Celebrated people in show business say many things that may or may not be true — but which other people (whose careers depend on a relationship with the show people in question) report as true anyway. Tom Cruise and Penélope Cruz are romancing. Mariah Carey is exhausted. The statements may be factual, or they may be fanciful: It’s the celebrity’s right to publicize. It’s the less-celebrated press’ right to report (well, ideally to question first, but this is showbiz).
And it’s the noncelebrity audience’s choice to accept or reject the news as gospel or gimcrack.
When the announcement is of something as shocking and evil as childhood sexual abuse, however, the transaction is more troubling, because the allegation indicts whole families. As difficult as it must be for a celebrity to divulge such a terrible experience, those who hear the revelation ought to ask equally difficult follow-up questions: (1) Do I believe the information? (2) What is the person’s goal in telling me this? (3) Why am I being told this now? In the case of Anne Heche’s bizarre new autobiography, bearing the self-fulfilling title Call Me Crazy, evidence points toward (1) who the hell knows, but something awful probably did happen to make this good actress and unhappy woman as distressed as she is; (2) because in publishing, discretion has apparently become the last refuge of real losers; (3) because we live in grubbing times, in which this awfully unseemly and unpleasant book represents a new low in the unlovely symbiosis between celebrity and celebrity machinery.
”I came up with an idea to write a book while I was doing yoga one night. I was ready to face my abuse and get out of my abusive patterns once and for all. I started writing on my breaks on the set,” the memoirist explains, in three sentences of crystallized Hollywood psycho-banality. The set she was on, no less, was ”Prozac Nation,” a job Heche took while her extravagantly public romance with lesbian comedian Ellen DeGeneres was unraveling. At the time Heche had already been hospitalized once, but had not yet experienced the full, headline-making disintegration that found her dazed and incoherent in Fresno last year, looking for her spaceship.
Heche traces her psychological misery to her repressive religious upbringing, and especially to her choir-director father, who, she says, forced her into oral sex when she was a baby, hid his homosexuality, and died of AIDS; she blames her mother for not protecting the young Anne or her sisters and brother; she dully reels off the lessons of years of therapy while cataloging the men she had sex with (including Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham, and, she girlishly pauses to praise, ”nifty” comedian Steve Martin, with whom she had a two-year relationship). She mugs, titters, strips, and flagellates. Then she announces that she is now cured and happy, and that the new man in her life is ”the most loving and giving and special person I have ever met.”
Why tell us now? Who the hell knows? Whatever may be true in ”Call Me Crazy” is more dreadful than Heche’s limited writing skills can convey. The rest — whatever’s opportunistic and unenlightened — is what’s really nuts about this sad book.