The Brat Pack Can’t Possibly be This Boring.

A mullet-topped Lowe and idiot Tom Cruise, on top of the world.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I read a piece in VANTY FAIR about Rob Lowe that included the first chapter of his newly published memoir. Immediately upon finishing said chapter, I shamefacedly downloaded the rest of the tome to my ipad and finished it in one sitting.

That out of the way, what started out as interesting – if you are interested in 1980s culture and the early formation of The Brat Pack like I am  – and marginally well written, descended into banal, ego madness. I don’t hate myself for reading “tell-alls” about stars experiences in Hollywood. I do want to know-all. But I know that  Lowe, like most middle-aged B-list stars, won’t really be “telling all”. They still want to work afterwards

The book opens with a story about JFK Jr. and Lowe’s legacy as being the last person to grace the cover of George magazine, a reason to weave a little depth of grief into his emotionally shallow psyche when the young Kennedy dies in a plane crash shortly thereafter. Lowe manages to insinuate that it was he who pushed John Jr into settling down with Carolyn Bessette, and this kind of implied/transparent credit-taking becomes a major theme in the book. In an aside, Lowe talks about how he and John Jr. were often included on “shameful” lists of “hunks”, such as People magazine’s “Sexiest Men Alive. “Could there be a more degrading, or, frankly, gross word than ‘hunk’?” asks the now 47 year old guy appearing shirtless – almost pants-less –  on the VF cover. Well, I can think many terms more degrading than “hunk”, off the top of my head, yes, I can.

Lowe goes to great pains to paint himself as a serious actor dedicated to his craft and a grounded man who has (mostly) successfully navigated the rapids of early fame, including personal crises and a major career rebound. Still, I wonder why a man at this point in his career needs to be selling his body (or his teenage memories). Every picture in the VF article features him in half on/half off wet suits. Perhaps these outward manifestations of youthfulness are not entirely surprising for an actor who was thrust into the limelight as a teen, with roles such as “SodaPop” in the Outsiders and as the puerile, saxophone-playing moron with big hair and a crucifix earring in St Elmo’s Fire. For those who grew up in stirrup pants and shoulder pads, Rob Lowe epitomizes the deeply handsome, leading bad boy. Unlike Lowe’s good looking contemporaries like Matt Dillon, Lowe was defined only by his looks. His features are Brooke Shields perfect, his nose a chiseled snub, his eyes cerulean blue. His sex appeal completely alludes me. His lips are too thin, he skull too chiseled, his smile too blinding. And now as a man in his mid 40’s, it’s as if he has never really quite grown in to his looks, lacking any semblance of rugged sex appeal, preserved in his literal perfection, but to appear slightly absurd.

Lowe talks about  – with gravity  – the grueling audition process for Coppolas’ The Outsiders, which catapulted Lowe and his co stars to teen stardom. The majority of these (Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, C. Thomas Howell, Emilio Estevez, Diane Lane) were able to parlay their exposure in The Outsiders into successful careers and more challenging roles, while Lowe made bone headed lemons like Oxford Blues, Youngblood Masquerade and Class. When Lowe describes his castmates, it’s with barely constrained restraint, very careful not to offend a potential employer .Tom Cruise (who would dismember a puppy), had an “almost robotic, bloodless focus and an intensity”, Patrick Swayze (who is dead) was “high-strung, amped,” Matt Dillon was an enviably swaggering, well-worn ladies man.

When St Elmo’s Fire came out, with Lowe as a shiftless frat boy/ladies’ man alongside a new generation of stars that would come to be known as “The Brat Pack”, Lowe became solidified as the face of the ’80s, the shellacked haired poster boy. Lowe was good in that horrible, horrible movie, but describing it, you would think that Rob Lowe was talking about fucking Casablanca.

He recounts with the pride of someone who has turned it all around, the youthful escapades of being a teen idol. One of the only interesting things about reading the memoir of a Hollywood lothario, are the details of steamy affairs and debauched behavior. Lowe discusses in far too scanty detail the bevy of beauties he bedded during the height of his fame: Nastassja Kinski, Princess Stephanie of Monaco, Cornelia Guest, Demi Moore, etc. Details, please. Same with his drunken debauchery. Come on, if your story is in anyway one of redemption, and it’s the freakin 1980s, for God’s sake, where’s the cocaine? Where are the details?

