A Paper Life
"I want to thank my director and my father." This was the
acceptance speech from eight-year-old Tatum O'Neal, the youngest
Oscar winner in history. Such professional words for such a little
girl. Sadly, in her new autobiography, we see just how much Tatum's
young life mirrored that of Addie, her character in Paper
Moon, the world-weary, clever little con-girl (a comparison not
lost on the author).
You would think that winning the highest accolade an actor can
aspire to would have made life wonderful for a little girl. But as
Tatum details, life was anything but. Apparently, after her Oscar
win, her father, actor Ryan O'Neal --- who was her co-star in the
movie --- slugged her. And after The Bad News Bears
was a runaway hit, he slugged her again. Par for the course of this
rocky family relationship. Tatum dealt with abandonment, drug
abuse, molestation, and physical and verbal abuse. And the cycle
seemed to repeat itself during her tumultuous six-year marriage to
tennis great John McEnroe. The loneliness and worthlessness she
felt her entire life made her succumb to what she refers to as the
"O'Neal curse" --- drug addiction.
Tatum was born in 1963 in southern California to two young actors:
fresh-faced Ryan O'Neal, then a heartthrob on TV's "Peyton Place,"
and Georgia-born Joanna Moore, who, along with most of the O'Neals,
battled with alcohol and pills her entire life. In addition to a
tempestuous relationship with her volatile father, Tatum talks
about her difficult, strained relationship with her mother, who was
usually passed out from a combination of pills and alcohol, leaving
young Tatum alone with many of her mother's shady boyfriends, one
of whom molested her.
After her success with Paper Moon, the challenges with both
parents only grew harder. Instead of a young preteen playing with
Barbies, she was her father's escort to parties at the Playboy
mansion. On a trip to Europe, young Tatum, desperate for a mother
figure, brings along friend Melanie Griffith for company. When she
can't find Melanie in their hotel room, she goes to her father's
suite, where she discovers her 18-year-old friend having sex with
Ryan. Being around such scenes made it easy for her to start using
drugs and alcohol, which became the thorn in her side throughout
much of her life.
In her early twenties, Tatum met and quickly fell in love with the
hot-tempered tennis champ John McEnroe. Shortly after they began
dating, she became pregnant with the first of three children. They
were married just months after the birth of their first son, Kevin.
Two other children --- a boy, Sean, and a girl, Emily --- quickly
followed, and the strain of balancing a family and dealing with her
husband's demanding career left Tatum no time for a career of her
own. The cracks in the facade appeared almost immediately after
their wedding, and Tatum claims it was her husband's volatile
nature (not unlike her father's) that made life together
unbearable. Dealing with McEnroe's crack team of lawyers over
custody issues and marital assets drove her back to a life of
drugging. (One gets a slightly different version in McEnroe's book,
YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS).
When her young daughter came in and found her with a syringe, Tatum
knew she had to change. It took many visits to rehab facilities,
but today a clean and sober Tatum O'Neal feels that she is finally
back on track and ready to reclaim her life.
A PAPER LIFE is a compulsively readable cautionary tale that fills
one with amazement, shock and sadness. At the end, you find
yourself rooting for this "victim of Hollywood" and hoping she is
able to regain some semblance of normality in her life.
Reviewed by Bronwyn Miller on January 14, 2011