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Bruce Dern's autobiography

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Here's an email I sent to a friend who, like me and his wife, is a graduate of New Trier High School on Chicago's North Shore -- the school that gave us Charlton Heston, Ann-Margret, Donald Rumsfeld, Rock Hudson, Ralph Bellamy, Liz Phair ... and Bruce Dern (among others).

Picked up at the library a copy of Bruce Dern's recently published and aptly titled autobiography "Things I've Said, But Probably Shouldn't Have." As totally in the voice and persona of the author as any book one could imagine, it's fascinating throughout but especially to me (and perhaps to one or both of you) on Dern's upbringing as a quirky child of much privilege in Glencoe (his mother was from the family that founded Carson Pirie Scott; the Derns lived in a lakeside estate, adjacent to the estate of Mrs. Dern's parents, whom she spoke with at length every morning before speaking to or with anyone else), then as a student at New Trier. Never met Dern, b. 1936, he was six years older, but a great deal of what he says about the North Shore in particular and in general rings a bell -- in part because he was a fraught, shrewd observer. One story: In his disfunctional family, perhaps the second most important thing on their hit parade was anti-Semitism -- this no doubt longstanding attitude being inflamed afresh because after WWII a fair number of Jews began to move into Glencoe, a community that his mother's ancestors virtually had founded after the Chicago Fire. So Bruce decides he wants to be actor, drops out of college, and eventually enrolls in the Actor's Studio (all this much against his parents' wishes). Dern is good, gets cast in a small part in O'Casey's "Shadow of a Gunman" and is brilliant in it, getting rave notices from Brooks Atkinson and Walter Kerr. Kerr's review, however, mistakenly identifies him as Bruce Stern. Mom sees the review, calls up Dern and disowns him on the spot, saying "You've gone over to them." That is, she thinks that Dern has changed his last name to "Stern" for the nonce to get in tight with what she presumes to be the essentially Jewish-run world of NYC theater. Bruce explains that it's just a typo, but she refuses to believe that and maintains her stance of total estrangement from her son until her death, some 20 years later. (In this, as in almost all family things, the position of Dern's father was one of near-total detachment -- while he himself came from "good" stock, his father had been Secretary of War under FDR and governor of Utah, the money was on his wife's side.) Yes, Mrs. Dern (sister of poet Archibald MacLeish) apparently was not entirely sane, but in her circles she had no trouble fitting in. Some great Jack Nicholson stories, and a funny one about a simulated sex scene Dern has to do with Ann-Margret for the movie "Middle Age Crazy" while her edgy, protective husband, Roger Smith, stands just outside of camera range. Also, Dern knows a great deal about acting and how movies are made and about the people who make them. Fairly goofy himself, I suppose, but also very smart and very soulful, in sometimes unusual ways.

Edited by Larry Kart

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Posted

interesting...

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An acquaintance of mine had a small role as a cop in the Ed Norton movie "Down in the Valley" which also featured Dern. According to my friend, Dern entertained everyone on the set with his endless supply of show biz stories, his favorite involved John Wayne during the filming of "The Cowboys" a movie that shockingly featured Wayne being killed by Dern. On the day of the killing scene, Wayne showed up on the set pretty well lubricated. He took Dern aside and told him "You realize everyone in America is going to hate you for doing this to me." Dern replied "Yeah but they're going to love me in Berkeley." Wayne fell over himself laughing and yelled out to the assembled cast and crew "You hear this guy, that's why this son of a bitch is always working while the rest of you sit around on your ass all day."

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this sounds like a "must read" to me. thanks so much for the heads-up. i've always known dern to be very talented, quirky and intelligent. think his daughter, laura, probably has followed in his footsteps, at least in some ways. wonder what her grandparents would have thought about her marrying a black man!!!

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I'm dying, Alex!

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One of the most shocking things I have ever heard about him, was said by him(on TV) He claimed never to have done drugs! :eye: Be interested if he changed his story in this book.

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One of the most shocking things I have ever heard about him, was said by him(on TV) He claimed never to have done drugs! :eye: Be interested if he changed his story in this book.

That's his story, and I believe it. Dern doesn't need drugs to be, as he refers to himself at times, "the Dernser." And he dosn't drink or smoke either -- all this having something to do initially with his background as a gifted middle distance runner. For a good while once he became an actor he'd run 50 or more miles a day -- like to and from his house and where the movie was being made, if that was in the LA area. He had to change course a bit, literally and figuratively, when a lung collapsed and a doctor, when Dern told him he'd been training in Griffith Park, said that that particular chunk of LA had the highest level of pollution on the planet. In any case, as a result of his lifelong taste for running, Dern has such a low pulse rate that when he takes the physical you have to take when you make a movie, he often has to tell them that he doesn't need to be rushed to the emergency room. His ambition is to live to 100 and still be working.

Finished the book last night. One of the best parts comes late, when Dern makes a movie directed and written by his ex-wife Diane Ladd (Laura Dern is their offspring) that's essentially a replay from Ladd's point of view of their long-gone, very messed-up marriage (among other things, their first child died at an early age in a swimming pool accident). The atmosphere on the set is a bit sulphurous, but Dern, you might say, needs to be there.

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Posted

ordered the book yesterday and looking forward to the read. thanks, again.

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Dern's mother sounds like quite a monster.

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I hate Bruce Dern....he killed John Wayne.

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