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13 Hollywood Memoirs That Are Worth the Hype

Loved 'I'm Glad My Mom Died'? Read these next.

Jeanette McCurdy’s memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died is one of the year’s most popular books for good reason. Of course, the title is eye-catching. It might trigger you. It might scare you.

It might compel you to start reading right away, eager to find out why she would say that.

It might make you giggle with relief, liberated by her boldness, relieved she would say that.

Before the book, McCurdy was best known as a child actress on Nickelodeon, the first cable network for kids. She co-starred in the TV shows iCarly (2007) and Cat and Sam (2013) alongside Miranda Cosgrove and Ariana Grande, respectively. At Nickelodeon, she worked intimately with a controversial producer accused of hypersexualizing young actresses, encouraging underage talent to drink alcohol with him, and belittling and abusing production crews (among other whisper-network horrors).  

Whatever brings you to the book, it’s McCurdy’s writing that will keep you there. It’s hypnotizing, provocative, and healing. Most of all, it’s unexpected. Many viewers considered McCurdy the comic heart of her Nick shows, but that still didn’t prepare them for her literary debut’s acerbic humor. McCurdy writes with sharp urgency.

Most of the book describes a life spent prioritizing her mother’s happiness over her own, but it also includes her fight to reclaim herself. One of the biggest lies McCurdy maintained for her mom was that she was happy to be an actress. It wasn’t her dream. It never was. McCurdy’s dream was to be a writer. In losing her mom, she finally got to become who she wanted to be. This book is a result of that hard-earned trust in herself.

When it was released in August, I’m Glad My Mom Died sold 200,000 copies in its first week and became an instant New York Times bestseller. Seventeen weeks later, the book remains number three on the nonfiction chart (combined print and e-book).

If you’ve already read it, here are twelve titles to check out next. Use them to inspire a gossipy 2023 book club or reading circle if you dare.

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'Hello Molly' by Molly Shannon

Shannon tells the story of the massive childhood tragedy that inspired her quest for a life of levity. Shannon grew up in a typical Irish Catholic family in suburban Ohio. One evening, her father insisted on driving the family home from a relative’s house after a day of celebrating.

There was an accident and only three of the six passengers survived. Shannon lost her mother, her cousin, and her baby sister in the blink of an eye, all while at their side.

 Like McCurdy, Shannon writes about complicated emotional relationships with great care.

She recognizes how hard her father worked as a single dad to care for her sister and her. She also exposes the ways she often became his caretaker when he drank too much. Shannon’s father sees the accident as a tragedy that happened to him, often leaving Shannon desperate for recognition of her own pain and loss too. She needs the love of her mother, so she seeks love from audiences.

Shannon’s book is a great reminder to enjoy the creative unfolding of one’s own life. When she first auditioned for Saturday Night Live, she didn’t get the job. She wasn’t booking her LA auditions either. As a super ambitious person, she let in the idea that it might never happen for her. She describes how experiencing life as an artist in the city of her choosing was more important to her than massively succeeding. She made “making it” about the life she was living, not the roles she was receiving. She let herself enjoy what was. Unsurprisingly, her gargantuan talent was recognized on a larger scale shortly after that as she skyrocketed to fame on SNL.

The book also shows how her beloved characters are rooted in love and authenticity. But without trust in herself, some may have never seen the light of day. People told her to never do her Mary Katherine Gallagher for SNL creator Lorne Michaels, but she trusted her own impulses and wrote it as a sketch anyway. Once she wrote it, people told her it simply didn’t read as funny. Where were the jokes? When the sketch kept getting skipped during rehearsals for time, Shannon finally squeezed it in and committed so fully that she knew its merit would be undeniable.

The rest is history. Mary Katherine Gallagher remains an iconic SNL character and also became a movie produced by none other than Lorne Michaels.

A stunning conversation between Shannon and her father ends this read with even more soulfulness and joy.

