Saturday, November 13, 2021

May You Live in Interesting Times by Laraine Newman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Laraine Newman was situated in the exact right place and time to be a part of a lot of cool things, often at their onset. She partied hard with many famous friends and boyfriends, and lived to tell the tale with this audiobook.

Newman was a founding member of The Groundlings. She was an original cast member of Saturday Night Live (which she talks about in depth, offering up a few scintillating details of the experience and her fellow cast members). She even had insider information on a key aspect of the Robert Durst murder investigation and testified at his trial. 

The book begins at childhood and takes you forward to today. Growing up in Los Angeles and attending Beverly Hills High School, her encounters with famous people (or those who would be someday) started early. Some of the names she recounted weren't known to me (she loves jazz and blues a lot more than I do), but many were.

I'd love a Kindle version of this book so I could highlight the most fascinating details, and go back and Google names I didn't recognize, but unfortunately this is Audible only. Never mind, it was a good listen.

A tiny sampling of the interesting stories Newman shared includes:

-While she was in Paris studying mime with Marcel Marceau (yes, really), she briefly stayed with a friend at an apartment that was often rented out (like an early Airbnb). A frequent renter was Jim Morrison. Newman and her friend even found photos of Morrison and his girlfriend wedged in the back of a drawer (nothing salacious). The girls lounged in a bathtub, chatting and probably smoking weed (can't recall and can't search audio. Damn you, no ebook version!). She and friends frequently lounged together in bathtubs over the years in the tales she recounts; maybe it's a "growing up in the '60s" kind of thing? Anyway, after she left the apartment, Morrison rented it again — and died in the very bathtub she'd been in a few days earlier. When you think of how famous Morrison was, and how his death at 27 must've been a huge shock to a vast number of fans and been massive news internationally, this had to be an intensely chilling, if tenuous, connection to his death.

-Some of her stories were about her friend and fellow SNL pioneer, Gilda Radner. Gilda lived in The Dakota at the same time as John Lennon, including when he was killed out front. She didn't witness the murder, but living where it happened, and being present for what must have been throngs of fans and press outside your building daily, would be intense.

-Newman dated Warren Zevon for about a year. Zevon could see a billboard of Richard Pryor from his apartment, which infuriated him because he felt Pryor got away with being a junkie while he himself couldn't (I guess Zevon thought he caught more criticism for his drug and alcohol addiction?) So he grabbed one of his guns, took aim, and shot at the billboard. Realizing the gunshots would mean police, he asked Newman to hide the gun in the trunk of her car. She wisely refused; the police came, and ultimately confiscated Zevon's guns but didn't arrest him. Zevon dumped her.

-And, a fascinating tidbit for fans of the The Jinx docuseries about Robert Durst, Newman had insider information that might've helped the investigation after the disappearance of Durst's first wife — but she didn't realize it. Newman was longtime friends with Susan Berman, who confided to Newman that she'd made a phone call to help Durst, pretending to be his wife after the woman had disappeared. Newman didn't realize the importance of this, and didn't really believe her friend, who years later was killed by Durst. In 2020, Durst was convicted of murdering Berman; Newman testified at the trial.

Suffice it to say, Newman genuinely lived in interesting times, and it was both a curse and a blessing. It made for a good audiobook, too!

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