Susan Sarandon: Actress-Activist
by Marc Shapiro
Published by Prometheus Books
287 pages, 2001
Buy it online
How To Write An Unauthorized Biography
Reviewed by J.M. Bridgeman
Choose a celebrity with name and face recognition and an established fan base, who may even welcome the attention or possible notoriety, but one who will be unlikely to sue.
Avoid any subject who has never been described as "sexy."
Choose someone who has been around long enough so that you can say "and then... and then... and then..."
Choose someone who has done enough work so that you can add a 20-page filmography and bibliography at the back of the book.
Do a library, newspaper, magazine and Internet search of the name. Select quotations from the more thoughtful or detailed interviews. Document all your sources. Add this extra 30 pages of footnotes and index to the back of your book.
Write as if you are showing your high school English teacher that you really do know how to write a research paper.
Rent one or two of the subject's movies on video. Remember to save your receipts. This is, after all, research, and as such, a legitimate business expense.
Find one or two photographs from public events such as rallies and photo-ops where NGOs and not-for-profits exploit celebrity in a valiant attempt to attract media attention.
Don't speculate. What's a good Catholic girl doing with how many children out of wedlock? "Oops, pregnant again." What's a liberated woman doing with so many of her directors and coworkers? What is the difference between rebellion and liberation? What is the true meaning of liberation?
Write about product and hope no one asks about process. Pretend that agents, ex's, children, partners and peers are not real and that no one will expect to hear from them.
Never question what kind of person would choose acting as a career and why. Or at what point artists get fed up enough or self-directed enough to move from being reactive to being proactive in their lives?
Never ask if there are any roles or depictions of women not written from fear -- virgin, drugged-out teen, homicidal feminist, frantic mother, dying stepmother, academy award-winning nun on death row? Where are the roles for women that speak to women? Of simple human struggle? Of personal growth or possible transformation? Where are the intelligent female writers?
Pretend that your readers are not interested in ideas, such as what truly motivates activists? What is the difference between an activist and a contrary? Is there any evidence that either approach is effective in promoting change? Just the facts, Ma'am. The time and date. What was said when the microphones were on and the cameras rolling.
Use a big font. Double space everything.
Put a beautiful picture of your subject on the cover and hope that her fans will buy it before anyone tells them there's nothing here that they don't have already in their own clippings file and scrapbook.
Pray that nobody reviews it and says "She deserves better."
Pick another celebrity and start over. | November 2001
J. M. Bridgeman is a contributing editor at Suite 101 as well as January Magazine.