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'I Am Not Ashamed' by Barbara Payton

Born in rural Minnesota, Payton moved to Texas before relocating to Los Angeles with her husband at the time. While he attended classes at the University of Southern California (USC) Payton grew bored of her domestic life. She was a young, beautiful blonde in her early twenties in Hollywood.

She started modeling but found her real passion in the nightlife scene. This is where she garnered attention with ease. Bawdy and ruckus, Payton was wild and beautiful. Her behavior caught the attention of a Universal executive who signed Payton to a contract. She appeared in movies throughout the early 1950s alongside the biggest stars of her day. Her Hollywood dream came true.

But the hard partying that created opportunity in Payton’s life also created problems. As the acting roles dried up and her affairs with notable actors ended, she turned to sex work to guarantee access to her favorite vices. In the book, she describes the violence she experienced in Hollywood, getting arrested on Sunset Boulevard, and eventually being brought up on charges related to fraudulent check cashing. She slept on the same streets she once partied on as a Hollywood golden girl. She made beds out of bus benches she once whizzed by in limousines.

Most striking in Payton’s narration is her inability to identify as a victim. She knows she’s gained weight, survived stabbings, and lost her youthful looks. She knows women in Hollywood are disposable and that the system is inherently inequitable. She never apologizes for who she is or asks for help to change it.

“Where I am today, no matter how bad it looks to you, is where I belong. I can be me,” she writes.

Payton lived fast and died young. She wrote this book in her mid-30s and was paid $1,000 for it. At 39, she was dead. The book is campy and moving.

Be warned: This dispatch from the Hollywood underclass is lots of fun to read, but some of her ideas about race are very hard to read because of their deplorable stereotypes of Black people. In striving to be an ally, Payton makes serious mistakes. In other moments, she challenges racism in Hollywood. The whole book is messy. And Payton? She is not ashamed.

Tip: For many years, this memoir was considered “lost” (out-of-print, if not just completely forgotten). Rumor has it that Jack Nicholson gave Jessica Lange a copy in preparation for her role in the film The Postman Rings Twice (1981). When this got around, it allegedly fueled interest in the original memoir.

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'Postcards From the Edge' by Carrie Fisher

This semi-autobiographical novel dramatizes elements of Fisher’s own life with her superstar mother Debbie Reynolds. Fisher adapted the book into a screenplay and wrote it herself. In the movie, Meryl Streep played Fisher’s avatar Suzanne Vale and Shirley McClaine played the character inspired by Debbie Reynolds (despite Reynolds’ own interest in the part). Mike Nichols directed.

First thing’s first, this is no Singin’ In the Rain!

“Religion is the opiate of the masses. I did masses of opiates religiously,” Fisher writes as Vale.

Vale is a young actress trying to put her life back together after overdosing on drugs. She wants to get back to work, but the studio won’t insure her unless she moves in with her aging superstar mother. When it was first published in 1987, Postcards From the Edge was a literary debut from the actress best known as Princess Leia. Today it remains a Los Angeles coming-of-age classic.

“Instant gratification takes too long,” Fisher writes.

Her pages are full of deep vulnerability, if sometimes disguised in stylish wordplay.

Fisher worked on a lot of great movies, wrote great things, had great friends, and raised a beautiful daughter, but she could never shake her sadness and propensity for addiction that this book exposes.

“I don’t want life to imitate art. I want life to be art,” Fisher writes. Fisher passed away in late December 2016. Her mom passed away the next day. Their life together was art.

Tip: This is a rare example of a movie being just as good, if not better, than the book. Probably because Fisher wrote both. You can stream the movie on HBO Max.

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'Nobody Ever Told Me Anything' by Rachael Steak Finley

Like Jeannette Mccurdy and Molly Shannon’s books, Finley’s memoir deals with the untimely death of her mom with equal parts compassion and humor.

Finley was too young when her mom died. Sure, she was already living alone in Los Angeles and making her way into the fashion and media industries, but at 19, she was still a little girl in many ways.

