What Makes a Good Celebrity Autobiography?
A good story is a good story — but it's even better when it involves a superstar telling why they're not really just like us.
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People are always surprised when they learn I love celebrity autobiographies — and I’m admit it’s a bit off-brand for me.
But I’ve been reading them for years. I’ve now read hundreds, many by celebrities I don’t even like.
I make zero apologies for liking the trashier aspects of these books — and yes, I think the celebrity in question should absolutely be required to provide some dirt. Kiss and tell, at least a little.
But I’m also a writer, and these are the lives of some of most famous people on the planet, told by the celebrity in question. Who doesn’t want to hear that story?
How did their fame happen? What’s it been like? And what does it all mean?
I think there are ultimately only two kinds of of celebrity life-stories, even if they’ll probably never say it outright:
Destined for Greatness: “It was only a matter of time before the world recognized my massive or unusual talent!” Celebrities who’ve told this story include Mel Brooks, Katherine Hepburn, Harry Belafonte, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno, Michael J. Fox, Sally Field, and Lauren Bacall.
Right Place, Right Time: “I may be very talented, but my success still depended, in large part, on my looks and talent being exactly suited to a particular moment in time.” Recent examples of this kind of autobiography include Andrew McCarthy, Brooke Shields, Jessica Simpson, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Grey, and Pamela Anderson.
Both kinds of autobiographies can be fascinating, but what makes any story good are the details, the truths revealed, and the art by which the story is crafted.
It’s very frustrating when a celebrity is too lazy, self-deluded, or stupid to get to the heart of their own story — like, say, Matthew Perry in 2022’s Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, where he seems to think he’s writing a Destined For Greatness story when, in fact, it’s a classic Right Place Right Time one.
Why do the good celebrity autobiographies succeed? Here’s where I think they go right:
They don’t get literary.
We’re not reading a celebrity’s biography for their literary prowess. We want the dirt — and, more importantly, their perspective.
Clarity is important, and voice is everything.
I love Diane Keaton, Sally Field, and Mary Tyler Moore, but they all went way too literary in their memoirs (in 2012, 2018, and 1995, respectively). Their books were all critically acclaimed anyway, natch.
Yeah, sure, I want to hear about the celebrity’s childhood, at least as it informs their greater story. But when it comes to people I don’t know and don’t really care about, less is more.
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