One of the Family

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Along with Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, Sheilah Graham can be said to have invented Hollywood. Of course, these women did not do it alone, but on a daily basis their columns took items gathered from studios, press agents, interviews with stars, and various other informants, and transformed moviemaking into a culture, a way of life. Graham came to Hollywood in 1936, already self-invented like many of its stars, having obscured her Jewish heritage and her years in an English orphanage. There she won the love of F. Scott Fitzgerald, about whom she wrote several books. Unbeknown to her daughter Wendy (born 1942), Graham also had a brief liaison with the British philosopher A. J. Ayer.

ONE OF THE FAMILY is about how Wendy Fairey found out that Ayer was her father, and it is about her struggle to understand why her mother never told her. This is no MOMMIE DEAREST, no expression of a child’s deep hurt over a famous mother’s neglect, though Fairey is honest about her mother’s shortcomings and candidly explores the tensions between them. Fairey, a Brooklyn College professor, has written an eloquent and moving memoir of her childhood, of what it was like to grow up in Hollywood, the child of an accomplished mother whose attraction to great men, matched with vulnerability, is remarkably akin to the complex personality of Marilyn Monroe. It is not surprising, then, to learn that Graham wanted Monroe to play her in the filmed version of BELOVED INFIDEL, Graham’s account of her years with Fitzgerald.

ONE IN THE FAMILY is carefully balanced between Fairey’s own story and her mother’s, and she pays her mother the greatest respect by not simplifying Graham’s life and reducing it only to her daughter’s perceptions. Yet it is also a daughter’s book, a daughter who is still questioning her mother, still wondering why her mother gave her so much and yet held back even more.