An often intense personal memoir recounts the dedicated stage actress’s journey to an Oscar, as well as memorable bumps in the road.
Dukakis got her statuette for Best Supporting Actress, after almost three decades onstage, for the film Moonstruck in 1988. Her disjointed narrative opens in that time of triumph, coincident with the unsuccessful presidential campaign of her cousin, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis. The author takes a beat or two to celebrate her Greek-American heritage and her immigrant family’s travails in overcoming humble beginnings and long odds in Lowell, Massachusetts. After acknowledging that there was already a large Greek community in place, for example, Dukakis recalls “Irish dominance” as the reason given and accepted for her father’s failure to pass the bar exam. The celebration turns dark as she delves relentlessly into an ethnic childhood with neurosis fertilized by her parents’ obsession with the potential for being “dishonored” by a daughter—based, Dukakis suggests, on an incident back in their home village that had fatal consequences. Terrified as a child by her mother’s constant threats of physical violence, she gradually apprehended the stress of accepting a traditional second-class woman’s role to preserve family unity. After recounting numerous personal shortfalls, false starts, unrequited love, descent into drugs, drink, and depression (including suicidal fumblings), Dukakis pronounces that “acting saved my life,” and readers who have hung in to this point should certainly be ready to believe her. Marriage to actor Louis Zorich, their joint passion for theater in Greenwich Village during the 1950s, then a 19-year association with the Whole Theater Group of Montclair, New Jersey, firmly fixed her dedication. The narrative takes a notable side trip into goddess-based eastern mysticism, resulting in an auditory epiphany: no hallucination, claims she.
Gossip mavens will be disappointed, since Dukakis names names when she praises but usually doesn’t when she disses (no, Moonstruck star Cher never comes up).