In other ways, she had never been a little girl. Growing up, Finley lived a pretty “normal” life until the divorce of her parents in elementary school. Finley loved living with her mom, but soon after the split, her mom’s mental health issues became exacerbated and her addiction issues became amplified. When her mom suffered paranoid delusions, Finley suffered through them too. She never quite understood what was happening, but she always had empathy for her mom.

Finley’s story takes a million turns. At the beginning, none of these turns were at her choosing, but as she comes of age, she comes into her agency. The book is part memoir, part survival guide.

Finley recounts her life with honesty and wisdom. She gets cancer. She loses her mom. She gets married. She has a baby. She files for divorce and finds out it’s finalized on TMZ. Whether she’s talking about experiences as personal as these or simply describing her first experiences of Tumblr fame on her first iPhone, Finely tells stories like she’s talking to a friend.

Similar to McCurdy, Finley writes with the kind of comedic perspective one only gains through making it through some seriously challenging circumstances.

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'Confessions of a Video Vixen' by Karrine Steffans

Whether or not you’re familiar with Steffans by name, you’ve likely watched a music video with her in it. At the height of music videos in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Steffans was featured in more than 20 productions. Most were collaborations with A-list talent such as Jay-Z, LL Cool J, Mystikal, and Ja Rule.

Steffans was always on set, but rarely the focus. She observed everything and those precise details make this book so interesting to read. Steffans speaks to the way “video girls” functioned like accessories to men at this time instead of performers in their own right.

She felt like an outsider in many of these situations, but her proximity to these men and the sexual intimacy she shared with many of them also gave her uniquely insider access to the making of the culture, exposing racism and misogyny in the entertainment industry, specifically the music industry.

Steffans is a symbol of feminist survival. While her belief that her own sexual abuse led to her willingness to be sexually exploited by the music industry may not resonate for every performer (or reader), it’s undeniable that Steffans spoke about gender realities in hip hop when there was zero space to do so. The gossip is hot, but it’s Steffan’s inner journey that makes this read a cinematic page-turner. One scene describes her overdosing in a restroom at a restaurant that was a Y2K Hollywood hotspot. “I thought of how awful it would be if I died in the bathroom at Mr. Chow,” Steffans writes.

This book is a New York Times #1 bestseller, as are the two subsequent books in her Vixen series.

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'Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny' by Holly Madison

Holly Madison’s book about the period of her life she spent as Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend has been likened to The Bell Jar. While I doubt Madison considers herself the Sylvia Plath of our generation, she deserves credit for sharing her story in such an exposing way.

This book reminds me of McCurdy’s because they both shine a light on the cult-like nature of Hollywood institutions. For McCurdy, the cult is Nickelodeon and the surreal, predatory culture child actors are groomed to believe is normal. For Madison, the cult is Playboy and her boyfriend is the supreme leader.

This earns Madison favor in some situations, but only if she strictly complies with the cult’s rules, both the clearly stated ones and the intuited directives.

Don’t ask questions. Don’t ruffle feathers. And always remember, Hef’s not replaceable, but the women of Playboy are, so hold on to dear life if you know what’s good for you.

After the huge success of the E! Show centered around Madison and Hef’s two other girlfriends The Girls Next Door, Playboy saw Madison and the other women (Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson) as highly valuable. But Playboy was also adamant that Madison, Marquardt, and Wilkinson didn’t see themselves as valuable.

“Playboy licensing had the brilliant idea to create Girls Next Door slot machines…. We were made aware of the project and expected to be thrilled at the honor alone. No one mentioned any sort of compensation for use of our likeness or any percentage on the back end. We were really excited about the idea of the machines, nonetheless. Who wouldn’t get a kick out of seeing their faces on a slot machine? We simply didn’t realize that we should be getting a fee for such a thing.”

Hef and the Playboy institution at large did their best to indoctrinate Madison and the other women in their proximity to him was just luck of the draw, but Playboy hit the jackpot because of these women and their personalities. The Girls Next Door revived the Playboy brand, not just by making the women stars in the public imagination, but by funneling more cash to the brand than it had seen in years. All the while, Madison and her co-stars were manipulated into signing unfavorable contracts without counsel and weren’t paid for the first season at all. 

