By Rob Lowe
Simon & Schuster
272 pages, $27
By Christopher Schobert
NEWS BOOK REVIEWER
An eBay seller from upstate New York recently sold a “Tiger Beat Magazine Lot” described in this manner: “JOHN STAMOS MATT DILLON ROB LOWE THOMAS HOWELL SHIRTLESS” (sic). The accompanying photograph showed several of the teen magazine’s garish covers, all featuring feather-haired ’80s stars – the aforementioned fab four, soap star Michael Damian, “Karate Kid” Ralph Macchio, all-star horndog Scott Baio – gazing lovingly at the reader.
I am not sure how the Stamos, Dillon and Howell of 2014 now feel about their Tiger Beat days; my guess is the good-natured Stamos is proud, Dillon is embarrassed, and Howell has the covers framed above his fireplace.
After reading “Love Life,” actor Rob Lowe’s wise, funny, ever-entertaining follow-up memoir to his best-selling “Stories I Only Tell My Friends,” I can tell you exactly how the former “West Wing” and “Parks and Recreation” star feels about his time as a teen idol: He finds it all hilarious.
Early in “Love Life,” Lowe recounts the story of chaperoning his son’s overnight class trip to Sea World in San Diego, a rather nightmarish experience for the doting dad. At 3:45 a.m., he woke from a disgruntled sleep (“I had a disturbing dream … In order to pay the bills, I was forced to star in a direct-to-DVD sequel to ‘Free Willy,’ but with manatees instead”) to the sight of a “talky mom” staring at his face intently:
“ ‘You don’t remember me, do you?’ she said in a flat, robotlike monotone that managed to convey an element of accusation and craziness. ‘We met. Before.’ ”
As Lowe explains, “as a single guy in his teens and twenties who starred in movies and traveled the world, I made a number of acquaintances, many romantic, most wonderful, and a few quite ... dangerous and malignant. I chose my words carefully. ‘I’m so sorry, forgive me, where did we meet?’ ”
Talky mom names a “horrific old-school nightclub on the Pacific Coast Highway that has been closed for over a decade. I had only been there once, in my wild phase, and my only recollection of the evening was a police car plowing at full speed into a row of parked cars and ensuing ambulances. ‘Oh, yeah. Sure. Sure, right!’ ”
That response is pure Lowe. It is also a fine example of his self-deprecating nature, as well as his storytelling skills. The man knows how to finesse an anecdote, and “Love Life” has plenty. He leapfrogs in nonchronological order from showbiz to home life and back again.
Lowe sits with Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Sargent Shriver, all patiently waiting to hear if son-in-law Arnold Schwarzenegger has pulled off the impossible and defeated Gray Davis in the race for governor of California. (“At the end of the big room’s hallway, a door opened,” Lowe writes. “It was Arnold, suddenly and improbably looking like a governor.”)
We watch as a post-“West Wing” (and post-calamitous “West Wing” follow-up, “Lyon’s Den”) Lowe chooses the quickly canceled “Dr. Vegas” instead of future smash “Grey’s Anatomy” as his next project. (As co-star Joe Pantoliano puts it the day after the premiere of “Dr. Vegas,” “Saw our numbers last night. This one ain’t long for the world, pal.”)
And we see Lowe create his unforgettable ’70s plastic surgeon look for Steven Soderbergh’s Liberace epic, “Behind the Candelabra”: “The script described my role as a man whose face was so pulled and shiny, he looked like a doll,” Lowe writes. “When finished (preparing), I looked like a transgendered Bee Gee.”
Without fail, the stories are fascinating, funny, and chock-full of life lessons. Together, they make for a dishy treat that is all the more successful for including such down-to-earth moments as Lowe’s heartbreak after watching his son leave for college.
The Rob Lowe behind “Love Life” is far removed from the scandal-plagued Hollywood bad boy of the ’80s. And as his second winning book demonstrates, he has emerged from the acting world’s sun-drenched battlefields with good humor and an admirable lack of affectation. How many Tiger Beat cover boys can say that?
Christopher Schobert is a News blogger and frequent contributing reviewer.