Friday, March 11, 2011

Bio Chemistry

In terms of show biz, Santa Monica High School has never had half the cachet of Beverly Hills High (attended by the progeny of the old studio moguls) and Hollywood High (the home campus of everyone from Fay Wray to Carol Burnett to pop singer Brandy). Still, Samohi – the alma mater of both my father and my children – has its own connection to Hollywood glamour. The school was prominently featured in James Dean’s 1955 classic, Rebel Without a Cause. And it too has had its share of famous alumni. When the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District annually stages the huge student concert quaintly known as Stairway of the Stars, it always tries to bag a famous alumnus for a guest appearance. I can remember octogenarian Gloria Stuart, riding high on her Oscar-nominated role in Titanic, being so honored. One thing is certain: no one is planning to give a plaque to Samohi dropout Charlie Sheen.

Sheen, I guess, has truly earned the title Rebel without a Cause. No one seems exactly sure what’s eating him. As a biographer, I’ve sometimes listed as one of my greatest passions “the mysteries of the human psyche.” Which means I’m fascinated by behavior that seems to have no rational explanation.

Would I want to write a biography of Charlie Sheen? Probably not: public meltdowns make for great reading, but a biographer has to live with her subject, figuratively at least, for years on end. “The Invisible Roommate” – that’s one way I’ve heard it described. Face it: would any sane person want Charlie Sheen as a roommate?

Still, the mystery keeps me intrigued. Here’s one angle: Charlie Sheen has three siblings, all of whom chose acting as a profession. One of them, Emilio Estevez, has had his own share of fame and fortune. But Estevez (who kept the family name, instead of adopting father Martin Sheen’s stage surname) has led a life that doesn’t make headlines. Why the difference? A similar question attracted me when I worked on Ron Howard: From Mayberry to the Moon . . . and Beyond. Again there were two brothers, from an acting family. Again, both were famous from an early age, Ronny on The Andy Griffith Show and his younger brother Clint as the human star of Gentle Ben. One stayed out of trouble; one took the plunge into bad behavior, then desperately needed rescuing. The question of why two siblings approach the world so differently is the sort of conundrum that biographers like me can’t wait to unravel.


  1. I guess I never realized Clint went down that dark road - I haven't read your book - YET - sorry! - but that is intriguing. The Sheen train wreck was a wild story - but I was hearing about him and his antics years before from crew members on shows I worked on who had worked with him - one special effects guy from the movie Virus (1999) had worked with Charlie on the movie The Wraith and told a lengthy and bawdy story about all the crazy stuff he did even that far back! The man is a crazed party dynamo!

  2. Thanks for reading, Craig. Clint was always a more nervy, rebellious kid than his big brother. He had his problems with drink and drugs, until the family staged an intervention. I gather he's clean and sober now.