Madison blew the whistle on Playboy long before this year’s The Secrets of Playboy documentary made clear just how layered the atrocities perpetuated by the brand were. At the same time, she can’t deny her life experience and the number of positive relationships and experiences she had at the mansion, which only further infuses this book with truth and texture.

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'The Chiffon Trenches' by André Leon Talley

Leon Talley published this book in 2020 and had nearly two years to enjoy its reception before his passing in early 2022. The book opens with a scan of a letter from legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland from 1978:

“I want to tell you that I think your report on the St. Laurent collection is one of the best pieces of writing on fashion I have ever read. I talked with Yves about it yesterday and we both agree that it is a masterpiece of description.”

Written a few decades later, The Chiffon Trenches is most certainly another masterpiece of description.

The title alone is simple but evocative. “Chiffon” conjures Leon Talley’s sense of transcendence, his connection to the spiritual realm, his ability to find divinity in fabric, luminosity, strength, and his signature proclivity for dressing with a certain drapey elegance.

The use of the word “trenches” is more complicated. It’s at once a description of the battlefield that was life in the American South and in the global fashion industry for a young Black man. However, trenches also refer to the narrow pockets of safety for soldiers at war, and Leon Talley found solace in clothing and safety in dressing.

But his appreciation for the sartorial arts brought him even deeper purpose.

“The YSL haute couture collection was my first big show…I entered dressed in my best Sunday tennis-striped suit, armed with my mental agility to look at, and sum up, the total essence of what was special about this incredible world. I walked with enough confidence for ten men. Underneath my groomed veneer, I was silently thanking God I had gotten to this point. To me, this was supreme happiness,” he writes.

Of course, this first show is the one Vreeland wrote her note about. In his total adoration for the fashion world, Leon Talley never expected this support and reverence to be reflected back to him by the creme de la creme of fashion so quickly. With this newfound status, Leon Talley became the first Black man to sit front row in Paris at haute couture shows. He was happy to be there, but never could have imagined what pressure it would be to be the only Black person there. A tender, heartbreaking moment occurs when Paloma Picasso (daughter of Pablo Picasso) pulls Leon Talley aside in Paris to share a racist nickname he’s being called by certain members of the fashion elite behind closed doors.

“I thought everyone liked me,” he told her.

I consider it one of the best American memoirs ever written, and certainly one of the best fashion memoirs in history.

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'UnSweetined' by Jodie Sweetin with Jon Warech

I’m not invested in Full House enough to say, watch Fuller House, but I can attest to the fact that I spent my entire childhood invested in watching as many re-runs of the original show as possible. From this incessant viewing, I’m well aware of the comic prowess of Jodie Sweetin, who played middle-child and resident ice-breaker Stephanie Tanner on the show.

Sweetin garnered tabloid attention as a drug addict and alcoholic later in life, but until recently, I was completely unaware of Sweetin’s unique origin story. Sweetin was born in prison. Since both of her parents were incarcerated, Sweetin was adopted by her uncle and his wife and raised as an only child. Within a few years, she became a child actor and found the acceptance she craved in booking jobs.

By age five, she was cast as a regular in Full House and remained in that role for eight seasons. From the outside, it all looked easy for her. But inside, Sweetin’s emotional life was a lot more complicated than Stephanie Tanner’s. As an unemployed fourteen-year-old who barely remembered life without a job, Sweetin was insecure. All it took was one glass of wine at her former co-star Candance Cameron Bure’s wedding to realize alcohol was the secret to confidence. Sweetin considered drinking the perfect fix to her mounting insecurity, but soon the fixes she needed were greater and greater. Pot became coke. Coke became ecstasy. Ecstasy became meth. Due to social stigma, she only smoked meth at home, but she was smoking it every day.

