to New York, Texas to Hawaii and beyond. With her big smile and fun bubble necklace, Nurse Nanette helps make a scary ‘trip to the doctor” that much easier!Inline image
Is This My Home? goes beyond engaging educational adventures: Shay Larby’s colorful and interesting illustrations give kids a look inside hospitals’ pediatric emergency departments while highlighting the importance of child safety and accident prevention.
The book is based on first-hand experiences: Author Sheri Sturniolo has been a registered pediatric nurse for more than 20 years. She started her career as a traveling nurse and her many adventures became the inspiration for the Tales of a Traveling Nurse series.  She enjoys writing children’s books that help little ones better understand the world around them while opening up important conversations between the reader and child. (Sheri began her author journey with her first series, You Were Meant for Me, written for her own children.) See more at talesofatravelingnurse.com
A must-have prescription for fun, facts and educational filled journeys!

“Young Cyrano” introduces young readers to the teenage de Bergerac


We could toss about many so-little known (or unknown). We’ll choose two: Benoît-Constant Coquelin, Edmond Rostand. We’ll add a third: Sir Paul Cicchini.
Yet they all are related. Sort of.  Coquelin was a legendary French actor who originated the role of real-life Hercule Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac whose life was fictionalized in Rostand’s legendary play Cyrano de Bergerac back in 1897. Yep, he’s the Cyrano known for his large, misshapen proboscis; (mis)adventures of fighting, courageous sword fighting, action and, of course, the kiss given to gal pal Roxanne.
Cyrano was, and remains, hot. There have been many stage and screen adaptations. A new stage version starring James McAvoy takes centerstage at Brooklyn’s Academy of Music; little person and Big Star Peter Dinklage stars in the new big-screen musicalization.
And so enters New Jersey school psychologist Cicchini.
He has written
Young Cyrano ($12.99), a novel that takes a breezy look at Cyrano when he was an awkward teenager. Before he became a self-assured hero, Cyrano and his best friends Le Bret and Roxanne took part in many of those teenage exploits with which today’s teens find pleasure . . . and perhaps pain.
Young Cyrano is written with a  flair that guides those in grades 7 through 12 into  playful and perplexing periods of youth, mystery and mayhem with the welcoming and wonder of what is to become.
To learn more about Young Cyrano or its author Sir Paul Cicchini, visit
paulcicchini.com.


 

The problem with ‘The Art of Bob Mackie’? The book was already written, back in 1979.

It’s a large, lavish coffeetable book, this expensive ($50) book that celebrates the fashions of Mackie and the women he (un)dresses. The Art of Bob Mackie (Simon & Schuster) has Mackie’s approval, but it was written by two die-hard fans.
Yet nearly 50 years, Mackie himself wrote (with co-author Gerry Bremer) Designing for Glamour (A& W Publishers), a smaller $14.95 volume that is packed with lots of color BM costume photos,

scores of dos and don’ts for fashion-driven success, even a (first) foreword by Carol Burnett. Sure, the book is long out of print,. but I stole a copy on eBay for $5, postage included.
The Art of Bob Mackie is an embarrassment of riches. Balancing the book on your lap is tough enough, but after a while, page after page after page of Mackie illustrations look that same, as seen below.

Most of the same  ladies are covered in both books (Carol, Cher, Diana, Ann, Mitzi, Bette, Barbra) and some of the photos are duplicated.
Perhaps if Dressing for Glamour was updated, and there was less Carol Burnett gab and more of Cher’s (or reversing the two). The Art of Bob Mackie would have more style.

History As It Happened: Carole Estby Dagg’s New Book Recounts a ‘Walk Across America’

As Santa’s elves—sometimes known as book publicists—continue to drop “gifts”—sometimes known as review copies—under our tree, we remain steadfast, promising to find the best of the best.
And then recommending those titles.
When we stumbled across Carole Estby Dagg’s new book, The Year We Were Famous: Helga and Clara’s Estby’s Walk Across a Changing America ($15.49), we were as impressed not only by the subject (more in a bit) but by her professional tagline, that she spends her time “writing about history as ordinary people  lived it”.
In this, Estby novelizes the true tale of her her suffragist great grandmother, Helga Estby, and Helga’s daughter, Carole’s grand aunt Clara, who walked 4,000 miles from their farm in Mica Creek, Washington, to New York City in 1896 in a heroic attempt to win $10,000 that would save the family’s farm . . . and prove women were invincible.
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Equipped only with satchels containing compass and maps, first-aid supplies, journals, pistol and a curling iron (!), they headed east along the railroad tracks. The walk began on May 6, 1896 in Spokane, Washington, and ended in New York City  232 days later, on December 23. The women  crossed mountains, deserts and plains; survived a highwayman attack, a flash flood and several blizzards; and went days without food and water. Let’s not forget that Helga and Clara wore out a total of 32 pairs of shoes.
During the year they walked and talked, they became famous, meeting governors and mayors, camping with Indians, and visiting the new president-elect, William McKinley.
Helga and Clara intended to write a book about their adventures, but the publisher reneged on her big-buck promise. Fortunately, newspapers across the country reported on their travels, so Carole was able to write her book based on those articles, with her imagination filling the gaps between facts.
By the way, we aren’t the only ones who were pleased by such a gift from the Jolly Fat Man’s helpers: The Year We Were Famous
won the Will Rogers Medallion; the Sue Alexander Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators; and the Willa award from Women Writing the West. It was also selected by the American Library Association for its 2012 Amelia Bloomer List of Best Feminist Fiction.
Santa’s elves have delivered a perfect pick for gift giving.
To order the book and for more info on the author, click caroleestbydagg.

