I Said Yes to Everything
Throughout the new autobiography from Lee Grant, the Academy Award-winning actress and filmmaker speaks bluntly about the struggles of being blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Grant states that she spent 12 years fighting against a system that barred her from work because of her refusal to testify against her then-husband, playwright Arnold Manoff, before the House Un-American Activities Committee. During these dozen years, Grant insists, she was prevented from acting in movies and television.
It is a dramatic story - but it is a story. In the period that Grant claims she could not get work in films and television because of the blacklist, she appeared in three prominent films that received national theatrical release - she fails to mention the 1955 "Storm Fear," barely cites "Middle of the Night" (1958) and uses a section on "The Balcony" (1963) primarily to insult Shelley Winters - and also appeared somewhat regularly on the small screen in anthology shows including "Playhouse ’56" and "Kraft Theatre." Grant also proclaims she "may have been the only blacklisted actor to climb back up to the position I’d had when I’d started out and become even more visible on television and film, if not in theater." Obviously, Grant forgot Jack Gilford and Zero Mostel, who co-starred with her in the Play of the Week production of "The World of Sholom Alecheim" - which was broadcast in 1959, when she was supposedly not allowed on television because of the blacklist.
Even when Grant is writing about her career apex - winning the Oscar for her role in "Shampoo" - her memory gets frayed. "I leaned forward to congratulate Lily, who was sitting right in front of me, a big silver crown shining on her head," Grant writes, referring to fellow nominee Lily Tomlin. However, a casual review of the video of the Oscar telecast (which is on YouTube) shows that Grant made no such action - instead, she covered her head and shook in happy disbelief.
Grant’s errors of memories are so glaring that it is difficult to take her book seriously. She spends many pages convincing the reader that she is a neurotic, insecure, frail being who feels like a constant outsider because she is Jewish. Her politics are presented in a coy manner - "I actually wasn’t sure whether I was a member of the Communist Party or not," she insists - and her servings of celebrity gossip offer little to satisfy those with a gluttonous appetite for movie star scoops. She glumly states that Albert Brooks’ 1991 "Defending Your Life" was "the last good movie" she acted in, ignoring her work in the made-for-TV "Citizen Cohn" (1992), David Lynch’s Oscar-nominated "Mulholland Dr." (2001) or Henry Jaglom’s uncharacteristically charming "Going Shopping" (2005, her last film acting role to date).
Perhaps an unauthorized biography of Grant’s life would be better? Maybe somehow with a stronger grasp of what transpired can get her life story presented accurately.
"I Said Yes to Everything: A Memoir"
By Lee Grant
Blue Rider Press, 463 pages