Thursday, December 09, 2004

Little Girl Lost in Hollywood
image courtesy of HarperCollinsA Paper Life by Tatum O'Neal (HarperCollins, $24.95)
Tatum O'Neal was the youngest actor to win the Oscar for best actress. At age nine, her role as a street-smart, cigarette smoking con artist in Paper Moon brought her international fame and recognition. On the night she won, neither of her parents were present, nor did they congratulate or acknowledge her accomplishment in any way. What no one knew on that night in 1973 when she seemed to have everything (perfect Hollywood child of perfect Hollywood couple) was that her life was closer to that of a street urchin than Hollywood royalty. more

Tatum's parents divorced when she and her brother, Griffin, were barely school aged. Her father, the actor Ryan O'Neal, left and her mother, Joanna Moore, began a slide into addiction that included alcohol, pills and men. Some of those men would later abuse Tatum. To say the children were neglected is a gross understatement. Hungry dirty, unkempt and illiterate, most would be hard-pressed to make a distinction between these children and those on the streets.
When her father swoops her away from her mother's drugged indifference, Tatum's life only improves on the surface. Ignorant of and indifferent to her emotional scars, Ryan O'Neal continues living his bachelor life with his daughter as witness. He beds streams of famous women, indulges in drugs, and offers little comfort. When she is swooped into the family business to star opposite her father in Paper Moon, she can barely read and must learn her lines by rote. The experience that was to bring them closer than ever tore father and daughter apart as Tatum's prodigious talent steals the film. When she received her Oscar nomination, he punched her in the face and knocked her out, witnesses say. She herself doesn't recall the incident.
From these difficult beginnings, Ms. O'Neal traces her odyssey of pain, abuse and addiction, dropping many famous Hollywood names, mostly of women who were involved with her father. It is difficult to imagine preserving one's sanity with such a disturbing combination of glamour and anguish, but Ms. O'Neal displays an innate steely strength that has served her well.
Although she began using drugs as a teenager, it wasn't until after her divorce from tennis great John McEnroe that she fell into serious addiction, a problem which cost her the custody of their three children. Her account of her marriage and divorce is harrowing and brutally honest, describing their legal battles and her fight to find sobriety and hope after her divorce. Sober and working again, she has triumphed over troubles many succumb to. At the end of this one you want to cheer.

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