George Chakiris’ autobiography will leave some readers (dis)pleased

Read it. Digest it. And after coming up for air after a whirlwind read of George Chakiris’ autobiography, My West Side Story: A Memoir (Lyons Press, $24.95), you realize you were dazzled.

And duped.

We will explain.

It’s obvious Chakiris loved dancing, a skill so streamlined and stylized that it launched him into a pretty nice career, most notably for West Side Story.

The actor/dancer was first cast in the London production as Riff, gang leader of the Jets. The musical premiered in London in late 1958, and Chakiris received rave reviews, playing the role for almost two years.

The actor, who is of Greek descent, then auditioned for the film version, but the producers thought Chakiris’ dark complexion made him more suitable for the role of Bernardo, leader of the Sharks. (Russ Tamblyn got the role of Riff.)

Switching sides to play Bernardo, brother to Natalie Wood’s Maria and partner to Rita Moreno’s Anita, secured him the role on Broadway after seven months of filming. The film (also co-directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins) returns to theaters for two days only as part of Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies’ TCM Big Screen Classics series with an introduction from TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. The beloved movie musical will play in select theaters June 24 and 27 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. local time both days.

The movie not only gained Chakiris a huge  following but also the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in Motion Picture.

West Side Story, all three versions, made him a star.

“I know exactly where my gratitude belongs,” Chakiris writes, “and I still marvel at how, unbeknownst to me at the time, the joyful path of my life was paved one night in 1949 when Jerome Robbins sat Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents down in his apartment and announced, ‘I have an idea.'”

It’s obviously Chakiris was not best friends with Jerome Robbins, the legendary choreographer who was a former Communist Party member and named 10 communists in his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Robbins did propel Chakiris into WSS stardom and the actor dishes Robbins. Up to a point. He doesn’t tap dance the legendary truths about the mercurial, relentless Robbins, but in a few breaths he credits him with shaping Bernardo into such a memorable character.

Yet, before his became known for his stage work, Chakiris  had made a bunch of films—dancing, of course, but unbilled and in teeny roles He was one of the dancers in Marilyn Monroe’ “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” number in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).

It’s sad to know that, though Monroe was 23 years old and Chakiris was 19, they did not became friends, something he misses.

As he writes: “Marilyn had a quality that can’t be taught, or created with wardrobe and makeup, a quality you’re either born with or not. . . . Many decades later I accepted an invitation to participate in a documentary about her.  I said then what I’ll always say—I’m sorry I didn’t get to know her, but I’ll always be grateful I had the pleasure working with her.”

Can you spot him in the snippet below?

He appeared as a dancer alongside Rosemary Clooney, as she warbled “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me” in White Christmas (1954). See him?

TV shows, two record albums, sundry stage work and more films were wedges between his years. It’s sad that his film career was so spotty. Two films made in France—Is Paris Burning? (1966) and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort  (1967) are really good and still hold up; The Big Cube (1969, watch Lana Turner on LSD!) and Jekyll and Hyde…Together Again  (1982) are jokes.

Today, the 86-year-old thespian still creates, this time making sterling silver jewelry—pendants, bracelets, earrings. What started as a hobby blossomed into a full-time business. Chakiris’ stunning works can be seen (and bought) at georgechakiris.com/jewelry.

And before you ask, the answer is no. In the book, Chakiris refuses to confirm his sexual orientation.

He has kept details of his love life hidden from the media’s attention, yet it is widely believed among Hollywood actors and actresses that he is gay – even the popular movie and TV series rating website IMDb has featured him  in their “500 Gay Actors & Personalities” list. Some have even claimed that George secretly married his long-term partner sometime in the 2000s, but no proof has been provided to support the claims.

His is a terrible bother to me, born one day after Chakiris came out (of his mother) and into the world. If he is gay, it would serve as a great benefit to those boys and girls, men and women, questioning their sexuality, fighting the bullying, dancing around suicidal thoughts. I have the same feeling about Lily Tomlin and Barry Manilow’s queer denials—the singer especially. Everyone knew he was gay yet for decades he made up girlfriends and excuses. When he finally married his long-time partner and manager Gary Keif in 2004, his excuse for the delay: “I thought it would hurt my career.”

That’s why my Manilow CDs have been destroyed and why Chakiris  book was given away.

Not all acting succeeds.