Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

A few weeks ago, I re-read and reviewed Love Life by Rob Lowe, inspired after I read an extract from the book in an article and reminding me of what a fantastic book it was. I loved reading this book and I really enjoyed reviewing it. So, after a predictably disappointing read  of the new EL James book, Grey, I wanted to read something I knew I would enjoy from start to finish. As it occurred to me that perhaps I should have reviewed Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe before I reviewed Love Life, I thought that I would make things right and guarantee myself a great reading experience.

I was bought this book by my better half for my birthday in June 2012 after leaving very explicit hints about what I wanted as a present ( I added it to his Amazon basket) and I read it in two sessions. I couldn’t put it down. This time, it was three sessions, but only because I couldn’t read it while I was at my day job! Before I read Stories I Only Tell My Friends, my knowledge of Rob Lowe was limited to the films and shows I’d seen and enjoyed. I was absolutely blown away by this book, not least because I got an insight to what a fascinating life he has led so far. Having only been born in 1978, I wasn’t aware of a lot of the events in the book, being more familiar with his career from Wayne’s World onwards, so I had been interested to learn what came before.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends could be described as a real-life bildungsroman of sorts. Lowe describes scenes from his life so far that he regards as turning points and indicators of where his life would lead him. Interestingly, however, he chooses to start his autobiography with a chapter mainly revolving around someone who he considered a hero of his, John Kennedy Junior. Effectively, our first story is Lowe describing his relationship with someone who he admired from afar and was fortunate enough to meet on a couple of occasions and who had a desire to showcase Lowe as the figurehead for the new political drama, The West Wing, against the wishes of everyone else involved. Lowe uses this particular story to great effect – he juxtaposes  John Kennedy Junior’s fame as a direct result of being a dead president’s son, albeit one of, if not the most influential president of the 20th Century, as a pre-cursor to telling tales of how his own parents influenced him over the years. Lowe describes how “[John Kennedy Junior’s] whole world has been shaped by the office, the service to it, and the tragic sacrifice in its name,” and is in awe of his “steadiness in the harsh, relenting spotlight, his quest for personal identity and substance, for going his own way and building a life of his choosing.” As the reader finds out in the coming chapters, this is exactly the process that Lowe goes through himself, when he chases, and achieves his dream of becoming an actor. Show-business isn’t always what it seems and while he learns his craft, he becomes well acquainted with its highlights and pitfalls.

Lowe enlightens the reader on his childhood that, whilst wasn’t necessarily unhappy, was tumultuous at times. He pinpoints key occasions in his early childhood that he feels had a significant effect on his future; a chance question to his mother in a hardware store, an often-absent father following his parents divorce, a move to Los Angeles and a mother who was fighting her own battles with her health and wellbeing that as a young boy, were beyond his understanding.  However, not all the stories he tells are negative. Far from it, in fact. Whilst Lowe relays these stories and his feelings at the time, he always finds the positive aspects of the effect that they had on him and while these events may have profoundly affected his outlook at the time, he shows an infinite determination to make his own way in life and create his own success throughout.

We are given a brief family history prior to Lowe’s birth and he writes of his mother and father with great affection. His tough lawyer father and his English teacher mother have obviously given Lowe his strength of character, his fight to obtain his career goals and his natural skill for writing. Lowe writes with incredible wit, clarity and a true storytelling style. I can imagine him sat in his office reliving each moment of the stories he has opted to write about, good and bad, and writing a train-of-thought account of these events and the effect they have had on his life. Obviously, I have no idea if this is how he wrote this book, but it is an image that his writing style invokes.

Lowe is self-deprecating a lot of the time but not in a way that is intended to make the reader feel sorry for him. He relays these stories to show that he is human, that he has made good decisions and shocking decisions and how his desire to “people-please” almost caused him to self-destruct. After all, Lowe was only a teenager when he acted in his break-out movie, The Outsiders, and he admits he had no-one to guide him in the world he had opted to be a part of and in a desire to get the next big part, he worked hard and played harder. He recalls words of wisdom by people such as Cary Grant, Liza Minnelli, Lucille Ball and John Belushi, to name but a few, and describes these meetings with a sense of incredulity, much like any other fan meeting a famous person that they have looked up to. I think that this is what makes Lowe’s stories so endearing. He often writes as if he is just as surprised as the reader that he is the main protagonist in these stories. No airs and graces, just the events as the happened, how they made him feel and what he thinks with the wonderful gift of hindsight.

There are great stories of romantic liaisons and friendly banter among Lowe and his “competition”. The “frenemy” relationship he relates with Michael J Fox is a particularly funny chapter. However, I loved the stories that involved the Sheen/Estevez family. As Lowe made friends with Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen as a young teen, who were to be up and coming actors in their own right, inevitably he developed a relationship with their father, Martin Sheen, who he was to eventually co-star with in The West Wing. Lowe calls him his surrogate father, and being a massive Martin Sheen fan, I love the idea of the two of them chewing the fat and Sheen imparting his experience in the industry to a wide-eyed young Rob Lowe as he embarks on his dream career. Also, Lowe gives the reader an insight into some of the big actors who were rising up the movie ladder with him. A young, but uber-focussed Tom Cruise, an eager-not-to-ride-on-his-father’s-coat-tails Emilio Estevez and an enthusiastic, generous Patrick Swayze are all regulars in Rob Lowe’s early career stories and the stories are often funny and always interesting.

However, the hero of this book is actually a heroine, Rob’s wife Sheryl. She saw in Rob what he couldn’t see in himself and, without any drama on her part, she made him see clearly where he wanted to be as he searched for the answer in a continuous alcoholic, sex-fuelled haze. She was his friend, first and foremost, and promised that this would always be the case whatever happened between them romantically. She didn’t make demands of him, just provided the support as best she could. She backed off when he overstepped the mark, making him realise what he stood to lose and she stepped up to the plate when he needed her the most when he took the brave step of going into rehab. It is easy to see why their marriage has stood the test of time when so many stars are married then divorced in quick succession. Sheryl Berkoff saw Rob Lowe at his worst and bore the challenge of being his shining light with integrity and grace, helping him to put his life back on track with her love, support and determination as he recognised that the excesses of his life had to be eradicated so he could fulfil his true potential as a husband, father and in his developing career. Their marriage and the birth of their two sons have undeniably made Lowe the man he is today and he seems more than happy to give her the credit.

The candidness with which Lowe has written these stories is truly commendable and I would love to be sat in a room with him listening to him tell more tales with the passion he puts into this book. I can picture a Rob Lowe of the future in Cary Grant style, advising young actors and actresses of the pitfalls of show-business whilst encouraging them to work hard and look after themselves. Perhaps this book, and Love Life, are his way of passing on his knowledge to those wanting to follow in his footsteps in the same way that he received little nuggets of advice along the way. To my mind, these potential stars couldn’t have a better role model. Rob Lowe has lived the dream, suffered the nightmare and has been awoken by a woman he loves and who loves him to become the man, husband and father he always hoped to be. It will be a crying shame if Love Life is the last book that Rob Lowe intends to write. He engages the reader so well with his stream-of-consciousness, honest, intellectual writing style and I would absolutely be first in line to read and review it. I suspect that there are plenty more stories where these came from and I, for one, would be fascinated to read them.