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Book Review: "I, Rhoda" by Valerie Harper

I didn’t hear about the bio I, Rhoda by Valerie Harper through friends or articles or ads anywhere. I actually happened to pass The Jeff Probst talk show one night in January while surfing through channels and saw Jeff interviewing Valerie Harper. It was the first interview I’d seen Harper give in a long time and I was amazed at how young she looked. I was also amazed at how well the interview went and I’ve become a fan of Jeff Probst’s show as a result.

I hadn’t planned on reading anymore bios, autobios, or memoirs at that particular time, but as a long time fan of Valerie (and Rhoda) I bought the digital book on Kindle anyway. I know they are advertising this as a memoir, but I thought it was more biography than memoir. I’ve always thought of memoir as being a certain isolated segment of a person’s life. But this book covered Valerie’s life from the beginning up until the time she was nominated for a Tony award on Broadway. And that was NOT a disappointment by any means. I’m glad it was more biography because I discovered things about Valerie I never knew…like where she grew up, where she studied, what it was like to work with people like Lucille Ball on Broadway when Ball did the show, Wildcat. So you’re getting a lot more with this book than what you might think you are getting from the way it’s been promoted in some places.

The beginning of the book seems to build up to a pivotal point in Valerie’s life: when she landed the part of Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Everything that leads up to this point is well-crafted, moves at a nice pace, and it shows how hard Valerie worked to get there. And it really does show; it doesn’t just tell…which made it a much nicer…smoother…read than a lot of non-fiction I see nowadays.

In the sections of the book where Valerie discusses playing Rhoda, she talks about her relationships with other cast members, her relationship with Mary Tyler Moore, her relationships with staff and crew, and also her personal relationships. But there’s nothing too dishy or gossipy about any of this. And that’s because I have never heard anyone, anywhere, trash anything about The Mary Tyler Moore Show. They were hard working people who loved what they did and didn’t spend their free time looking for attention. From everything I’ve heard and read and seen, the people who were associated with that show did get along, did love every minute of what they did, and they focused on their craft the entire time. This is also a huge part of the book: Valerie’s work ethic. She wasn’t just a star. She was a working actress, a business woman, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, and an artist. I don’t think I saw the word feminism in this book once, but she’s a good example of what feminism is all about.

After a great run as Rhoda, both on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and on her own sitcom, Rhoda, Valerie winds down this section of the book with bittersweet comments about how lucky she was to have had this experience and how thankful she was to have been part of something so wonderful. You really feel her gratitude and the love she had for the character of Rhoda. But it doesn’t end there, Valerie then moves the reader forward with the rest of her life and talks about how she moves forward as an actress, an artist, and a woman.

I found the section about her experiences with the TV sitcom in the 80’s, Valerie, honest and up front. I do remember that show well, and I was a huge fan of it. I’d read a lot about the dispute between Valerie and the producers, but never actually heard Valerie’s point of view about what happened and how she wound up leaving a show with her own name on it. And after reading this book I have a better understanding about what happened and how it affected Valerie, too. As a side note, I’d like to add one thing to this that Valerie didn’t mention in the book because she’s far too nice a person. Whenever there’s a hit TV show and producers don’t want to pay the star more…or even negotiate for better terms…it never ends well for the TV show itself. Think Delta Burke in Designing Women…or Suzanne Somers in Three’s Company. They were all different circumstances, and yet the end result turned out the same for each TV show. Once the main star leaves the show fails. I stopped watching Valerie the moment Valerie Harper wasn’t on anymore. The revised show, The Hogan Family, wasn’t entertaining. I also stopped watching Designing Women the moment Delta Burke wasn’t on anymore. And that’s just the way it is. Stars like Valerie Harper have that extra special thing that can’t be replaced no matter how hard producers try. Some things in life just can’t be replaced or duplicated.

In any event, I was just finishing the book when I learned about Valerie’s recent cancer diagnosis. I was right at the part where she had to battle lung cancer in 2009, and I was marveling at how brave she was and how well she handled it. For Valerie to come through that ordeal seemed like such a happy ending for a bio, and then I heard about the most recent brain cancer she’s now just beginning to deal with. From what I’ve read so far, she’s dealing with this cancer just like she’s handled all the things I read about her life in this book, with strength, pragmatism, honesty, and love. I think that’s what I liked most about the book, all the love I read between the lines. It’s truly a book about an honorable life well lived and loved, from beginning to end. And I would recommend it to anyone without thinking twice. You can purchase it here.

  

LGBT Book Review: Deeply Superficial by Michael Menzies

When I first started reading Deeply Superficial by Michael Menzies, I wasn’t sure where it was going. From the image on the book cover I expected biographical stories about Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward. I soon found out the book is more of a combination autobiography/biography, with personal accounts of the fascinating life Michael Menzies has led…mixed in with tidbits about both Dietrich and Coward. Weaving different stories into a book is not an easy thing to do, but it’s done well in this book. And Menzies makes it real without sounding too over the top like a few other bios I’ve read this year. He uses an endearing brand of self-deprecation devoid of all pretense, and you will find yourself cheering him on as he travels through life trying to figure “it” all out.

