Busting a move 

Pamela Anderson conquers literature

“This is the kind of thing that will give literacy the boost it needs.” —David Letterman, on his show, examining the foldout nude pinup of Pamela Anderson that doubles as the flipside of the book jacket of her debut novel Star.

One cannot help but have the utmost respect for Pamela Anderson. By all accounts she is a nice woman with a wicked sense of humor, a devoted animal rights activist and a very hard worker. Above all, what should be most admired is that she is one smart cookie who has seized the means of production, so to speak, and run with it. In other words, Pamela Anderson is nobody’s dumb blonde.

Anderson was approached by Simon and Schuster to write her autobiography and initially turned the offer down. The publisher approached her again with the idea of writing a roman a clef, a thinly disguised fictional account of her life, and Anderson agreed. Working with a ghostwriter, Eric Shaw Quinn, Anderson had modest aims when she set out to write Star; she has stated that she wanted to write a book that would be “good to read at the beach or on the toilet.”

She has certainly accomplished that. Star: A Novel is not exactly Jacqueline Susann-caliber sexy trash fiction—35 years after Valley of the Dolls, Susann remains the overheated Dostoyevsky of the form—but Anderson fans will be pleased nonetheless. Star is fun, a welcome relief in this mean season of mud-slinging political books. Like Anderson herself, the book has no grand intellectual pretensions; it’s meant simply to entertain and, mostly, it does. Star is mental floss: in through the eyes, briefly through the brain and then out the ears and that’s that.

Ester “Star” Leigh Wood is a fresh-faced, good-natured, naïve, 19-year-old part-time waitress and part-time tanning-bed cleaner who is discovered when, as a member of the audience at a sporting event in Miami, her image is projected onto the Jumbotron screen. In short order she becomes the official spokesmodel for a local brewery, and before she knows it she’s whisked off to Hollywood to pose for the cover of a Playboy-like publication called Mann’s World—named after founder Marston Mann, not to be confused with Playboy and its founder, Hugh Marston Hefner. She subsequently becomes one of that magazine’s most popular centerfold models.

Star’s gradual physical transformation from super-wholesome tomboyish girl next door to cartoonishly large-breasted, big-haired (but still good-hearted) porn-star archetype is achieved with the help and expertise of her new best friends, stylists Billy and Skip—a kind of abbreviated Queer Eye for the Straight Gal team—along with an accomplished plastic surgeon. She becomes the Hammer Time girl, a running dirty-joke-by-innuendo, on the Allen Thames hit sitcom Hammer Time (Tool Time Girl…Home Improvement…Tim Allen…hello). Star jumps from the dramatic limitations of that show to a more demanding role as a lifeguard on Lifeguard (you guessed it: Baywatch). Lifeguard becomes, of course, a monster hit everywhere in the world and its success makes Star a huge, well, star. Along the way Star enjoys a number of not-exactly-love relationships and lots of uninhibited sex, of the group variety as well as one-on-one. Change the names (only slightly, in a few cases) and the locale—Anderson is originally from British Columbia—and viola! You could be reading Pamela Anderson’s bio, with all the juicy bits intact.

Star, which climbed to number 13 on the New York Times bestseller list, ends at Star/Anderson’s Lifeguard/Baywatch period, just when Anderson’s real life story started to get truly interesting. When, after several seasons, the writing was on the wall for Baywatch, Anderson began branching out and exerting some of her star power by signing on as the executive producer and star of Barb Wire, a film based on a comic book. Anderson then produced and starred in another television series, V.I.P., playing a female bodyguard. V.I.P. became known to insiders as a smart, funny parody, and everyone in Hollywood clambered to do a guest spot on the show. A subsequent project, an animated series for Spike TV called Stripperella, portrayed Anderson as a cartoon stripper; she was also a producer on that show. In TV and films, it’s the producer who holds the real clout and makes the real money. The producer owns a good chunk of the show and its profits. In short, Pamela Anderson is laughing all the way to the bank.

In an increasingly censorious and sanctimonious America, Pamela Anderson has been joyously frank and unapologetic about her party-girl life and her steadily expanding bust-line. She bounced back from a sex video scandal (her partner in explicit home porn was her then-husband, Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee) unscathed in a way no other mainstream actor could have done. The group sex scenes described in Star have the ring of truth to them. Anderson candidly told Howard Stern on his nationally syndicated radio show that she dug what the little girls didn’t understand, so to speak. Pamela Anderson might piss off by-the-book old-school feminists, but she should be held up as a role model. No fragile, tragic, self-destructive Marilyn Monroe clone, she’s a canny businesswoman who knows exactly what a valuable commodity she possesses, and who’s buying. And—God bless America and the free market economy—she’s exploiting that knowledge to the fullest. With an eye toward that, Anderson has said that she’s now working on a sequel.

arts@missoulanews.com

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