BITTERSWEET by Susan Strasberg
Kirkus Star

BITTERSWEET

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Mother is dead! . . . Johnny was on an LSD trip and went through a window. . . Jenny has a congenital birth defect. . . ."" And all that's just on page one. So welcome to a sure-fire showbiz soap opera--as beautiful, talented, miserable (till recently) Susan recalls it all in a not-very-sympathetic but decently plain mixture of self-dramatization and self-analysis. Father was Lee of the Actor's Studio, of course, nurturing stars and hoarding books while remaining mostly distant from Susan and brother Johnny. Often-lovable mother Paula was even more upsetting--frustrated, complaining, selfish, but endlessly supportive to her theater family: Tallulah, Shelley Winters, above all poor darling Marilyn Monroe (a frequent houseguest who told envious Susan, ""Oh, no, Susie. I wish I were like you""). And when Susan became a teenage star of movies and Broadway (Diary of Anne Frank, with upstaging and harassment from star Joseph Schildkraut), Paula became an oppressor offering cruel criticism (""Don't touch me. . . You were awful, terrible. How could you do that to me?"") and unwanted gifts (a diaphragm for Susan's 18th birthday). First lover? Pajama Game composer Richard Adler. But then came the Richard: married Broadway co-star Burton, who promised his ""Hebrew princess"" eternal love--a wretched lie and yet another rejection. All of which (despite amusing semi-public sex with Warren Beatty) sent insecure Susan to a psychiatrist (he pawed her, as did LBJ at the big JFK birthday party). . . and into a disastrous romance/marriage with actor Christopher Jones. He beat her, had jealous fits, introduced her to LSD; their daughter was born (a detailed, painful labor) with throat and heart defects; grueling operations and an ugly divorce followed. By then, after Paula's cancer death, Susan's career was only partly salvageable--but her psyche did slowly get into better shape (though it's not clear whether that was due to Reichian therapy, ""Mind Dynamics class,"" or tarot-card readings). . . . True, none of this is well-written, and however self-aware Strasberg may be today (it's ""me who's responsible for what I've done with my life""), it's hard to sympathize with many of her selfish, dumb, masochistic moves as they unreel. But, undeniably: a heartache-packed, relatively dignified true-confession with an all-star supporting cast.

Pub Date: May 22nd, 1980
Publisher: Putnam