- The Washington Times - Friday, July 22, 2011

By Rob Lowe
Henry Holt and Co., $26, 320 pages

A few weeks back, a Washington summer internship made the news. The 17-year-old son of Rob Lowe, “Brat Pack” darling and “The West Wing” star, was to begin working in the office of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican. Readers of Mr. Lowe’s remarkable autobiography, “Stories I Only Tell My Friends,” released this year, already had been introduced to theactor’s son through the stories and pictures Mr. Lowe shares in the book. As much as anything else, this personal and professional history - his portrait of ambition and wild days past - is an ode to the joys of settling down and becoming a parent.

Mr. Lowe begins his book with a story of someone he admired: “I always had an affinity for him, an admiration for his easy grace, his natural charisma, despite the fact that for the better part of a decade my then girlfriend kept a picture of him running shirtless through Central Park on her refrigerator door.”

He is writing about John F. Kennedy Jr., a youthful celebrity he met at a party and with whom he proceeded to forge a bond. Readers see intimations of the young star’s own ambitions in descriptions of that first meeting - a cover story in the magazine George was in the offing - and his heart when he learns the shocking news of Kennedy’s death.

By the time of this meeting, Mr. Lowe already was a veteran of rubbing elbows with the famous. At age 10, he contrived a way to meet Liza Minnelli. By his midteens, he was a star of his own TV show. But if readers are lured by the tales that the utterly charming raconteur delivers here - and he has charm to burn - he stays on message: This is what I went through to become a responsible adult, and this is how I succeeded.

Early days as a child actor in Dayton, Ohio, change when his mother, recently divorced, carts off her three young sons to Malibu, Calif., a place where “kids lived ‘Lord of the Flies’ style, running their own programs without any apparent interference from an adult - ever.”

Malibu made an impression back in the mid-‘70s. “There were drugs, which weren’t as understood as they are today, there was also the wild and rough nature of the personalities Malibu attracted. But more important, there was a price to be paid for a culture that idealizes the relentless pursuit of ‘self.’ “

Friends died and committed crimes, but in spite of the fast life that surrounded him, the young actor pushed on. He achieved teen stardom in “A New Kind of Family” and a starring role in the film “The Outsiders,” where he met other members of the “brat pack.” The term was coined by a writer for New York magazine who, unfairly in Mr. Lowe’s opinion, painted the group of 20-somethings in broad, condescending strokes.

There is no way around it. The man lived large and well. The book moves along seamlessly and is filled with its own grace and wisdom - and humility. He writes: “After years of working with, or getting to know, actors like Jodie Foster, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Mike Myers, Jennifer Garner, Sally Field, George Clooney and many others, I can tell you that stars are almost always the most gracious people on set. It’s part of the job and they know it. You don’t survive to become a star if you have a bad attitude.”

If the 1980s marked the actor’s breakout, the next decade was something different. “The ‘90s were a time of building for me. Building life that was sober, drained of harmful wasteful excess and manufacturing in its place a family of my own. This was my priority through the decade and that work continues to pay off today with the love of my sons, Matthew and Johnowen, and the constant gift of the love of my wife Sheryl. Whereas the ‘80s had been about building a career the ‘90s ended with my having built a life.”

This is a generous-spirited book and a pleasure to read. Stargazers will be enchanted (not least by the pictures), and parents will find common cause. This is an entertaining book by a real mensch. Read it and feel better about the dream builders.

Carol Herman is books editor of The Washington Times.



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