An intimate memoir by three-time Oscar nominee Piper Laurie, one of Hollywood's most gifted and respected actresses
At the age of seventeen, in the glory days of movie-making, Piper Laurie was living every little girl’s dream. Having been selected by Universal Studios to be a contract star, Piper was removed from her acting class and provided with stylists, chaperones, leading roles, and handsome dates, and elevated to the heights of Hollywood. Her beauty was admired by the likes of Ronald Reagan, Howard Hughes, Paul Newman, Tony Curtis, as well as dozens of directors and legions of fans. Her name was emblazoned on marquees across America for hit movies of the fifties such as the The Prince Who Was a Thief, The Mississippi Gambler, and Ain’t Misbehavin’.
But Piper discovered early on that the little girl’s dream was not her own. Mortified by the shallowness of the roles and movies she was given, she longed for the freedom and fulfillment of her own artistic vision. After years in the studio system, shy Piper Laurie found her voice and the courage to burn her contract. It was only after she left the oppressive studio culture that she began to star in the TV shows, plays, and films that truly became the hallmarks of her career: The Glass Menagerie on Broadway, the original Days of Wine and Roses, The Hustler, the iconic Carrie, and Twin Peaks. She grew into a three-time Oscar-nominated actress, an accomplished sculptor, and a director.
This memoir is the inspiring tale of Piper’s perseverance to break from tradition and to practice her craft at the highest level. She started life as a withdrawn, mute child who couldn’t find her voice and was transformed into a woman who learned to live out loud by her own rules.
One evening I received a new script from Universal. My last movie had been Ain’t Misbehavin’
, in which I’d been horribly miscast. I was told the reviews were punishing. Many times through the years, my agents and I had tried to change the structure of my contract, giving me some freedom to do other things. But they would not budge. Still, I was ever hopeful.
I read the new script. This one wasn’t even a B western. It was a C western. The male star would be Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of World War II. He was a genuine hero, had a likable natural presence on the screen, and had become a Universal movie star, playing the lead in many movies. The woman’s part was a prop and just barely that, possibly the worst part they had ever handed me. I suddenly felt so deeply insulted, so unappreciated, so mortally wounded. This time they had gone too far. I calmly got up, walked over to the fireplace, and dropped their script into the flames. With it went a little of the humiliation I had endured in the last five years. Something was coming alive in me.
—From Chapter 8, “Burning the Contract”
Excerpted from Learning to Live Out Loud by Piper Laurie. Copyright © 2011 by Piper Laurie. Excerpted by permission of Crown Archetype, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
In a candid memoir, Emmy- and Golden Globe–winning actress Laurie remembers her long, surprising life as a film, theater and TV star.
An “uncommunicative, silent child” who suffered from acute anxiety disorder, Laurie was inexplicably drawn to the world of stage performance from a young age. After suggesting that she “be in the movies,” her mother entered her in a contest that offered a screen test as first prize. Laurie won the contest but failed the screen test; yet the resolve to persist in following her dream remained strong. Her efforts eventually landed her a contract at Universal Studios when she was just 17. What she did not know was that “Universal was a picture factory then, specializing in a disposable product for a double feature market,” and that she would be promoted as a glamorous B-movie “bimbo.” Five years later, Laurie began the painful process of speaking for herself and articulating her professional desires. She broke her contract with Universal to take more serious roles on Broadway and in such groundbreaking TV dramas and films as the CBS Playhouse version of Days of Wine and Roses (1958), The Hustler (1961), Carrie (1976) and Twin Peaks (1990-91). Laurie’s openness—about her struggles with shyness and amphetamine addiction and her quietly determined pursuit of artistic fulfillment and sexual freedom—save the book from reading like just another Hollywood career catalog. The self-portrait that emerges is of a gracious woman who was in many ways ahead of her time and who fought “the good fight” on the way to becoming “a part of the speaking world.”