BOOK REVIEW –
Oct. 3, 2023 – Begley seems to have known everyone in Hollywood, from Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando to Bill and Hillary Clinton and iconic Los Angeles artist Ed Ruscha. He met his first wife while drinking with Tom Waits, and Harry Nilsson took him to visit John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the Dakota. “As this was my very first real encounter with a Beatle,” writes the author, “I was just trying to keep my face from crystallizing and shattering into pieces as it dropped to the floor.” He claims his only talent is that “I’m at the right place at the right time,” and he acknowledges the role that his white privilege has played in landing roles. Begley was governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for 15 years, but his friendships with United Farm Workers activists Cesar Chavez (“my lifetime hero”) and Dolores Huerta are equally important to him. He was an early adopter of electric cars and has been an advocate for prison reform and veganism. Begley’s self-deprecating charm and good humor are evident throughout the book, but this sets up a curious tension between the author’s breezy tone and its extensive name-dropping. One chapter offers background on his life as an “aging hippie riding a bicycle,” while another celebrates his work alongside Geena Davis, William Hurt, and Kathleen Turner in The Accidental Tourist. If this life story hits familiar notes about alcoholism (“my consumption was such that it became a source of concern for John Belushi”), eventual sobriety, and redemption, the path is decidedly off-beat. Begley’s charming gloss on his career and life is at once a Hollywood tell-all, a cautionary tale, and a work of earnest advocacy.