Picks and Pans Review: We Will Always Live in Beverly Hills
Is there any reason to read this life story of a little known, not-yet-50 son of a character actor? The story of a bright, pampered, corrupted child who proceeded from adolescence to near middle age in a swirl of drugs, alcohol and casual sex?
Yes, there is reason. Ned Wynn's memoir, appropriately subtitled "Growing Up Crazy in Hollywood," is no mere tattletale account of the film-colony's darker side. Written with brutal candor and savage wit, this is a startling, often very funny, book.
Grandson of the great radio-TV clown Ed Wynn, son of actor Keenan Wynn and his megahostess wife, Eve, the child Ned knew no world but Hollywood. "From the time I was 3 or 4 years old," he writes, "I was used to being fondled and kissed by women like Marlene Dietrich, Jennifer Jones and Claudettc Colbert. Lana Turner and Betty Grable, frisking at our pool, held me in their laps, encouraging me to lie across their sunny thighs."
Ned was not yet 6 when Eve left the hard-drinking Keenan to marry the family's best friend, Van Johnson (who would leave her, years later, for, Eve tells her son, a male dancer). Life was still all movie parties, movie names. At 16, with Cole Porter at the piano, Ned tends bar for Eve and Van, serves drinks to Roz Russell, Greer Garson, Elizabeth Taylor. Later that night Judy Garland, locked out of her own house, will sit in the darkness by Ned's bed; he will "hear the ice clinking in her glass, see the orange tip of the cigarette light her face, not happy anymore, but bent, sagging with drunkenness."
Drinking and doping, belonging nowhere, his only identity that of movie brat, Ned skitters from school to school, college to college. During the '60s and '70s, family contacts provide trivial film-connected jobs—extra work, small parts in beach bunny movies, summer-stock apprenticeships. Always, there are drugs, booze, women; at 22, he gets a 16-year-old girl pregnant, then abandons her.
He hangs out with musicians—the Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas; he tries songwriting, singing, writing screenplays. For five years, during a quest for enlightenment that carries him from California to India, Greece, Italy and Spain, he devotes himself to Transcendental Meditation under the leadership of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, guru to the Beatles and other stars.
In the '80s, however, Ned begins to find himself. He works at his writing, sells some movie and TV scripts. More important, he confronts the truth that he has become an all-out drunk. He joins AA, grows closer to his father, by now long off the booze. In 1986, when no one will tell the ailing Keenan he is terminally ill, it is Ned who finds the courage to speak, who provides comfort during the grim last weeks. The bewildered child, at long last, has become a man.
We Will Always Live in Beverly Hills is not for the decorous. Ned Wynn spares no one, least of all himself, and though much of the gossip is fun—the Maharishi made a pass at Mia Farrow!—much is not. Ed and Keenan Wynn are dead; there's no knowing how they would have responded to Ned's revelations. Eve? Van Johnson? One doubts they"ll be out there plugging this book. (Morrow, $9.95)