THE ENTERTAINMENT CRITIC BOOK REVIEW, BY JAMES MYERS
SEND YOURSELF ROSES: THOUGHTS ON MY LIFE, LOVE AND LEADING ROLES
By Katherine Turner and in collaboration with Gloria Feldt
Published by Springboard Press, an Imprint of Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: February 14, 2008
Four Star Rating ****
“Though she came to prominence in the 1980s, Kathleen Turner, with her blend of raw sexuality, beauty, intelligence, and drive, could give golden age-sirens like Lana Turner and Ava Gardner a run for their money. After years of working as a relative unknown in way-off-Broadway productions and in the television soap opera The Doctors, Turner burst onto the movie scene in a star-making blaze when she was cast as femme fatale Matty opposite William Hurt in Lawrence Kasdan's neo-noir thriller Body Heat (1981). She continued to wreak havoc on the opposite sex throughout the decade, appearing in a variety of popular movies that ranged from drama to lighthearted adventure to jet-black comedy.
The daughter of a U.S. ambassador, Turner experienced a peripatetic upbringing in a fiercely competitive environment. Living in Canada, Cuba, Washington, D.C., Venezuela, and England, she learned to adjust to new situations at a very young age. She later claimed the experience molded her as an actress and taught her to constantly refashion herself to meet the needs of particular situations. Turner first became conscious of wanting to be an actress while living in England, where, during her weekly visits to the theater, she was thrilled by the work of Diana Rigg, Christopher Plummer, Angela Lansbury, and others. While attending high school, Turner enrolled in classes at London's Central School of Speech and Drama. She studied there until 1973, when her father's death forced her mother to move the family back to her hometown of Springfield, MO. It was there that Turner would take voice lessons at Southwest Missouri State University, where she later enrolled. Finding the campus devoid of the culture she craved, however, Turner transferred to the University of Maryland and in 1977 graduated with a degree in theater. Following graduation, she moved to New York and, in between waiting tables, found work in television commercials and obscure stage productions until deciding it was time to try Hollywood.
Turner had just finished an unsuccessful audition when, fortuitously enough, she encountered the casting agent for Body Heat. Her subsequent portrayal of the murderous Matty proved to be her breakthrough and led to a series of widely varied starring roles. For her sophomore effort, she tried her hand at comedy with The Man With Two Brains (1983), in which she starred opposite Steve Martin. Again, as with her previous role, she played a woman who used her feminine wiles to manipulate a man. In the erotic Crimes of Passion (1984), she once more was cast as a woman using sex for manipulation, playing a fashion designer/hooker who gets involved with a street preacher. Understandably not wanting to get typecast by this point, Turner next played a dowdy author who finds herself caught up in an exciting South American adventure with dashing Michael Douglas and sleazy Danny De Vito in Romancing the Stone (1984). The film was a smash hit and Turner found herself a star. The following year, the trio reunited for the sequel, The Jewel of the Nile, and in 1989, they once again collaborated for The War of the Roses, Danny DeVito's grimly funny dissection of a messy divorce. Other high points of that period included Turner's performance as a beautiful but ruthless hit woman in Prizzi's Honor (1985) and her Oscar-nominated turn as a dissatisfied housewife who gets a second chance to alter her life in Francis Ford Coppola's moving Peggy Sue Got Married (1986).
In 1988, Turner re-teamed with William Hurt for a supporting role in Kasdan's The Accidental Tourist (1988). That same year, she gave a devastatingly sexy performance as the voice of Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Unfortunately, despite these successes, Turner subsequently had a hard time finding quality roles, and her appearances during the early to mid-'90s were sporadic. One highlight of this period was her turn as the completely psychotic suburban housewife who goes on a killing spree in John Waters' funny but uneven Serial Mom (1994). In the latter half of the 1990s, Turner began to find more quality work in films like Moonlight and Valentino (1995) and The Real Blonde (1997). In 1999, she could be seen starring in the children's comedy Baby Geniuses, The Prince of Central Park, and Sofia Coppola's eagerly awaited adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides, which cast Turner as the matriarch of a profoundly dysfunctional family.