It’s clear from the beginning of the book Menzies was fascinated with Dietrich and Coward at a very young age. He grew up in an average home in New Zealand, longing for more excitement, glamour, and sophistication. At one point, he became convinced he was adopted and his real parents were, indeed, Dietrich and Coward. He does this in a clever, tongue-in-cheek way, and returns to this adoption reference throughout the book as his own life seems to be constantly mingled with Dietrich and Coward, usually through no fault of his own. (As a side note, I’ve been a fan of a book titled “The Magic of Believing” for many years. And when I read about the deep appreciation Menzies had for Dietrich and Coward I thought it was a good example of how the things we love and appreciate the most often come to us if we think about them hard enough…in a positive way.) In spite of his devotion to these two stars, never once did I think of Menzies as a celebrity stalker. He had too much respect for Dietrich and Coward for that. And he always spoke of his real parents (Clive and Mary) with great respect.


Dietrich understood. Professional commitments always came before personal wishes. This was a law by which she lived her life.


I also like bios where I learn things I didn’t know. And the Dietrich and Coward stories Menzies discusses in the book are abundant, from funny to painful. Especially the one part where Dietrich is leaving on a train. No spoilers. But I never knew that happened. I also didn’t know that Coward was often tormented with demons all his life. And none of this was done in a dishy way. It was all done with respect and I only came away more interested in the lives of Dietrich and Coward, not to mention gaining a new sense of respect for how hard they worked to achieve the things they did in life.

Coward knew the affair was so one-sided that it would inevitably collapse. He knew, too, that Traylor was not attracted to him (or any man for that matter).


Michael Menzies has led a fascinating life in his own right, too. From the time he ran away from home, to the experiences he had with someone dying of AIDS. For a gay man with a limited background and education, living during the closeted time period in which he had to survive, he worked hard and did well in various creative professions. From writing magazine articles to working in production for some of Hollywood’s biggest studios, he managed to finally attain a lot of the excitement and glamour he craved so much growing up. And he did it all on his own.

Eduardo was twenty-seven when I met him, and it was rare to find a man of his age who even knew who Dietrich was. He knew and loved Donna Summer, Grace Jones, Stevie Nicks, and surprise of surprises, he knew and loved Marlene Dietrich, too. He was a prize. I had to add him to my life, where he remains to this day, still a prize.


I’ve been lucky enough in my own life to have known several very successful gay men like Menzies who often acted as mentors when I didn’t know what being gay was all about. It’s a generation of gay men who make dinner an event that never begins a moment earlier than nine at night, with stories of fascinating people they’ve known, stories of exotic places they’ve traveled, and stories of interesting things they’ve done. And while I was reading Deeply Superficial, I felt as if I were listening to a couple of old friends of mine who once lived on Sutton Place in NY and designed homes for people who owned fleets of ships and famous NY restaurants. It’s a generation of gay men who don’t seem to get the appreciation (or respect) they deserve in this new less sophisticated world now where people don’t seem to mind wearing sweat pants in public and driving cars shaped like toy boxes.

But I digress. It was nice to read a book like this, written from such an honest, genuine POV. Menzies also talks about his long term relationship with several funny tips on how to make a relationship last for a long time, one of which is separate bedrooms and bathrooms. (As another side note, those of you writing m/m romance might find it interesting to know that a lot of gay men in long term relationships…especially the gay men I’ve known…don’t share the same bedroom.) The book is also extremely well written (and edited) and I did NOT find one single offensive word, sentence, or paragraph that made me cringe…from a writer’s POV. The story flows with an even pace, moves fast, and I found myself reading much later into the night than I’d planned. In fact, I read this in two sittings mainly because I wanted to see how it ended.

 When people ask me the secret of a long and happy relationship, I always tell them separate bedrooms, and more importantly, separate bathrooms are the answer.

I would recommend this book to anyone without thinking twice. And I think that if there are any younger gay men who are interested in reading about gay men from this generation, it’s the perfect book to grasp what things were like for the gay men who’ve paved the way…without even knowing it in most cases…for the rest of us.

You can purchased the book here.

And here’s a combo author bio and blurb as per Amazon:

In this dazzling memoir that also serves as a dual biography of stage and film legends Noël Coward and Marlene Dietrich, producer Michael Menzies chronicles in hilarious detail his life-long obsession with the theater in general and these two international superstars in particular.

Born in New Zealand, and physically a doppelganger of his father, Menzies was convinced at an early age that he did not belong in the outdoorsy, sports-mad country of his birth, but on the glittering stages of the world’s most glamorous theaters. And a twelfth birthday present from his mother confirmed this,

Allowed to purchase any gift, as long as it was a book, Menzies was drawn immediately to the autobiography of actor/writer/composer Noël Coward, and was soon consumed by it. He identified hugely with Coward, so much so that he came to believe that he must be his love child. But with whom? Menzies worked out that his mother must be Marlene Dietrich, who happened to be among Coward’s inner circle. As Menzies writes, “the dates didn’t really fit but were close enough if one fudged a little”.

