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There Are Worse Things I Could Do (Book)

Written by Adrienne Barbeau

255 Pages

Published by Carrol & Graf


When you think of the term Scream Queen, many names come to mind. Jamie Lee Curtis, perhaps, or Lenea Quigley for certain, but there are few that inspired hormone-fueled daydreams with the style of Adrienne Barbeau. Whether being terrorized by dead pirates in a thick fog bank or falling in love with a green rubber monster, she has cemented her role as a horror icon for millions of genre fans around the world. With a career that’s lasted for more than forty years, she has her share of silly questions to answer and crazy stories to tell. In her new autobiography, There Are Worse Things I Could Do, the beautiful star of stage, television and screen gives an honest and inspiring look at her life, and what it means to make it in the acting industry.

Beginning with childhood, Barbeau kept journals with almost religious dedication, documenting her favorite books, what boys she had crushes on, and most anything else that was important to her at the time. In the writing of this book, she culled through thousands of pages, realizing that very little of her acting life was documented. Fans of Barbeau and her work need not worry, however, because while this book contains many anecdotes from her daily non-acting world, it also contains several stories from some of her most notable acting roles.

The book begins with her as a child, half Armenian who never thought of herself as attractive. It also begins with the split up between her parents, an event that marked her for the rest of her life. From there, it moves on to a string of men she couldn’t have (mainly because most of them turned out to be gay) and her passion for acting, even at an early age. Dotting the book, in fact, are excerpts from an essay, written when she was only fifteen, about acting as a vocation. In it, she displays more than just the typical starry-eyed fantasies about living the glamorous life, but shows herself to be determined, level-headed, and committed. Throughout the course of the book, readers realize she never lost those three qualities.

Few people realize just how long Adrienne Barbeau’s career has been. For example, she toured Korea in 1963, fresh out of high school, with the San Jose Light Opera to entertain G.I.s overseas. She also played the role of Rizzo in Grease when it first opened on Broadway. In fact her four-decade spanning career has put her performing and associating with legends such as Bea Arthur, Burt Reynolds, Conrad Bain, more than a handful of mafia men, and even Bette Midler. Readers get to hear what it was like to move to New York city with less than $700 in her pocket and pay less than $10 per week for an apartment in the village. She was, for a time, a go-go dancer, a waitress, and even the office manager of a pest-control company, all the while going to auditions and earning her place in stage and screen.

Barbeau reveals many sides to herself that most fans will not know. She discusses subjects like her many therapy sessions, her divorce from John Carpenter, her love affair with Burt Reynolds, the death of her mother, and how her career almost fell flat with complete candor, writing as if she were talking to an old friend. She talks about how it felt to receive her first Tony nomination, as well as what it felt like to give birth to twins at age 51.

However, lest you think this book is one sob-story after another, there are sections that will have readers laughing out loud at her own outrageous antics, as well as situations that she managed to get herself into. The section dealing with her time shooting Swamp Thing, a movie she hated when she first saw it, is one of those Hollywood tales that could only seem funny after the fact. Her time shooting a film in Russia, during which a revolution broke out and she spent many hours in sub-zero temperatures, slathered in fish guts and covered in living rats, is hilarious, but only because of Barbeau’s storytelling style. The entire chapter dedicated to her wedding with Billy Van Zandt (to whom she is still married) is a comedy of errors, the likes of which will have readers shaking their heads and laughing well into the night.

There are also lessons to be learned from There Are Worse Things I Could Do, as taught from the life experiences of Adrienne Barbeau. While she does not preach or tell anyone how to live their lives, she does come across as a very strong willed woman, an example to anyone of the dangers of self-doubt and what can happen when it is overcome. Her story inspires on every level, allowing readers to see beyond her scream-queen persona and her pin-up good looks.

More to the point, readers are allowed to see all sides of Adrienne Barbeau: the actress of stage and screen, the mother and wife, and the person. She answers questions honestly, some with surprising results (such as the fact that she doesn’t watch horror movies because they frighten her too badly). She minces no words on the subjects of past relationships, her own shortcomings, or movie experiences that would have driven a lesser person insane.

What sets this memoir apart from others is the distinct lack of malarkey. Some autobiographies contain stories that are obviously slanted to make the subject look cool. Some contain viewpoints to make the subject look like a victim, while others contain outright lies. Barbeau’s memoir contains nothing even resembling a slanted point of view. She remains, throughout the book, humble and self-depreciating, thankful to her friends, family and fans for her career, and valuing her family over everything. She comes across not only as someone who overcame astronomical odds to achieve her goals, but as a genuine and intelligent person. Though she may not be the same little girl who wrote that essay, she’s grown wiser and without losing any of her drive and kindness.

5 out of 5

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Jon Condit