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’Tis the season for celebrity memoirs. (Photo illustration by The Free Press)

Celebrity Memoirs: Who’s Naughty and Who’s Nice?

Paula Froelich’s writing a list, she’s checking it twice. She knows which books are good or bad—or just desperate cries for attention.

Playing out in bookstores across the U.S. is a star-studded battle to capture hearts, minds, and ultimately wallets as celebrities use their memoirs to bravely “set the record straight,” settle scores, and obtain legitimacy by becoming published authors. (No thanks to the unsung heroes, the ghostwriters.) 

But, in order to win the bestseller war, these A-list authors must reveal all. As Barbra Streisand, whose book My Name is Barbra came out in November, told Gayle King on CBS Sunday Morning, “Listen, I didn’t want to write about any of (my exes). But my editor said, ‘You have to leave some blood on the page!’ ”

And 2023 brought buckets of blood. 

Starting off the year was Prince Harry, who finally became of king of something (the book world) with his explosively cringey memoir, Spare—also known as “WAAAH”—in which he sold out his family, aired one-sided petty grievances, and bemoaned the loss of his mother. Again.

That book has sold 1.2 million copies in hardcover, setting a bar no other has yet to meet. (All sales figures come from BookScan, which accounts for hardcover copies sold and doesn’t include audio books or e-book downloads.) 

Throughout the year we saw a smattering of celebrity memoirs from authors including Pamela Anderson (Love, Pamela: 60,000 copies sold); Paris Hilton (Paris: The Memoir: 53,000 copies); Kristin Chenoweth (I’m No Philosopher, But I Got Thoughts: Mini Meditations for Saints, Sinners, and the Rest of Us: 20,000 sold); Patrick Stewart Making It So: A Memoir: 54,000 copies sold); and Elliot Page (Pageboy: 70,000 copies sold).

But are any of 2023’s celebrity tell-alls worth the $28 to $47 price tag? 

To find out, I went through a random assortment, sifting through the good, the bad, and the downright awful. You’re welcome. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life (127,000 copies sold)

Arnie’s memoir offers his guide to life, which I’ll summarize like so: have a clear vision; never think small; work your ass off; “sell, sell, sell”; shift gears; shut your mouth, open your mind; and break your mirrors (which is about giving back—get it? It’s not just about you in the mirror).

In this 288-page tome, you will learn that Arnold has read Marcus Aurelius (see—not just a meathead!) and pays attention to details: “In Miami in 1968, I lost my first competition in America. . . the winner, a smaller guy named Frank Zane, was much more cut than I was. . . I realized the reason I’d missed that big (win) was because I was missing a couple of little things: my midsection and my calves.”

He does allude to how his affair with his housekeeper resulted in her pregnancy and eventually the divorce of his nouveau Camelot Coupling with Maria Shriver by writing: “I’ve hurt my family enough, and it’s been a long road to repair those relationships.” Mmm-hmm. You’d think a major life lesson would have come out of that moment, but then again, I didn’t write the book. I also don’t have defined calves.

Verdict: Not nearly naughty enough 

Jada Pinkett Smith, Worthy (45,000 copies sold)

This is a “no-holds-barred” memoir from the actress, musician, and host of Red Table Talk, who also happens to be the wife of Will Smith.

Worthy takes us through her journey from the mean, dirty streets of Baltimore. . . to the front row of the 2022 Oscars, where she witnessed her husband deliver the slap heard ’round the world, and which she now claims “saved her marriage.” 

For a woman who has made a new living by delving into the marrow of her marriage, it’s jaw-dropping what she has left out. Pinkett Smith, for example, glosses over the fact her daughter, Willow, went on tour at age 10 (without her parents) to open for Justin Bieber. Of that time, Willow has told other outlets that she entered a “terrifying and dark place,” started cutting herself, and moved out of her parents’ house at 16. But Pinkett Smith takes no responsibility for her ultra-free-range parenting style, writing, “We took her desires (to sing) seriously, and she proved to have the chops.” 

Then there’s Pinkett Smith’s young lover. August Alsina was 22 and a friend of her son Jaden when she first started dating him, aged 43. (The Smiths have an “open marriage.”) But Pinkett Smith takes no accountability for the power imbalance of the romance and declines even to name him—referring to him only as the “entanglee.” 

Verdict: Naughty, but not in a nice way

Julia Fox, Down the Drain (19,000 copies sold)

If you came across this book and wondered, “Who the hell is that?” you wouldn’t be alone. When I asked several millennial and Gen Z colleagues if they knew what Fox did, the answers varied from: “Yeah. She dated Kanye West” to “She was in that one movie.” 

Fox is indeed West’s ex and starred in the movie Uncut Gems (or, to hear her pronounce it, “Uncah Jaaaahms”). She is also, according to herself, a muse, a fashion designer, an artist, a former heroin addict, and a mother. I had a hard time getting past the book jacket, which reads like a millennial mix of Tony Robbins and Harry Potter: “Sometimes you just have to say fuck it and throw your life down the drain just to see where you’ll come out on the other side. The most profound beauty emerges from the ashes of destruction. . . if you believe in the power within yourself, anything is possible.”

But I plowed through 318 pages of abuse, bad parenting, bad relationships, bad decisions, and bad clothing options to get to the part about Kanye. Which confirmed that he is, indeed, a controlling, manic-depressive narcissist.

Who would’ve thunk it?

Verdict: Naughty. . . but really more for the publisher as this book leaves the reader just asking “Why?” “Who?” and more importantly, “Who cares?”

