Archives for posts with tag: actors

Being both a fan of the actor Alan Cumming and genealogical shows like ”Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Finding Your Roots,” I eagerly checked out “Not My Father’s Son” by the talented Mr. Cumming. I knew it would not be a frolicsome read from the reviews which alluded to the abuse Cumming’s father dealt out to his family, but I was prepared.

I was not aware that the original ”Who Do You Think You Are?” series began in England in 2004 and spawned Irish and Australian versions before the American version started in 2010. Many of them are available on YouTube, but I refuse to be drawn down that time sink!

At any rate, in 2010 the production company approached Cumming about appearing on the program. He immediately said yes, primarily because of the family mystery about his maternal grandfather who had fought in World War II and subsequently left his family and died under mysterious circumstances in Malaysia.

Around the time that production was starting, Cumming did some interviews and (as is often the case with English journalism) there were some misstatements. Some of them greatly angered Cumming’s father, with whom he had had little contact since he left home at seventeen to work for a year before attending the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

Cumming’s older brother Tom called to tell him he needed to speak to him urgently. He refused to discuss whatever the issue was on the phone, but immediately began the three hour trip to see his younger brother. After he arrived, the brothers sat down and the by now rather distraught Alan asked what the problem was. His brother told him that their father had called him ten days earlier to give him a message to relay to Alan. What message? “He told me to tell you that you are not his son.”

Now, given the title of the book I wasn’t in complete shock to read that, but the circumstances were certainly shocking. He told Alan’s brother to tell him? Huh? What kind of man would deputize one son to tell another something like that? Well, the book answers that, and it’s not pretty. Cumming senior was, at best, a man with undiagnosed psychiatric disorders. At worst, a monster. Either way, he made both boys’ lives miserable for most of their childhoods. He was a dreadful husband, to boot, although I kept wondering why the boys’ beloved mother didn’t find a way out of the situation before the boys were both grown and gone, as she eventually did.

I don’t want to give away anything about the discoveries made and the past revealed in the book, but the book is both interesting from a genealogical viewpoint and as a memoir of a terrible childhood. It is extraordinarily well-written and I found it engrossing. I was hard pressed to put it down to eat or sleep. I can only hope that Mr. Cumming feels an urge to write more in the future. I would listen to him read the phone book, and I think I would read his shopping list!

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I’ve always been interested in the communist witch hunts of the 50’s and some of my favorite acting moments are from the movie In the Heat of the Night, so I was immediately drawn to Lee Grant’s memoir, “I Said Yes to Everything”.

The big picture of Lee Grant’s career is that she got off to a big start in theater and then in Hollywood, getting an Oscar nomination for her first film, “Detective Story” at the age of 24. Almost immediately after that Grant was blacklisted. From the age of twenty-four until she was thirty-six, prime years for an actress, Grant remained blacklisted and was not allowed to do any film or television work. Fortunately for her, the theater did not accede to the blacklist and she was able to continue working in that venue. Her first Hollywood role after her blacklisting ended was as the victim’s widow in In the Heat of the Night. Numerous roles followed, both large and small, in television, movies and theater making hers one of the most successful post-blacklist careers. Too soon, though, middle age occurred and roles became less desirable.

In 1975, the American Film Institute created a program to help women get into directing, and she took part in the first round. As she puts it she would no longer “have to depend on the kindness of strangers” to create. Her husband produced her short film for the AFI, leading to a long collaboration with Grant directing and her husband producing.

After seeing herself onscreen in a B-movie she did in Canada, Grant realized that she was beginning to look her age and that future acting jobs would not be leading lady parts, but old ladies. She decided to step away from being in front of the camera all the time and move behind it more. Her first commercial film was a documentary about women striking at a bank in Minnesota, “The Willmar 8.” She has gone on to do many other documentaries, including “What Sex Am I?” (one of the first looks at the LGBT community) and “Down and Out in America” which won the 1986 Best Documentary Oscar and has also directed a number of films for television.

The book is an interesting read. Grant is nothing if not candid. Her language is frequently salty, and she spares no one, including herself. It is a pretty even mix of her personal (hard to say “private” given her candor) and professional lives. Some of it is funny, much sad. Her personal relationships have been, for the most part, less than rosy. Her first marriage brought her stepsons who she loved a great deal, but lost after the marriage ended. Her second marriage has lasted many years, but has certainly not been of the storybook variety. Her relationships with her daughters have gone, in one case, from idyllic to awful to good and, in the other case, from bad to worse to better. Her friendships have similarly been all over the map. Many one-time friends became enemies, others have remained steadfast ending only in death. Much space is devoted to her second husband, parents and maternal aunt all of whom had profound (if not always good) impact, less to children and in-laws.

There are, of course, anecdotes about actors, directors, and others like one-time boyfriend Burt Bacharach, and those she has worked with or with whom she was associated via the blacklist. Indeed, the blacklist runs through nearly the entire narrative, rearing its ugly head from time to time both professionally and personally. Joe McCarthy and HUAC have a lot to answer for. Summing up, an interesting life to read about and an interesting, if not particularly happy, life to have lived.