Thursday, April 09, 2009

How I Got to be Whoever it is I Am by Charles Grodin

How I Got to be Whoever it is I Am by Charles Grodin
Copyright 2009
Springboard - Nonfiction/Memoir
253 pages

I realized I was going to have trouble reviewing this book the moment I closed it. Memoirs, in general, are among my favorite reads. But, I typically avoid "star" memoirs because they tend to have severely bloated egos and end up just being annoying.

In this case, I didn't find the author annoying so much as a little perplexing. He sounds like a decent guy, definitely a man who is willing to try new things and very self-confident -- kind of unusual for an actor, as they're often performers simply because of the unbearable need for attention to compensate for their perceived lack of self-worth. He stresses the importance of good manners and intentions. But, he's also easy to displease. It seems like he ditches friends for the slightest offense. Maybe you have to be more careful in your friendships when you're well-known.

At any rate, I enjoyed reading about Charles Grodin's life and was surprised in many ways. I didn't realize Grodin has also done news work and is now retired from acting in favor of working as a journalist. Interesting. Since we don't have cable or satellite service, I'm probably a good decade behind the rest of the world, but I've enjoyed him in many movies and I like the grumpy/cynical act he puts on when he visits talk shows.

Besides anecdotes from his life, he offers a handful of vignettes on other famous people, usually those who have been loyal friends or whom he admires for their character (such as Peter Falk, Regis Philbin and Paul Newman).

Grodin's emphasis, particularly toward the end of the book, was on the Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Felony Murder Rule, both of which he says lead to the imprisonment of innocent people. The Felony Murder Rule sounds particularly horrifying. Grodin describes a case in which a young man loaned friends the keys to his car and went to sleep. While he was asleep in his apartment, his friends committed a murder. For this, the kid who loaned out his keys was put in prison for life on the basis of the argument that if there hadn't been a car available, the murder wouldn't have taken place. Grodin shared this bit of information with Elie Wiesel, whom Grodin described as "astonished". Wiesel's response: "In America?!"

Charles Grodin's writing is, unfortunately, a little rough. Not flowy or pretty but jumpy and simplistic. However, I thought he had plenty of interesting stories to tell and I particularly admire his dedication to informing as many as possible about the injustice of the Felony Murder Rule. Overall, the book was an enjoyable and interesting read that I recommend to those who like memoirs and/or are curious about Charles Grodin's life.


  1. Just out of curiosity, did Grodin cite the actual case or did he just offer the details? I'd be surprised if the facts of the case were exactly as stated. I'd hazard a guess that the car owner knew what the others were up to and did nothing to stop them, along with loaning them the car. Knowing someone is going to commit a crime and doing nothing to stop it makes you as guilty as the people who commit the crime.

    Felony murder usually applies to a death that results due to actions taken during a felony. As in, you take part in a robbery and one of your cohorts kills someone. You are then guilty of felony murder. Or, you rob a bank and a teller dies of a heart attack. The death wasn't your intent but was, at least in part, your responsibility.

    Can it be abused? Of course, but I'm not sure I'd call it a horrible rule nor would I be convinced it's been used to put 'innocent' people behind bars.

    Anyway, I'm curious. Does he cite the specifics of the case as in where and when it took place?


  2. CJ,

    No, he didn't go into great detail. He said the fellow who loaned out his car keys had done so many times before with no problem. From his brief description, the gist is that the guy had no idea his friends were going to do something bad and had no part in the crime. I don't recall any mention of names, although my brain says "Florida". That could be wrong.

  3. I tend not to read memoirs by celebrities either. Grodin's name doesn't bring up any memories, but his photo does.

  4. I love memoirs but usually avoid the celebrity ones, too. This one sounds interesting, though.

  5. Wendy,

    I've known of and liked Charles Grodin's work for many years, but I think most people know him from the Beethoven movies, maybe Heart and Souls and a couple of Muppet movies. He's been around for a long time. I remember watching a clip of him doing a cute little (very subtle) comedy thing where it was all facial expressions and laughing my head off.

  6. Kathy,

    I think you must have been typing about not reading celebrity memoirs while I was writing my reply to Wendy. :) Yeah, I prefer memoirs from specific time periods like WWII, but I do like Charles Grodin and enjoyed the book. He's written quite a few books, apparently. I had no idea.

  7. Oh! I wondered about this one. Thanks for the great review.

  8. Cheryl,

    Thanks for the compliment. :)

  9. Hey You,
    The only biographies I like to read are from survivors of holocaust or wars...maybe it's just 'cause I feel that often they write to let go or to try to understand, and because horrors need to be revealed to prevent other events. I read those because I figured if they were brave enough to re-live it, I certainly could read it. Not that actors haven't gone through bad stuff too, but...

  10. Hey Booky, please tell me I didn't offend you with my last comment or is it just blogger that didn't show it. If I offended you in any way I am so sorry. True I don't read actors biography, but doesn't mean there isn't something they have teach...I'm a little arrogant sometimes, sigh ;)

  11. Lorraine,

    Same here! I try not to overdo the depressing reads, but the Holocaust, in particular, is among my most common memoir reading material, I guess because I think it's so important. And, yes, actors tend to have made their own disasters, although some became actors because a crappy childhood led them to act out and crave attention, near as I can tell.

    I'm not offended by your comment, silly girl. Everyone's entitled to their opinion and I agree with you. My next memoir read is actually a Holocaust memoir. I thought I'd have internet access this week (sigh -- left town and didn't take my new blog password with me) or I would have approved your comment several days ago.

  12. That case sounds a little specious to me too. Did the kid have no lawyer at all? Weird.

    C'mon, Charles Grodin! Midnight Run. With Robert DeNiro. I love that movie. He's been in tons of stuff.


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