The most interesting section of the book happens after Sweetin comes out to the world as a recovering drug addict. She does Good Morning America and attempts to serve students all over the country by telling her story at events on college campuses.

She remembers one such appearance after going on a bender in Hermosa Beach, CA the night before: “I talked about growing up on television and about how great my life was now that I was sober, and then midspeech I started to cry. The crowd probably thought the memories of hitting rock bottom were too much for me to handle. Or maybe they thought the tears were just a way for an actor to send a message that drugs are bad. I don’t know what they thought. I know what they didn’t think. They didn’t think I was coming down from a two-day bender of coke, meth, and ecstasy and they didn’t think I was lying to them with every sentence that was coming out of my mouth….The little bit of coke that I had done before the speech wasn’t enough to make me forget how bad I felt for doing what I was doing.”

For readers who resonated with the sobriety struggles in McCurdy’s memoir, this is a perfect follow-up.

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'The Wreckage of My Presence' by Casey Rose Wilson

This collection of essays by actress, writer, and podcaster Casey Rose Wilson reads like a memoir. It is a laugh-until-you-cry and cry-until-you-laugh kind of book. While I read it while in a pool in Palm Springs, it is best enjoyed within whatever kind of water you can muster (pool, jacuzzi, bathtub, lazy river, whatever) in order to best manage one’s tears.

Wilson’s experience of her mother’s death is very different than McCurdy’s, and yet its visceral descriptions of bleakness are similarly twinged with hilarity.

The vulnerability Wilson shows when writing about addiction and disordered eating harkens back to McCurdy’s book too. Wilson isn’t addicted to drugs or alcohol; she’s addicted to sugar. She’s not fear-mongering the dangers of sugar, she’s expressing genuine fear over the way she can’t control her eating habits. This is an uncomfortable, keep-it-close-until-you-die topic for most people, let alone a Hollywood actress unable to escape the scrutiny of her body. She writes about nutritionists suggesting she replace her Thursday night candy binges with a cup of mint tea.

“This is followed by a soul-crushing silence while I process how a human who has just heard another human discuss the hellscape of her unhealthy relationship to food and dissociation from herself could not understand that a cup of fucking mint tea ain’t gonna cut it. It ain’t even gonna scratch the goddamn surface, you entitled basic white bitch.”

The title of the book comes from a phrase she heard at the end of her first Overeater’s Anonymous meeting.

While stories about actresses and their anorexia and bulimia are more common, Wilson’s story reflects the experiences of so many actors who behaved exactly the same but would never have the bravery to tell all.

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'Child Star' by Shirley Temple Black

Unsurprisingly, Shirley Temple wrote the book on what it means to be a child star both exalted by the public and exploited by the industry at large. From 1935 to 1938, Temple was the number-one movie star in the country. She was a great comfort to Americans suffering during the Great Depression and instilled levity and hope into daily life with her work on screen. But success for a young female actress born in 1928 came with just as many hardships as it does now. The same issues that plague talent today reared their head in Temple’s day–abusive executives, surveillance and privacy issue, kidnapping plots, and more.

Around 1938, when Temple was about 10 years old, she performed a rendition of “Silent Night” during a live radio show at CBS in Hollywood.

A woman in the crowd pulled out a large gun and began pointing it at her. As the story goes, this woman lost her own daughter on the day Temple was born. She believed she lost her daughter during the same hour Temple was born, and so she concluded that Temple had stolen her daughter’s soul. She wanted to shoot Temple to liberate the soul from her body. Wildly enough, Temple spotted this woman in the audience from her hair and makeup room and noticed a “mean” look on her face. Temple’s mom called the FBI, who was there to stop the assassination, although the experience still had to be horrifying.

Temple’s relationship with her own mother was very close. She describes it as a partnership. Although sometimes that meant they were both put in difficult situations.

When Temple switched studios and began working with MGM at age twelve, her mother was called into a meeting with studio head Louis B. Mayer while Temple was sent to meet with an important MGM producer. The producer was naked, hoping to commence a sexual relationship with Temple, still a preteen. Meanwhile, Mayer was telling Temple’s mother how she should be a star herself. He fully came on to her.

