Forgive Us Our Digressions

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

With humorous anecdotes, Backus recounts for the reader incidents from his privileged childhood in a well-to-do Cleveland family. Schoolboy antics at various private schools led to friendship with fellow student Victor Mature, who later became a film idol. Backus refused to follow his classmates to an Ivy League university and shocked his parents by his decision to become an actor. His father, though unhappy with this turn of events, nevertheless sent his son to the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. Backus suffered through the usual rejections as he tried to make a name for himself on Broadway and in radio. It was during this time that he met Henny, a beautiful actress, model, and sculptress who was more successful at that time than he was.

In an early radio show, he began to develop the snobbish character that would later bring him fame as Thurston Howell III on “Gilligan’s Island.” As his success grew, Backus moved to Hollywood, where he began acting in films. One of his best roles was in the film “Rebel Without a Cause,” in which he played the father of James Dean’s character, and Backus’ remembrances provide interesting insights into the making of the film.

FORGIVE US OUR DIGRESSIONS is a frothy book, written in an entertaining style. Backus does discuss his recent illness, his long history of hypochondria, and his refusal to grow old, but this darker side of a humorous personality is not adequately developed. The reader comes away with a lighthearted glimpse of Hollywood in its heyday, but is left with the feeling that the real story of Jim Backus remains untold.