Balbirer’s debut recalls her scrappy formative years as a serious thespian scraping by on the margins of America’s empty, celebrity-worshipping culture.
In the early 1980s, she was an NYU student, one of hotheaded playwright David Mamet’s prize pupils. (“Take your shirt off and cry” is derived from a Mamet witticism about what’s expected of the average Hollywood actress.) After winning her expletive-dispensing instructor’s approbation, she dallied with off-Broadway bohemianism and then sprinted off to bigger things—i.e., demeaning money jobs. Her years as a full-time actress were marked by tiny victories and, more often, nagging failures, both professional and romantic. In New York, the once high-minded Balbirer soon found herself groveling before TV-biz hustlers whose biggest concern was that her breasts might be too small. She ended up playing a succession of floozies on MTV’s Remote Control, and her Debra Winger impersonations landed her a grueling set of dead-end auditions with Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels. In Los Angeles, she nabbed a bit part on Seinfeld, and her career began to show signs of actual progress. But low self-esteem, sexist boyfriends and lame-duck agents seemed to lead nowhere except to obsessive bra stuffing and debilitating diets. Some of Balbirer’s late-career lowlights included being rejected for a role by Luke Perry and being mysteriously fired from an unnamed popular sitcom by her “friend” Jane (no last name, though we’re assured she’s now an established Hollywood commodity). Later chapters show the author engaging in some tough-minded self-assessment and finally hitting upon a way to transcend her ill-fated acting career—become a writer. Balbirer’s angst-filled prose is sometimes feisty and observant enough to mask the fact that this is basically a depthless memoir of obsessive success-chasing and the agony of defeat, Hollywood-style.
Unsentimental and intermittently engaging, but you’ve probably heard it all before.