9 Tell-All Memoirs by the Children of Celebrities
Steve Jobs’s daughter is spilling the beans on her famous dad in “Small Fry,” but she’s not the first
Electric Lit relies on contributions from our readers to help make literature more exciting, relevant, and inclusive. Please support our work by becoming a member today, or making a one-time donation here.
Everyone screws up their kids a little bit, but no one seems to do it better than the rich and famous. Like the rest of us, many children of the stars grow up just wanting their family to be “normal.” And also like the rest of us, they often find out that no such thing exists. Money can buy a lot of things, but it can’t buy you a do-over on childhood. So might as well make lemonade (juicy tell-all memoirs) out of lemons (traumatic and difficult childhood events), right?
If we’re being honest, we might say we’re attracted to this specific genre of celebrity memoirs because they promise an insider scoop on the people with the highest potential for schadenfreude satisfaction: the rich and famous. We read them less for their literary value. But we’ve collected an assortment to challenge that. Here are nine memoirs written by the descendants of the rich and famous. Some are sweet, some are bitter, but all have some juicy stories about dealing with the reality that even when the world might think your dad is the coolest person ever, you have every right to tell the world he sucks sometimes, too.
Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs
Did your father tell you you had “no marketable skills” when you were thinking about what you wanted to be when you grow up? Lisa Brennan-Jobs did. Maybe her father, Steve Jobs, forgot the time he thought her name was “marketable” enough for the eponymous Lisa Apple computer.
In Small Fry Lisa Brennan-Jobs details her life growing up in between a mother who drew stars on her birth certificate and a problematic father who cried to her on his deathbed, “If only we’d had a manual. If only I’d been wiser. But you were not to blame I want you to know, you were not to blame for any of it.” If you ever thought you might have been a more well-adjusted person with massive inherited wealth, this is a good reminder that sometimes it comes with massive inherited neurosis.
I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This by Nadja Spiegelman
Nadja Spiegelman comes from artsy stock. Her father, Art Spiegelman, is the Pulitzer-prize winning author of Maus (which is actually dedicated to Nadja) and her mother is Françoise Mouly, art editor of The New Yorker. Spiegelman’s memoir is about her relationship with her mother and her grandmother, and all three women’s relationship to her grandfather. And while there are plenty of horrors to go around — her mother, for instance, explained to Nadja that the reason she had a second child was to “break the bond” with Nadja — Spiegelman’s memoir is not some kind of cathartic hit piece. As Spiegelman explained in an interview on NPR: “My mother was such a ferociously powerful mother — and I don’t, at this point, having learned so much about her life and what she’s been through, I don’t feel the need for her to apologize or a need to forgive her either. I just feel this very profound understanding.”
Home Before Dark by Susan Cheever
John Cheever had somewhat specific hopes for his daughter: “She’ll have long blonde hair and drive a sports car and we’ll call her Susie.” Naturally, Susan Cheever grew up into a person who was none of those things, down to the color of her hair. Cheever reflects on her father’s rages, his bisexuality, his alcoholism, the adoration she wanted but never received and the love she had to work to give him. The book is a biographical memoir Cheever writes in an attempt to understand her father’s life and his role in hers. The New Criterion called it “a journalistic autopsy”and a “blatant exploitation of literature,” while the New York Times called it “intimate, deeply felt, and often harrowing.”
There is No F*cking Secret by Kelly Osbourne
From her longtime friendship with Joan Rivers to the personally damaging time her family spent on the MTV series The Osbournes to her own struggle with addiction, Osbourne writes an on-brand book about how hard work and the right attitude have gotten her where she is today (ancestral fame and MTV aside).
Out Came the Sun by Mariel Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway’s ghost won’t die. Despite being born just after Hemingway committed suicide in 1961, Mariel Hemingway’s life was haunted by her grandfather’s fame — and the consequences it had for her family. “The Hemingway Curse,” as they affectionately referred to it, meant alcoholism, depression, and suicide were everywhere in the Hemingway clan. The book details her life growing up in rural Idaho, her parents’ alcoholism, her sister’s depression and suicide, and Mariel’s experience filming Manhattan and dealing with Woody Allen.
Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother by Linda Gray Sexton
Linda Gray Sexton is a novelist in her own right, and the executor of her mother’s estate. In Searching for Mercy Street, Linda Gray Sexton contextualizes the facts of Anne Sexton’s life with the consequences they had on Linda Gray’s life. She recalls tapes from Anne’s therapy sessions, where Anne Sexton relays to her therapist: “I want [my daughter] to go away, and she knows it.” But then there were also the times Anne Sexton would go into a rage if she sensed her daughter might favor a boyfriend, a friend, or a therapist over her mother. There were also the times Anne Sexton demanded they do a kind of “role play” where Linda Gray was the parent and Anne the child. Linda Gray explains that the only way she knew how to get closer to her mother was to get closer to words, and so she did.
Yossarian Slept Here by Erica Heller
One of the downsides of having a famous storyteller for a father might include his total disinterest in the story of your life. In Erica Heller’s memoir, she writes about her father Joseph Heller’s proclivity for cruelty. Rumor has it Erica picked up some of Joseph Heller’s manuscript pages once, and thought she saw her likeness there. When she asked her father about it, he said “What makes you think you’re interesting enough to write about?”
Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
When part of the definition of your success includes becoming your own action figure by nineteen and you’re the daughter of Eddie Reynolds and Debbie Fisher, it’s your societal obligation to write a memoir. There’s a lot to cover for the “Hollywood inbred” daughter: from the time Elizabeth Taylor broke up her family, to her own marriage and divorce to Paul Simon, to her experience with electroshock therapy. Read this one to miss Carrie Fisher more than you already do.
Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford
The cruelest, juiciest celebrity kid memoir is also the one that defined the genre. Before Christina Crawford published her memoir in 1978 — within a year of her mother’s death — the world knew the relationship between mother and daughter was not the greatest. (I mean, how would you feel if your 60-year-old mother stole your role on your soap opera while you were on a medical leave?) It’s hard to choose which horrors to highlight in summary. You might already know that Joan once apparently woke Christina Crawford in the middle of the night, dragged her around by her hair, and beat her for using wire hangers to hang her clothes. But the book also details more subtle psychological tortures: for instance, one Christmas, the children were photographed in front of piles of presents and then told they could pick only one. The rest were re-gifted, but the children still had to write thank you notes for every single gift. While the book is out of print, and Christina’s siblings contested her version of their childhood, the stories live on in the movie adapted from the memoir in the 1981 film.