Review: Actress Selma Blair bares soul in captivating memoir
“Mean Baby: A Memoir of Growing Up,” by Selma Blair (Alfred A. Knopf)
Most people probably know Selma Blair from her memorable roles in late ’90s/early ’00’s hit films such as “Cruel Intentions,” “Legally Blonde” and “Hellboy.”
Perhaps others are familiar with her work as a model, gracing the covers of fashion magazines and enjoying a stint as a collaborator with and muse to the famed designer Karl Lagerfeld.
Or maybe they’ve heard about her mid-life multiple sclerosis diagnosis and the recent documentary, “Introducing, Selma Blair,” that details how the actress is adapting to life with the disease.
What they don’t know — and couldn’t until now — is the devastating trauma the Michigan-born Selma Blair Beitner has suffered during her 49 years.
Blair details all of it in her captivating and unflinching memoir, “Mean Baby.”
Her addiction to alcohol, including getting drunk on Passover wine as an elementary school student. Being sexually assaulted by a trusted high school administrator and raped during a college spring break trip to Florida. Plus, multiple suicide attempts and stints in rehab.
Raw and real, “Mean Baby” is Blair’s life in words — warts and all. And well worth the time, because, believe it or not, it’s also funny. And uplifting.
Her mother, Molly Cooke, is a recurring presence in the book. The Detroit-area lawyer and workers’ compensation magistrate served as Blair’s role model and confidante, despite dispensing sometimes painfully harsh truths along the way. Blair’s adoration for her mom is clear, making Cooke’s 2020 death all the more difficult for the author, who shared that she continued to leave daily messages on her mother’s answering machine.
“‘Good night, Mom,’ I whisper every night,” Blair wrote. “May all our dreams come true. Even the ones we haven’t dreamed yet.”
Blair also recounts her Hollywood friendships (Reese Witherspoon and Carrie Fisher), romances (Jason Schwartzman) and run-ins, memorably how she met pop star Britney Spears while both were in rehab at Promises in Malibu. There, according to Blair, she insisted that Spears stop wearing a platinum bob wig the singer donned after shaving her own head at a salon. Blair still keeps the wig in her closet. Also, she bit Seth MacFarlane (hand) and Sienna Miller (arm) upon meeting them.
Now, as for the title — Blair was born into it.
“I was a mean, mean baby. I came into this world with my mouth pulled into a perpetual snarl,” she wrote.
“From the very beginning, I was misunderstood.”
Blair may have been misunderstood back in 1972, but after a half-century of searching, she appears to have found her truth. And the love of her life — a son, Arthur, to whom she dedicates the book and credits in part for a new outlook.
“The mean baby is still there, but her edges are softer, wiser, kinder.”
And capable of producing a dazzling and intense memoir.