Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book Review: Are You Anybody?

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Are You Anybody?
        
Author: Marilyn Funt
        
Date: 1979
        
Publisher: Dial
        
ISBN: none, but click here to see it on Amazon
        
Length: 339 pages with many photos
        
Quote: “What is it like to be the wife of a very famous man? As the wife of Allen Funt, I should have known.”
        
Hmm. I guess he was more famous then...Allen Funt was involved with the old “Candid Camera” TV show. While divorcing him, his wife passed her time interviewing: Veronica, Mrs. Muhammad Ali; Sandy, Mrs. Tony Bennett; Ruth, Mrs. Milton Berle; Dorothy, Mrs. Lloyd Bridges; Alicia, Mrs. Red Buttons; Joanna, Mrs. Johnny  Carson; Kari, Mrs. Dick Clark; Emmy, Mrs. Howard Cosell; Altovise, Mrs. Sammy Davis Jr.; Anne, Mrs. Kirk Douglas; Shera Danese, Mrs. Peter Falk; Ruth Bell, Mrs. Billy Graham; Lydia, Mrs. Charlton Heston; Jeanette, Mrs. Alan King; Lynn, Mrs. Michel Landon; Patti,Mrs.Jerry Lewis; Kate, Mrs. Zero Mostel; Nancy, Mrs. Carroll O’Connor; Marcy, Mrs. William Shatner; and Joyce Davidson, Mrs. David Susskind.
        
If you’re old enough to remember the husbands, you probably recognized some of the wives’ names too...but not many. Pathetically few, the feminists of 1979 would have fumed; hadn’t they all grown up on the story of how even Roberto Rossellini didn’t feel secure enough to “be Mr. Ingrid Bergman” for long, and why should women be expected to do something men apparently couldn’t, etc., etc.
        
If you were a slightly more levelheaded woman, you remembered that not everyone wants to be a household word, that in fact Jane Wyman left Ronald Reagan because she didn’t want to be a political wife. You might have wondered whether any of the unknown wives of famous husbands wanted to be famous. And if you had been well known in the TV community, in your own right, as Mrs. Funt happened to be, you might have had a chance to ask them.
        
Even then you might have encountered some difficulty. Muhammad Ali didn’t want Mrs. Funt talking to his wife, and finally consented only if he could be there during the interview, and only after asking a question he knew would be considered rude: “Your bosses are going to make a lot of money—why should she talk for nothing? She’s a lady, she wouldn’t ask.” Nevertheless, although America’s greatest boxer didn’t want his wife giving interviews or doing anything un-Islamic, he affirmed that he did want his much younger wife to finish her degree: “I told her to go to college and get some knowledge. Stay there until you are through. If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread they sure can make something out of you.”
        
One wonders whether the interviews were actually done in the order they were written, and whether either the husbands or the wives had access to previous interviews. By the next interview in the book, in which Mrs. Tony Bennett was overgeneralizing that “being married to an Italian was very difficult” and then putting the blame back where it belonged, “Anything I do is stressful,” readers should feel a little more empathy toward wary husbands.
        
However, most of the wives didn’t share Mrs. Funt’s sense of being oppressed by a needy, neurotic, ego-tripping husband. Mrs. Buttons had more serious concerns than ego competition; she outed herself as a cancer survivor. Ruth Bell Graham also felt a need to prepare for widowhood; reading this book during Billy Graham’s years of widowhood gave a strange overtone to his wife’s description of how, long before she died, “we have to take separate bedrooms because [my coughing] would just keep both of us up.”
        
Some wives, like Mrs. Howard Cosell, revealed things about their men that didn’t show up on TV: “He is a worrier, very overprotec­tive...He is reasonable.” Mrs. Peter Falk, on the other hand, revealed that her husband “says he is very liberal, but he isn’t.” And Charlton Heston played defiant “angry young men” well, but his wife said that “he’s the fetcher” in contrast to actors who were spoiled by others’ stepping and fetching for them, and “I think [he] is [the] more openly affectionate [spouse].”
        
Marilyn Funt concluded that “my unhappi­ness was not typical of...being a celebrity wife...more a personal problem between my husband and myself.” If Allen Funt had fans of his own, as distinct from fans of an idea that made clever and comic TV, he probably lost a few when this book was published.
        
However this book is a significant piece of Women’s History, over and beyond the celebrity gossip that made it interesting for my generation. During the 1970s many women emerged from “consciousness-raising groups” with a confused, excited impression that experiences they’d shared with a carefully selected, planned, and organized small group of demographically matched neighbors must be experiences all women were having. To some extent this was made possible by a tendency to identify women like Joyce Davidson or like Joyce Brothers, or Margaret Atwood, Erma Bombeck, Raquel Welch, Rosalynn Carter, or even most of these celebrity wives, as “part of the problem”...not even because they were conservative (the celebrities named weren’t) but because left-wing organizers didn’t want the experience of individual self-empowerment, in any substantial way, to “become divisive” in consciousness-raising groups, to separate the women from the girls. Only unhappy middle-aged girls, e.g. Mrs. Funt, were likely to agree on the need for leftward political movement as a solution to these problems.
        
Mrs. Funt wasn’t typical. She went out and did the legwork, talked to women who didn’t fit in with the consciousness-raising groups, and reported, honestly, that although her problems were not unrelated to the sexist attitudes society then tolerated, they were not part of a syndrome automatically produced by the conditions of her marriage.

According to IMDB.com, Marilyn Funt is still alive, so we can offer Are You Anybody as a Fair Trade Book: when you send salolianigodagewi @ yahoo.com $5 for the book + $5 for shipping, or $10 altogether, we will send Mrs. Funt or a charity of her choice $1.