Kathleen Turner is the Chair of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Board of Advocates and has appeared in their TV and radio ad campaigns that actively lobbied for the organization in Washington, D.C., and has testified before Congress on Title X, America's family planning program, and on the Equity of Prescription Insurance Contraception Coverage Act (EPICC). She is passionate and outspoken about changing the current social climate in America to one that respects women's health and women's health choices.”
~ From Sandra Brennan, All Movie Guide & Various Sources
“Turner remained a film star until the early nineties when rheumatoid arthritis began to seriously restrict her activities. She was diagnosed in 1992, after suffering unexplained symptoms of "unbearable" pain for about a year. By the time she was diagnosed, she "could hardly turn her head or walk, and was told she would end up in a wheelchair."
As the disease worsened, her career began to slide and she appeared in increasingly low-budget and obscure films including House of Cards, Serial Mom, A Simple Wish, The Real Blonde, and the critically scolded Baby Geniuses (1999). However, the same year as she starred in Geniuses, Turner also played a supporting role in Sofia Coppola's acclaimed debut film The Virgin Suicides.
Despite drug therapy to help her condition, the disease progressed for about eight years. Then, due to newly-available treatments, her arthritis went into remission. She was seen increasingly on television, including an episode of Friends where she appeared as Chandler Bing's transsexual father. She also provided the voice of Malibu Stacy creator Stacy Lovell on the episode "Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy" on The Simpsons. She also had a role as a defense attorney on Law & Order.
In 2006, Turner performed a cameo in FX's acclaimed Nip/Tuck, playing a phone sex operator in need of laryngeal surgery. In the same year, she played the voice of Constance in the animated film Monster House. She has also recently been doing radio commercial voice-overs for Lay's potato chips.
In recent years, Turner has found renewed success on the stage. After Nineties roles in Broadway productions of Indiscretions and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (for which she earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress), Turner moved to London to star in a new role.
In 2000, Turner starred in a London stage version of The Graduate. The BBC reported that initially mediocre ticket sales for The Graduate "went through the roof when it was announced that Turner, then aged 45, would appear naked on stage". While her performance as the middle-aged Mrs. Robinson was popular with audiences (with sustained high box office for the duration of Turner's run), she received mixed reviews from critics. The play transferred to Broadway in 2002 to similar critical reaction.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
In 2005, Kathleen Turner beat out a score of other contenders (including Jessica Lange, Frances McDormand, and Bette Midler) for the role of Martha, the aging, blowsy, alcoholic anti-heroine in a 2005 Broadway revival of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
Albee later explained to the New York Times that when Turner read for the part with her eventual co-star Bill Irwin, he heard "an echo of the 'revelation' that he had felt years ago when the parts were read by [Uta] Hagen and Arthur Hill." He added that Turner had "a look of voluptuousness, a woman of appetites, yes ... but a look of having suffered as well."
When the show opened, Turner's performance was extremely well-received, inviting comparisons to Elizabeth Taylor's Oscar-winning movie performance from 1966. The notoriously jaded New York Times critic Ben Brantley praised Turner at length, writing:
As the man-eating Martha, Ms. Turner, a movie star whose previous theater work has been variable, finally secures her berth as a first-rate, depth-probing stage actress....At 50, this actress can look ravishing and ravaged, by turns. In the second act, she is as predatorily sexy as she was in the movie Body Heat. But in the third and last act she looks old, bereft, stripped of all erotic flourish. I didn't think I would ever be able to see Virginia Woolf again without thinking of Ms. Hagen. But watching Ms. Turner in that last act, fully clothed but more naked than she ever was in The Graduate, I didn't see the specter of Ms. Hagen. All I saw was Ms. Turner. No, let's be fair. All I saw was Martha.”
As Martha, Turner received her second Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Play. The show transferred to London's Apollo Theatre in 2006 and a 2007 national tour of the play was also scheduled.
She received a lifetime achievement award from the Savannah College of Art and Design at the Savannah Film Festival in October 2004”
“Gloria, who has been a good friend of mine since we worked together at Planned Parenthood Federation of America…said she wanted to write my biography. She told me I have a lot to say. I was rather embarrassed at first by the thought of that much emphasis on myself. It seemed too egotistical.