Kerry Washington, Thicker Than Water: A Memoir (44,000 copies sold)

Olivia Pope takes 320 pages to tell us her trauma: that her dad, with whom she always felt a barrier, wasn’t her biological father. Her bio-dad was a sperm donor. And her parents were excellent secret-keepers, leading her to chase “safety and love through the performance of low-maintenance, good girl perfectionism.”

She worked hard, attended George Washington University, and became an actress. This is a perfectly fine, if not exactly gripping book with small tidbits like, “For both of my pregnancies Shonda (Rhimes) was one of the first people to know—before my own mother.” She writes in careful “prose” (Gwyneth Paltrow’s words, not mine) and the book still feels like a very controlled, perfectly coiffed and manicured woman carefully letting a few morsels drop. 

Verdict: Neither naughty nor nice, just sort of. . . meh.

Henry Winkler, Being Henry: The Fonz. . . and Beyond (66,000 copies sold)

Who knew The Fonz was such a likable guy? Apparently, everyone in Hollywood. This is a lovely book about a guy whose family escaped the Holocaust and grew up an insecure shmo, telling humorous stories about Hollywood while confronting his deep insecurities—and I don’t hate it. Like this passage: “I had a shrink for two years. . . then one day my shrink asked me to look at a script he’d written. And so I spent a number of years shrink-less.” I also enjoyed that he gave his longtime wife Stacey her say; she often weighs in throughout the book with her own take on events.

Verdict: Very nice.

Leslie Jones, Leslie F*cking Jones (15,000 copies sold)

Talk about a “you’re never too old for a successful second act” tale. Leslie Jones, the Saturday Night Live breakout star who joined the iconic show at the ripe old age of 47, bared all and it’s worth it. She tells stories that are repugnant. . . but oddly relatable.

Like the time she was literally at the serial killer crossroads after having been molested by a babysitter:

“One day, when I was probably around five,” writes Jones, “I was walking through the trailer park. . . and I saw a puppy just lying on the side of the road. . . for some reason I just started kicking this little puppy. . . I tell you this because I know that this is a moment in my life when the road split, and I could have gone one of two ways, and the second way is to be a serial killer or even worse.”

Her life lessons (wrapped in mostly amusing stories) are hard-earned, insightful, and unlike some others on this list, sympathetic. Even though she literally kicked a puppy.

Verdict: Incredibly naughty but weirdly nice

John Stamos, If You Would Have Told Me (42,000 copies sold)

In a Facebook post, Stamos wrote: “Everyone has a book in them.” And while that might be true, Stamos should have just written a long magazine article instead. He’s a nice guy who was once teased for his “big nose” (he took care of that with two rhinoplasties); he hated his Full House co-star Bob Saget at first but eventually became best friends and “brothers” with him; he was married to Rebecca Romijn; they divorced; he became a drunk; he got sober; and it all ends happily ever after with him marrying his (new) love and becoming a father. Yay! 

Verdict: Nice. But almost too nice.

Britney Spears, The Woman in Me (1.1 million copies sold across print, digital, and audio formats in its first week, according to publisher Gallery Books)

It is my longtime view that any adult who “encourages” their child to become a star should be investigated by children’s services (see above review for Worthy). And Spears’ tome shows why. Spears, who spent 13 years under a strict and brutal conservatorship arranged by her family, went there: settling scores with her father (a mean, power-hungry “drunk”), her mother (who she claims was “making money” off her), her sister Jamie Lynn (a “spoiled brat”), and her first love Justin Timberlake, who she says ruthlessly engineered their breakup to launch his post-NSYNC solo career. 

The most jaw-dropping revelation is that Spears had an abortion at Timberlake’s request (he “wasn’t ready” to be a father)—which she had at home on a bathroom floor. While Spears lay bleeding and in pain, Timberlake “thought music would help, so he got his guitar and he lay there with me, strumming it. I kept crying and sobbing until it was over.” 

If anything, this book is deeply sad—an accidental comment on how the celebrity sausage is made. A portrayal of a child-as-product, Britney was used and abused by all around her, and is now—though endowed with the American trifecta of success (beautiful, famous, and rich)—truly alone. 

Verdict: So naughty and yet, so nice

Barbra Streisand, My Name Is Barbra (152,000 copies sold)

Let me be clear: before reading this book, I was not necessarily a Barbra fan. But now she has a prominent place on my “Dream Dinner Date” list. 

This is an EGOT winner who bust through glass ceilings, took the boys club head-on, and always insisted on doing things her way. For example, she tells how she called out a duplicitous, misogynistic Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes fame, by saying to him: “Now I know why I never liked you 30 years ago.” 

Despite having a nasty stepfather and a mother who never praised her, Babs knew she was exceptional and never let anyone—the press, directors, or co-stars—dim that conviction. She is a fascinating force of nature and you root for her at the end when she finally meets her prince, James Brolin, at a dinner party. (Barbra’s first words to him: “Who fucked up your hair?”)

In the epilogue Barbra writes, “nothing is impossible” and 970 pages later, you actually believe it. Pro tip: feel free to skim over what feels like 300+ pages of politics and Bill Clinton worship. The rest is worth it.

Verdict: Naughty like a gossipy Christmas dinner with your favorite tipsy aunt. But just like your aunt, Barbra can go on for a little too long. 

Finally, a side note. The all-time best of the celebrity memoirs this year (besides Spears and Streisand) is Maria Bamford’s hilarious and cringey (in the best way) book, Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult: A Memoir of Mental Illness and the Quest to Belong Anywhere. A cross between Augusten Burroughs’ Running with Scissors and David Sedaris’s Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, it sold only 14,000 copies upon its September debut, which is a tragedy. It’s pure genius. Put this one under the tree. Stat.

Paula Froelich is the senior story editor for News Nation. Follow her on Instagram (you won’t regret it. She’s fabulous).

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