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Elizabeth Donoghue

Elizabeth Donoghue

Posted: November 17, 2008 11:25 AM

Fixing Up Famous People


I was staring at the "biography" shelf in my home library when I realized: two people from these books went out on a date. They are Steve Martin (Born Standing Up) and Maureen McCormick (Here's the Story Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice). It shocked me that Steve Martin had a date with "Marcia." Isn't he, like, 30 years older than her?

Although they shared growing up in California, proximity to drugs and fathers who had their demons, their life stories are vastly different. Steve Martin has had a career that spans decades. He is a magician, writer, stand-up comedian, and an actor. Maureen McCormick is famous for playing one role, that of Marcia Brady, the pre-teen TV icon on The Brady Bunch, a show which aired for 5 seasons.

In addition to their lives, their books are starkly different. Steve Martin's biography is a slim volume that goes down so easy that you feel like you are having a perfect cup of hot chocolate, not too chocolaty and not too hot. Even the sometimes scary account of his father's distance and violence is told with some warm fuzz. The captions under the photographs are laugh-out-loud funny.

Maureen McCormick's memoir is an often harrowing account of life after the role of Marcia, how hard it was to be an actor because of the role, her sexual coming of age, her experimentation with drugs, quick addiction and mental illness. The image of the "Brady Bunch as Perfect Family" was blown long ago. Remember the bombshell disclosures that Greg dated Carol, his step mother, and that Mike, the Dad, was gay? Despite the blown cover, I still hoped her book would carry me back to my favorite days as a pre-teen, when spending time selecting the colors of yarn pony tail bows to match your outfit was an important part of every suburban girl's day. But only a small part of the book provides any sweet memories of that time, like when Maureen mentions the TV shows, Mannix, I Dream of Jeannie, and My Three Sons. Although the book did not spark the ridiculously simple memories of the 1970s for me, I give Maureen McCormick tremendous credit for shedding her secrets, asking for help and getting well.

So how did Steve Martin and Maureen McCormick end up on a date? Florence Henderson knew Chevy Chase, who knew Steve Martin, who wanted Maureen's phone number. They had dinner and made out and the kissing was good, but Maureen was out of it. It would be their only date.

An improbable date, but it happened. I wonder now as I stare at my biography shelf, who else dated, or should have dated, from the books on my shelf.

I could see Frank McCourt (Angela's Ashes, Teacher Man) and Nuala O'Faolain (Are you Somebody?) on a date. However, I think a date for them might have gotten too deep, tragic and bleak. Both are Irish. I picture them in a small Irish car after a night in the pub, with the car headlights illuminating the pelting rain on the windshield. I imagine Frank putting the car in reverse; you just know there will be a car accident on the slick, black road ahead. Frank might have instead enjoyed a date with Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat (Brother I'm Dying). They share the immigrant experience and are gorgeous, rich, emotionally-wrenching writers. Also, the heat of Haiti would balance the damp of Ireland.

A date with Rue McClanahan (My First Five Husbands) would do wonders for any man, but one, in particular: Paul Farmer (Mountains Beyond Mountains), the doctor, Harvard Professor, and infectious-disease specialist, who has devoted every breath and every waking hour of his life to cure diseases for people without hope, help, and money. Rue would have shown him frivolity; her spirit has not diminished even though she plowed through those first five husbands!

Bill Bradley (Time Present, Time Past) and Jill Ker Conway (The Road from Coorain, True North, A Woman's Education) should have dated in college. They are both intelligent and would make a handsome couple. He is one of those rare men who would not be put off by her intellectual superiority and feminist outlook. I would introduce Christopher Ciccone (My Life with Madonna) to Augusten Burroughs (Running with Scissors) because I can't imagine any person with more amazing family stories than Augusten Burroughs, except maybe Christopher Ciccone.

Some matches are tough to make, like Mary Karr (Liar's Club, Cherry). I'm thinking of moving her books to my non-fiction shelf so that I could introduce her to John McPhee.