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, 09 October 2007 - 03:27 PM.