By 1988, Lowe’s career imploded when a “video tape”, depicting the 24-year-old engaging in sex acts with two girls hit the news. He was campaigning on behalf of Michael Dukakis at the Democratic Convention in Atlanta (his stumping seemed like more of a celebrity shmooze thing for Rob), when he “video taped” the threesome. A year later the mother of one of the girls (16, underage according to state law) pressed charges against Lowe. The case was settled out of court, Lowe did community service, and the video became one of the first commercially available sex tapes. Unsurprisingly, the mainstream roles dried up.

“Sometimes being a trailblazer is overrated. If the Kim Kardashians and Colin Farrells and all the like had let heir video oeuvre out into the zeitgeist before me, mine may have been met with a mere titillated shrug.” The sex tape scandal was followed by a hilariously uncomfortable and humiliating song-and-dance number for the 1989 Oscars. Lowe touches on these follies, but only to dismiss them, glossing over the gaffes and career mishaps as mere afterthoughts.

Partying hard with his co-stars (again sans details), and dating the requisite beauties he also developed a drink problem and a rumored sex addiction that led to rehab. “I wouldn’t wish it [the attention] on anybody,” he says now. “It’s confusing when you’re young and you don’t really know your own identity.”There is nothing insightful about Rob Lowe’s recounting of the incidents that took him from 1970s Malibu to stardom to alcoholism to recovery to husband and father. There is no insight into how the Sex tape scandal was a catalyst to his sobriety. On one hand, Lowe uses scandal to bloat up his sense of self-importance: “I turned on the television and I led the evening news with Tom Brokaw ..The second story literally was Tiananmen Square”. On the other hand, he doesn’t discuss the infamous sex tapes that almost derailed his career, only refers to it, as if he is above that all now.This is pretty much how the book rolls along. Offering name-drops, superficiality and self-serving and protestations of his overextended sense of his own celebrity. Missing is the humility endemic to sobriety. The details of his sobriety are flimsy. Firstly, getting sloshed at NYC club Area with Jodie Foster is hardly rock bottom, a sex tape isn’t even rock bottom. If he was prostituting himself for meth rocks, we don’t know about it, but he keeps those demons locked up tight.

Another thing registering high on the bullshit meter, is Lowe’s glossing over of his 6 year on again/off again relationship with teen actress Melissa Gilbert. I read Melissa’s memoir last year, her honest recounting of the humiliating anguish of Lowe’s infidelities, and their eventual breakup. In Melissa’ book, she visited Rob on the set of Hotel New Hampshire, catching him in a tryst with his co star, Nastassja Kinski (the predatory Angelina Jolie of her time). In Rob’s story, Miss Kinski virtually drags an innocent Rob into the sack (offering annoyingly chaste details). That he has a longtime girlfriend is of no consequence. There is no mention of the length and intensity of his relationship with Melissa, the fact that they were engaged or that Melissa became pregnant which ended in a miscarriage that was devastating to the young, inexperienced actress. Lowe, nonplussed, just spends more time shooting hoops at the Sheens. After praising Rob for vowing to stand by whatever her decision, and never blaming him for his atrocious treatment of her, after revealing her three nose jobs and struggles with drugs and alcohol, her first true love released his own biography that contains only two passing mentions of her.

Rob’s story is light on true love and heavy on Hollywood bromances, with Charlie Sheen and Sean Penn, Emilio Estevez and Chris Farley. He mentions conquests, but never scratches the surface of any “feelings” about anybody. In fact, other than acting, he doesn’t seem to feel passions about much of anything. During his lothario days, Lowe used MTV “as a home-shopping network, and it’s not beneath me to call up to get the contacts on the sexy dancer in the latest Sting video. I find C-SPAN to be useful in this regard as well”. Getting a load of Oliver North’s foxy secretary Fawn Hall being sworn in during Iran-Contra, the Democrat tracks her down. Regardless of the fact that she smuggled incriminating documents in her Fryes, the scruple deprived actor escorted Hall to an awards dinner, horrifying fellow actors she walked by his table.

Although he stumped for Dukakis, Lowe unsurprisingly turned right-wing as the older and more money grubbing he became. He actually campaigned to make fucking Arnold Schwarzenegger governor of California in 2003. Appearing on Bill O’Reilly and seemingly wearing lipstick, Lowe talked about “that great quote”:

‘If you’re young and you’re not a liberal, you have no heart. If you’re older and not a conservative, you have no brain.’ I started out being a really, really liberal Democrat. [That changes] as you get older and you have children and you get more life experience”.

