Notes on Celebrity Memoir: Rob Lowe and Melissa Gilbert

I love to read, and I try to incorporate a fair amount of fiction into my stack of books that I’m reading (I usually read several books at the same time). But I do enjoy non-fiction, and I have a real weakness for personal memoirs, such as the shamed-policitician’s wife’s memoir (for example, Dina Matos McGreevey’s memoir of life with her husband, the scoundrel ex-governor of New Jersey James McGreevey) ; the oh-my-god-how-could-this-have-happened-to-me-but-dammit-I-survived memoir (for example, Escape by the wonderful Carolyn Jessop, who escaped the FLDS cult) ; and the that-weird-situation/person-I-remember-hearing-about-in-the news memoir (a recent sampling being The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal).

I suppose I haven’t spent much time trying to figure it out why I’m drawn to books like these. I just enjoy them. I guess they help remind me that my ho-hum life is kind of OK. Even if their subject matter is serious, the “escape” value is priceless and there is also, I have to admit, some entertainment to be gained from learning about others’ misfortunes when I’m safe in my own living room, in an easy chair, with a cat on my lap and a bowl of pretzels on the table next me. (Sort of like going to a scary movie.) I suppose I’m also just nosey about other people’s lives. I am fully acquainted with what’s going on in my own day, when I go to work, sell stuff, go to the gym, come home, do the chores, and go to bed. Others’ lives are different. I can shake up my yawner routine if I can read about someone else’s crazy life.

I believe it’s much more important to read high-quality fiction than non-fiction Trauma Memoir, since fiction engages the imagination and you can hope that some of the creativity of the author rubs off onto the reader. And good fiction is also more rewarding than memoir. . .  I’ve cried for sheer love of drama, literary beauty, words, and imagination reading Dickens, Austen, the Brontes, Ian McEwan, Tony Earley, Jeffrey Eugenides, etc. (oh, so many more blog posts to be written).

That said, I do indulge in the occasional celebrity memoir. Recently, I ran across a couple of pretty fabulous reviews of Rob Lowe’s new memoir, Stories I Only Tell My Friends. I mean, these reviews raved about what a great “Hollywood memoir” this is. I wondered how good it could really be, but had no doubt I’d read it because, about 25 years ago, I was quite madly in love with this man (well, as madly in love as you can be with someone you have never met and don’t know the first thing about) and I have happily watched him transform from a hunky “Brat Pack” brat to a (still hunky) TV actor who can actually act.

So I checked out Lowe’s book at the library and read it one weekend. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book and was even impressed by it. This guy is a REALLY good writer. He knows how to tell a story but he can also write really fabulous sentences and paragraphs. And the tales themselves are actually interesting and amusing. Furthermore, Lowe seems somewhat surprised that he has met all these famous people and had such a lasting career as an actor. And I like him because, despite some crazy early years, he’s been married to the same woman for 20 years and still loves her and has been true to her, or he says so anyway. And he is a recovering addict who works at it every day.

At the same time, his book got me curious about Lowe’s romance in the 1980s with Melissa Gilbert, of “Little House on the Prairie” fame. He didn’t say much of anything about her in his book. He mentioned in passing, at one point, that he’d been dating Melissa Gilbert and that he cheated on her. Celebrity news and gossip were not readily available in the 1980s to a country kid with no internet or subscription to People Magazine. What happened to these two? I didn’t pursue it, but within weeks of reading Lowe’s book, I was meandering through the stacks at the library and (what do you know?!) ran across a memoir by Melissa Gilbert, Prairie Tale, published in 2009. I checked it out.

So here’s the scoop according Gilbert:

Lowe and Gilbert dated on and off for 6 years. After a big painful breakup, they got back together when Lowe crawled back and proposed marriage. Gilbert said yes and they planned a wedding. He was sure he was ready for marriage. Shortly before the wedding she realized she was pregnant with his baby.  All of a sudden he wasn’t ready. They broke up.

Gilbert quite promptly had a miscarriage so she had lost Lowe and their baby.

Afterward, she and Lowe  remained strangely drawn to one another and spent one last weekend together in New York. Lowe might have expressed interest in pursuing a romance again (according to Gilbert). She said no because she knew he was too immature, and they hugged goodbye tearfully. That was the end.

Allow me to admit that probably no one cares about this except me. I’m not even that interested in it, except for the fact that a) I wanted to BE Laura Ingalls when I was little; b) I was in love with Rob Lowe in high school; and c) the accounts of their relationship in their respective books are worlds apart. Whereas a good portion (say, 20%) of Gilbert’s book discusses her relationship ups & downs with Lowe, Lowe hardly says anything about her. And I guess, although I don’t know these two people, his almost complete omission of her from his “memoir” pisses me off on her behalf. How like a man to “name names” of all the beautiful women he had casual, meaningless sex with, but neglect to discuss someone he loved for 6 years and almost married. I have a few possible explanations for why he did this:

  • He wanted to write a “show business” memoir and not a personal memoir. (Still, revealing casual sex partners is personal info, too, right?)
  • He kept Melissa Gilbert out of the story because he respects her and wanted to keep their memories private. (But why did he disrespect her then, in describing his many infidelities behind her ignorant back?)
  • He’s embarrassed at the way he acted toward her back in the day, especially ashamed of leaving her alone when she was pregnant with his child. (However, he described some other immature things he did that he should also be ashamed of.)
  • He is a typical man who just forgets women he supposedly loved as soon as the relationship is over, and he’s never looked back. Thus, Gilbert is just a minor footnote in his unconscious even though they were together for much of 6 years.
  • He figures Gilbert got the whole thing right in her memoir and decided to just let her book tell their story.
  • He figures Gilbert wasn’t right about the whole thing, but decided he will just look like a jerk if he tries to defend himself or set any part of the record straight, so he glosses over the entire relationship while describing, instead, many less significant events of his life in great detail.

I don’t know which version is closest to the truth, or if I’ve got the entire thing wrong. Probably I’ve botched the whole thing. But one other thing about the reliability of these memoirs. I mentioned how Rob Lowe has been married to his wife Sheryl for 20 years now. Well, Melissa Gilbert (now also a recovering alcoholic) also found the love of her life, Bruce Boxleitner. In her book published 2 years ago, she says she is “in love with a good man.” Now it is 2011 and Gilbert has just filed for divorce after 16 years of marriage to Boxleitner.

So here’s the thing about celebrities. They don’t really know what is going to happen in their lives any more than we know what will happen in ours. They’re screwed up like the rest of us. They hide from their truths and have arguments with their spouses. They develop addictions. They have money problems and they take jobs they don’t really want, or they take jobs they want that don’t turn out the way they’d hoped. They have a few Real Friends and the rest are just noise. And, some of them air their dirty laundry, while some of them choose not to, or choose to forget about times of their lives when they were real jerks.

So I guess there’s really nothing unique about this story. I suppose I just wrote about it so I could make a couple of obnoxious and unfair comments about “typical men.” (It felt good, too.)

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One Response to Notes on Celebrity Memoir: Rob Lowe and Melissa Gilbert

  1. KJ says:

    I just read Rob Lowe’s book. I was very intrugued, and like you, was madly in love with him back in the day. I had to Google his relationship with Melissa Gilbert, because I remember when they were dating, and I thought it was a long time, so why did he not talk much about her? He could have at least given her the same amount of time he gave the princess, right? Anyway, I’m glad to know I wasn’t the one one searching for this answer.
    I love Mr. Lowe’s book. I was surprised by a lot of things. I just had that unanswered question about his relationship with Laura Ingalls.

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