“So both of us flunked our first day at MGM,” Temple said.

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'Let Love Rule' by Lenny Kravitz

Lenny Kravitz wasn’t a child star, but he was the child of a star. His mother was Roxie Roker, a New York theater star who got her Hollywood break as Hellen Willis on the TV sensation The Jeffersons. Roker broke ground as the first actress in an interracial marriage on primetime television.

In real life, the Bahamanian and African American Roker married a Russian, Jewish news producer from Brooklyn. Growing up in New York City in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Kravitz lived in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. On the weekends, he split his time with his maternal grandparents in the primarily Black community of Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn and his paternal grandparents in the Jewish enclave of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.

As a kid, his dad took him to see the Jackson Five at Madison Square Garden. They were his favorite band. On his sixth birthday, his parents took him to the Rainbow Room to celebrate and Duke Ellington and his band played “Happy Birthday” for him live.

Both in NYC and LA, it’s safe to say there was never a phase in Lenny Kravitz’s life when he wasn’t surrounded by out-of-this-world creativity and talent. The memoir is as soulful as it is stylish. Kravitz humbly recalls his time training and performing with the California Boy’s Choir. “One day I’d be out smoking dope and digging Black Sabbath with the Dogtown crew, and the next, I’d be singing Fauré’s ‘Requiem’ with the California Boy’s Choir. Then, on Saturdays, I’d be sitting in church praising the Lord,” he writes.

His efforts to put together a band while at Beverly Hills High School are as egoless as they are charming, as is his journey through various pseudonyms before earning international acclaim as Lenny Kravitz.

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'Little Girl Lost' by Drew Barrymore

This is a quintessential read for anyone interested in celebrity coming-of-age tales that feel out of this world. Unfortunately, the title can be hard to come by. On Amazon, older copies sell for more than $60. If you can get it into your hands, you’re in for a ride through Barrymore’s impressive professional life and debaucherous personal experiences, all before she became a pre-teen. By the time she was 12, she was already losing out on roles due to her cocaine addiction. She partied at Studio 54 with her mom as a literal child, and while that may be an infamous pop culture anecdote to us now, it remains her actual experience as an innocent youth. At 13, Barrymore entered drug and alcohol treatment. By 14, she emancipated herself from parental care and stayed in therapy to lay the foundation for a healthy adult life.

Here’s hoping she turns this into a premium cable miniseries one day soon and directs it herself!

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'Madly, Deeply: The Diaries of Alan Rickman' by Alan Rickman and 'Beyond the Wand: The Magic and Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard' by Tom Felton

The actors who played Harry Potter’s Snape and Malfoy, respectively, are both releasing memoirs this year. Although Rickman passed away in 2016, he kept intimate diaries throughout his life. This book is a compilation of these entries. For Potter fans, it’s an embarrassment of riches. Rickman wasn’t writing with an audience in mind, so his observations about everything from the competency of the child actors on set to the whims of certain directors are deliciously plain in their honesty. You can read excepts here.

Felton’s book is also candid, but primarily in its discussion of his mental health and addiction issues.

“To this day I never know which version of myself I’m going to wake up to. It can happen that the smallest chores or decisions—brushing my teeth, hanging up a towel, should I have tea or coffee—overwhelm me. Sometimes I find the best way to get through the day is by setting myself tiny, achievable goals that take me from one minute to the next. If you sometimes feel like that, you are not alone, and I urge you to talk about it to someone. It’s easy to bask in the sun, not so easy to enjoy the rain. But one can’t exist without the other. The weather always changes. Feelings of sadness and happiness deserve equal mental screen time,” Felton writes.

Celebrity memoirs might read as deliciously juicy, but they’re full of warmth, reflection, guidance, and often, humility. Picking up any of these titles might just find you relating to the A-listers of Hollywood, and seeing the underbelly of America’s obsession with fame and celebrity.