Meaning, when you lose your empathy and your connections with other people, when you forget that your genetic and demographic playing field is necessary level with everyone else’s, when you think you really are superior to the less genetically blessed and you are an unkind and difficult person and no one wants to hire you, you have to hold on to every last crusty penny in your pocket.

Lowe seems not to realize that he takes himself extremely seriously. He seems to be so used to acting the part of Rob Lowe that he speaks as though he is playing a role, in banal homilies and beauty-pageant answers. He seems not able to engage beyond this therapy-speak or at least not have any desire to do so. You are left with the impression that he has been told so frequently that he is beautiful, and charismatic and hilarious that he no longer feels he has to make any kind of effort. The name-dropping in the book is so gratuitous that it becomes a serious impediment to the book. And while Lowe has a lot of stories to tell about his not-yet-famous friends, he has the annoying habit  – perhaps the most blatantly cliched and puerile affect anywhere –  of introducing them without naming them, having you guessing who the celeb in questions is for a paragraph or two, describing them in ordinary detail then WHAM! hitting you with the oh so famous name at the very end of the chapter, as if a dramatic act blow. Examples:

While filming the show “A New Kind of Family” his agent arranged for him to meet a “curly-haired, brown-eyed, slender girl with a shy smile”, who plays Annie on Broadway. She turned out to be … WHAM! Sarah Jessica Parker! (Whom he never met again, apparently), end of chapter.

He uses this trope again and again, later with a young woman in a “fairy princess” costume he meets over dinner. BAM!  It’s Daryl Hannah! He gives career advice to a “young black girl with pretty eyes” on the set of “A New Kind of Family” WHAM! it’s Janet Jackson! A brown haired beauty “in a see-through sundress” he spies at a “St. Elmo’s Fire” audition, BAM! is Demi Moore

After five or six of these revelations (also including Cary Grant, John Cusack, John Kennedy Jr., Carolyn Bissette, Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey Jr., Martin Sheen, Cary Grant, Mickey Rourke, Christopher Walken. Patrick Swayze), the conceit wears thin and makes him seem like a certified idiot).

Lowe is abject when he sees the final cut of “The Outsiders”, and his part has been largely excised from the film. “My disillusionment and disappointment are so complete that I know then and there that I will never truly get over it,” he writes, a pattern that would follow his entire career, as many of his jobs suffer from “not enough Lowe” syndrome. The truth is, he is not a very good actor. He just isn’t.

I have trouble grasping the growth that he’s peddling, after hearing stories about how he actually is in real life. There are too many stories about him being a total dick, screaming at PAs for espressos and  leering at women in restaurants. He is an attention craver and is well known to be a difficult and demeaning actor on the set. After “hitting bottom”, he met the love of his life, a makeup artist named Sheryl Berkoff, went to rehab for alcohol and sex addiction, and resurrected his career with what he touts as untapped comedic chops in “Wayne’s World”. Lowe acts as if landing the role of a lifetime on “The West Wing” is of life or death importance, the greatest script he’s ever read, the part he was born to play. Yet, after landing the part, the salary is insufficient for an actor of his stature, and he turns the part down. Eventually, he takes the role and all is well at “West Wing” until he insists on appearing on the cover of John Kennedy’s “George” magazine, despite the protestations of the shows producers. This was followed by what he felt was a “lack of support” by his fellow actors, who don’t include him in photos shoots or in their collective negotiations. He demanded a pay increase which was unceremoniously denied. These would have him “questioning his place,” leading him to give up the role after four seasons. He also quit the show “Brothers and Sisters,” also allegedly over salary disputes, earning him the reputation as a prima donna. This he doesn’t discuss.For someone who has been in sobriety for 21 years, his startling lack of humility and demeaning of assistants, flies in the face of  everything I know about the 12 steps.

Anyway, if these are the “stories he only tells his friends”, they’re either really gullible and impressed by him, or not easily bored.

I cannot I spend the last 2 hours writing about Rob Lowe’s autobiography.


About kara

We know our letters just fine, and we know our numbers to a certain point, but books were always the realm of four-eyed poindexters with bowler hats and cravats. That’s why it pleases us so that America’s proud illiterates are finally stepping up and pushing back against the crushing tide of education that threatens to swallow us all into its gaping maw of checked facts. Champions of the Ignorantiat will not like it here.
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