Then I thought about something I heard, that the object of our lives is the growth of our souls. And I feel that my soul is finally in a place where I can contribute. This particular moment in my life is a good time to take stock of it all. So I said I would like to be the practical, regular person that I am, and share my life lessons that might be a service to others. Finally we both figured out that I couldn’t share my lessons very well without telling my story too.” (Pp 3).
There are two things about this book that I liked right off of the bat. Kathleen speaks in very plain and direct English, and she describes some of the risks she has taken as well as large obstacles she has overcome in her life. This is not a book about a celebrity who is promoting a project or trying to revive a dwindling career. This book is truly about insights that come from the heart of an experienced actress, and that makes this book extra special. We first knew her as a sultry schemer, sexy femme fatale type in movies like Body Heat and stage productions like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. Her unique blend of beauty, intelligence, and her raw sexuality on screen and on the stage made her performances riveting. In this memoir, we learn that she has indeed taken some risks, like forgoing a thriving film career to return to her first love, the stage, as well as some of the lessons she has learned the hard way.
She very generously shares her childhood difficulties that include a life lived in countries around the world, until her father, A State Department Official died suddenly when Kathleen was a teenager. She also speaks of her twenty year marriage,( and he subsequent painful separation(She married a millionaire New York real-estate mogul named Jay Weiss in 1984, divorced him in December 2007, but Turner has said, "He's still my best friend", and at this point in time they are trying a trial separation), her relationship with her daughter (Rachel Ann Weiss), and her commitment to service (Kathleen is very active on the board of People for the American Way, is chairperson for Planned Parenthood of America, and supports Amnesty International, Childhelp USA, and Citymeals-on-Wheels. She was one of John Kerry's first celebrity endorsements and reportedly invited him to come see her as Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She has been a frequent donor to the Democratic Party. She has also worked to raise public awareness of rheumatoid arthritis.). Kathleen decided to relaunch her stage career despite her struggles with rheumatoid arthritis.
What makes the book interesting is her self-deprecating, irreverent humor and the very plain language she uses in speaking. She shares much of the behind the scenes stories of dealing with stars like Jack Nicholson, Michael Douglas, William Hurt, Steve Martin, Francis Ford Coppola, John Huston, John Waters, and Edward Albee. These are some of the most candid and eye-opening sections of the book. Some of her memories of her leading men have gotten her into trouble, noticeably with Nicholas Cage, who has filed suit against her for claiming he has been arrested for DUI twice and once stole a chihuahua he liked. During an interview on The View, Turner apologized for any distress she may have caused Cage regarding an incident that took place twenty years earlier. When later questioned by paparazzi from TMZ, Turner claimed the statements weren't even in the book, and was proven wrong when an enlarged image of the page she made the comments on was projected on the television screen.
Kathleen pulled no punches about her own foibles. As a result of her altered looks from her arthritis treatment, The New York Times wrote in 2005, "Rumors began circulating that she was drinking too much. She later said in interviews that she didn't bother correcting the rumors because people in show business hire drunks all the time, but not people who are sick." However, Turner has also had well-publicized problems with alcohol, which she used as an escape from her rheumatoid arthritis. A few weeks after leaving The Graduate in November 2002, Turner checked herself into Marworth in Waverly, Pennsylvania for alcohol abuse. "I have no problem with alcohol when I'm working," she later explained. "It's when I'm home alone that I can't control my drinking...I was going toward excess. I mean, really! I think I was losing my control over it. So it pulled me back.”
What I admired about her and the book was her ability to overcome her demons and illnesses to make contributions to society in her causes and charity work. The book is funny in spots, but has a definite sense of pathos. No one get the critical eye turned on them in this more than Kathleen herself. Her willingness and candor about confronting her fears of alcoholism and rheumatoid arthritis make this book thought provoking. In my eyes these candid discussion make her more of a star then her twenty two films and twelve Broadway shows. Send yourself the roses, then go out and buy this book.