The book follows Menzies’s decision to leave New Zealand and takes him on a voyage around the world to confront Coward and Dietrich and announce himself as their son. It’s not long before he realizes that this could not be so, but he continues his search for them – and their pasts, nonetheless. He finds echoes of their lives in London, Paris, New York, Berlin, Switzerland, Jamaica, all of which he recounts in this book.

Deeply Superficial is a tribute to Menzies’s four parents: Clive and Mary Menzies, who guided his early years and allowed him the freedom to indulge his imagination ,and Coward and Dietrich who gave him the inspiration to “above all, behave exquisitely”, which remains potent in him to this day.

John Simpson, "Condor and the Crown," and Dreamspinner Press


My partner Tony has been asking me to write this post for a while and I finally decided to set the time aside and just do it. Tony is a huge fan of John Simpson’s work and I’ve known John through social media for a few years.

The last book of John’s that Tony read was “Condor and the Crown,” and he raved about it so much I’ve put it on my own endless TBR list. So while I haven’t read the book, and I’m not going to review anything right now, I am posting this little piece about John to let readers know how Tony feels about him…and his work. And, trust me, Tony has strong opinions about what he reads. I rarely hear him say he actually loved something. For that matter, I rarely see him talk about books he’s read often. With John’s work he never stops talking. I’ve even heard him recommend John’s work to friends at dinner parties.

From what I know about John, a good deal of his work is published with Dreamspinner Press. I have never published anything with Dreamspinner, nor do I have any plans in the near future to publishing anything with them. But I’ve only had positive experiences reading Dreamspinner books. In fact, last year I collaborated with an author who writes a great deal with Dreasmspinner, Andrew Grey. I’m a huge fan of Andrew and his fiction. The other books I’ve read published by Dreamspinner were just as excellent.

But this post is about John Simpson, who I find both charming and intelligent on a personal level. And I want to focus on that right now. When I first met him on facebook, I remember how polite and cautious he was. He didn’t slam me with promos about his books, he tried to get to know me instead. He’s also active in his community and gives back all the time. He’s also very honest and you always know where you stand with him. We have similar backgrounds in the sense that we’ve both been published by Alyson Books…and he’s been with his partner for 36 years and I’ve been with mine for twenty. Even though there’s an age difference, I’m sure that when we do finally meet in person…which we will…we’ll find we have even more in common. He recently asked me about a cruise this spring he’s going on with his partner. Tony and I spend time in Miami Beach off and on during the winter and the times didn’t work out. But I have a feeling it would have been a great trip.

Here’s a short bio:

John Simpson is a Vietnam Era Veteran, former Police Officer of the Year, a Federal Agent, a Federal Magistrate, an armed bodyguard to Saudi Royalty, a senior Federal Government executive, and recipient of awards from the Vice President of the United States and the Secretary of Treasury.

John feels that for too long fiction writers neglected gay men. John writes entertaining, enjoyable, and enthralling fiction centered on the lives and lifestyles of gay men. John allows his readers to see life through gay mens’ eyes. And just like real life, John’s characters have active and exciting sex lives. John calls on his broad personal and professional experience in writing gay erotica. John is author of numerous full length novels available through Dreamspinner Press, TeB and Naughty Nights Press and several short stories in Alyson Books anthologies. Additionally, John has just signed on with Silver Publishing who will be putting out short stories and novellas. John has written magazine articles for gay and straight audiences alike.

John lives with his partner of 36 years who he legally married in 2008, and their three Scottish Terriers. John is highly involved with the Church, specifically seeking to repair rifts between Christendom and the gay community.

John wishes to extend a very special thanks to his many female readers. He appreciates and loves the fact women enjoy male/male erotica, and he thanks you for your past and continued support. He hopes to never disappoint you, and always leave you wanting more!

John now has a total of 16 full length novels in print!

Some of the short stories previously published by Alyson Books include:

“The Virgin Marine,” “The Acropolis of Love,” “The Tower,” “The Serpent,” “Locker Room Heat,” “Campus Steam,” “Lust in the Sand,” and now “Love on the Rocks,” for the “Island Boys,” edition. Additionally, he has written numerous articles for various gay and straight magazines.

John has five short stories available through Dreamspinner Press: “The Smell of Leather,”, “The Sheriff”, “Fairy Tale”, and the very popular “Officers in Need,” and “That’s the Ticket.” Check them out today! A sixth short story, “Uniform Hardness,” which continues the story started in “Officers in Need,” is now available through Dreamspinner Press. If these stories don’t rock your boat, you’re in dry dock!

Having signed with an additional publisher, Silver Publishing, John’s first short story for Silver, “Piece of the Universe,” has just been released, along with “The Duke of Orleans,” a novella, now out, and “Spanking for Love,” and “Home Sweet Home,” also out now. John has also just signed with TeB publishing which will publish the jointly written novel with A.J. Llewellyn, “My Yakuza,” and written by himself, “Undefeated Love.” Look for numerous new titles coming soon!

Here’s a link to John’s website, and another where you can check out his books at Dreamspinner Press. If you’re looking for gay fiction written by someone with experience, take the time to check him out. According to Tony, you won’t be disappointed.

And I believe that John not only deserves my praise, but also my respect.