Archive » August 5, 2010
By Terri Schlichenmeyer, Contributing Writer
When you were a kid, you thought you were so smart.
Back then, you knew better than your elders, but you also knew better than to tell them that. You were smart enough to get away with doing things (you thought) they never learned about. For sure, nobody could touch you in the brains department when you were a kid.
Then you became an adult, and you saw how much you didn’t know.
In the new book “An Actor and A Gentleman” (with Phyllis Karas), author Louis Gossett Jr. says he never knew much racism as a child. But as his career rose, so did the bigotry.
Growing up on the edge of Brooklyn near Coney Island, little Louie Gossett never wanted for love. His parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles showered it upon him. Cousins watched his back because they knew he had potential. Even Italian and Jewish mothers in the neighborhood embraced the “It takes a village” philosophy and helped raise young Gossett.
He says, in retrospect, that he was the victim of racism more than once, but that’s the way things were and he barely noticed. Although Gossett initially thought he might become a pro basketball player, during his junior year of high school, a different and more appealing opportunity presented itself: an English teacher cast Gossett in a school play.
For the rest of his life, Gossett was in love with theatre, a love that transferred easily to movies and TV.
In 1961, Gossett moved to California to try his hand at film and, despite that he loved acting, he encountered racism that sent him back to New York. Seven years later, he tried Hollywood again, but the racism was worse.
Undaunted, and encouraged by colleagues and social changes in America, Gossett made his home in L.A. and stuck with acting. He dated; briefly married, had a son and divorced; dated; adopted a child, then married, went into rehab for alcohol addiction, and divorced again.
Clean and sober, he began to put his life, personally and professionally, on track. But then, he started to lose weight. If one were to read “An Actor and A Gentleman” at face-value, one might believe that nearly everybody in America grew up with, worked with, or otherwise knew author Louis Gossett, Jr. 50 or 60 years ago.
Name-dropping, boasting and personal shout-outs are so rampant in the first half of this book that it became tedious, making me want to skip large swaths of page.
And yet, if you can read between the lines, Gossett and co-author Phyllis Karas redeem the tedium by giving readers a unique, first-hand peek at racism in entertainment. I really liked that part of this book, mostly because of the well-defined (and well-deserved) outrage that Gossett lets sneak through his narrative.
Overall, my recommendation for “An Actor and A Gentleman” is limited. I think if you’re looking for something on African-Americans in Hollywood, here’s your book. If you’re looking for a light Tinsel Town bio, though, you’d be smart to choose something else.
“An Actor and A Gentleman”
by Louis Gossett Jr. and Phyllis Karas
c. 2010, Wiley, $26.95 / $31.95 Canada, 308 pages, includes index