Quality survivorship is often not a trait developed in childhood, nor should it be. As I read this book, “A Paper Life,” I became extremely disappointed in how easily we tend to forgive famous people for their shortcomings.
Tatum O’Neal was born in 1963 to actor Ryan O’Neal and actress Joanna Moore. Her father has maintained an extremely successful film career for the last forty plus years, starring in such eclectic films as “Love Story” and “Malibu’s Most Wanted.” He has also appeared on the TV series “Desperate Housewives” along with his own reality series “Ryan and Tatum; the O’Neal’s.”
He was married briefly to Moore, whom he shares two children with. His rumored affairs with many actresses such as Angelica Huston, Melanie Griffith, and Bianca Jagger instilled his iconic playboy image of the 70’s. He lived with Farrah Fawcett since 1980 and together they have one son, she succumbed to anal cancer in 2009.
In 1974, Tatum and her father were chosen to play opposite each other in the Peter Bagdonovich film “Paper Moon” as a father-daughter con artist combo. The film was based on the book by Joe David Brown, “Addie Pray.”
The story involves eight-year-old Addie (Tatum O’Neal) who becomes a con artist to help her friend Moses (Ryan O’Neal) sell bibles to recently widowed women during Depression era Kansas. In 1974, Tatum became the youngest winner of best supporting actress from the Academy Awards for her role in this film. By age eight she was already emotionally abandoned by her mother who was in the grips of alcoholism and drug addiction (a very common theme in the O’Neals history). She describes her ordeal as “being left shoeless, starving and in tatters as well as beaten and abused by the men in her mother’s life.”
Her Mother’s situation became a preview for the next stage of her life as she entered the world of acting. Her father also has an alleged drug problem with cocaine, marijuana and alcohol.
Ryan was an actor first, a playboy second, and lastly- a parent. Tatum’s book, “A Paper Life,” addresses the abuse and neglect as the running constant in her life.
Though the book tends to name-drop in a surly and self-righteous manner, Tatum’s father appears as the monster of all parents. He could be described as the male Joan Crawford. His physical abuse was tolerated, but his emotional assaults on Tatum resemble an unsolved, malicious jealousy. It would appear that her Father attempts to take full credit of his daughter’s acting success and in some ways he molded her as the survivor she had to become.
Tatum lived with her father until she was twenty and went on to marry world champion tennis player John McEnroe. The marriage lasted six years before falling apart as a result of McEnroe’s famous tantrums and emotional outbursts of abuse were inflicted upon his wife.
“A Paper Life,” shows the revolving door of substance abuse, addiction and rehabilitation. Tatum is not perfect either she too has narcissistic tendencies and ego maniac extremes as many actors with substance abuse issues often do. The book captures a childhood innocence lost, as described in some of the situations where an eight year old actress becomes involved in a sexual threesome, and encouraged to smoke opium on location in a film shoot in another country. The book does capture some really great history with Ryan and Tatum and tells a pretty horrific story of what extreme selfishness can do to a family. A very decent read if you forget that most of it is true.