My recent beach reading consisted of memoirs by two actresses from my childhood – Valerie Bertinelli (Barbara on “One Day at a Time”) and Melissa Gilbert (Laura on “Little House on the Prairie”).
Both of these former child stars are close to my age – 60 or pushing it – and experiencing many of the same life events that my own contemporaries are. Both played beloved characters in my personal television soundtrack of the mid-70s. Both had written previous memoirs about the challenges, insecurities and success of their early career years. Both new books focus on their “late middle age” years and the comfort they’ve found in their own skin and their more intentional lifestyles. I enjoyed both immensely.
Valerie’s “Enough Already: Learning to Love the Way I Am Today” reaches beyond her lifelong struggle with weight and self-image to chronicle how she has happily settled into a hard-won acceptance of who she has become because of – and sometimes in spite of – the intense pressure of Hollywood expectations. She writes, in large part, from the perspective of a mother wanting the best for her very talented son she shared with rocker Eddie Van Halen. Despite the fact she and Eddie divorced in 2007, they remained close, especially during the last years of his long battle with cancer leading up to his 2020 death.
Melissa’s “Back to the Prairie: A Home Remade, A Life Rediscovered” tells the story of her coming of age in her 50s to find a more balanced life without cosmetic surgeries, hair coloring and anxiety about measuring up in a competitive Hollywood environment. The book is an honest accounting of how she shifted her life approach away from the fast pace she’d always known to a more bountiful, yet much simpler, life. This time in Melissa’s life is also a love story about building a quiet life with her husband, actor Tim Busfield, who shares her joy in raising chickens, renovating a ramshackle cabin in the woods, doting on grandchildren, and living ordinary days away from the limelight.
An interesting intersection of these two books is how these former child stars have found financial success in this season of life through cooking and comfort in the enjoyment of home. Valerie has become a successful host on the Food Network. Melissa is basking in the “homebodiness” of a new online venture called Modern Prairie as a modern-day pioneer woman in the Catskill Mountains tending her large garden, enjoying the local wildlife and basking in the abundance of being part of a community.
Anyone who grew up watching these 1970’s television favorites will find these two books a delightful update on the lives of the two young actresses who captured the imagination of a generation.