Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper

Why you don’t want to have it all (Hollywood, present): I was going to start off by suggesting that if you’re in the mood for a clever, inside-Hollywood, beachy read, then Hilary Liftin’s fictional celebrity tell-all fits the bill. Until I read an auspicious, refreshing, apologetic interview with the founder of the online Gawker Media Group that includes Gawker, which describes itself as the “definitive gossip sheet for followers of entertainment.” It highlighted why the messaging behind Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper is more than that.

Gawker’s Nick Denton essentially wrote my lead-in by promising to deliver stories that are “nicer and less tabloid in its sensibilities” – precisely what Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper is. Similarly, when he said he’s now “much more sensitive to the children and families of those who get caught up in stories,” he pinpointed the catalyst that led to Lizzie’s memoir. When he cited Gawker as “an intelligent tabloid that covers juicy stories that show how the world works,” he identified the contents of Lizzie’s memoir – how Lizzie’s world changed almost overnight when she went from being a free, happily-successful, single TV star close to her parents and best friend to a tortuously controlled, married “IT” couple. And when he cautioned that “celebrities and the subjects of stories are people just like us,” he hit the emotional nerve of Lizzie’s plight and the novel.

Denton, then, could just as easily be commenting about Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper than lamenting a troubling, embarrassing, very private (alleged) story about a public persona. It caused candid reflections and re-calibration. Will Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper have the same positive effect? We can only hope so.

I’m not one of the million followers of Gawker, so I wasn’t even aware of the controversy that precipitated Denton’s thoughtful interview until I read the New York Times piece. My purpose in sharing his commentary is because it illuminates why this Hollywood novel is different than most others I’ve read.

For one thing, it is “nicer.” Written by a real-life Hollywood ghostwriter of bestselling celebrity memoirs (Miley Cyrus, Tori Spelling, Mackenzie Phillips, others), Liftin’s fiction demonstrates a high regard for the awesome responsibility a celebrity memoirist has. The goal shouldn’t be to sensationalize or scandalize. A more exemplary approach would adopt Lizzie’s, whose goal was to simply tell a “story about the choices we make every day, and how those choices make us who we are.” By talking to us from her heart, she can be “so goddamned corny.” She’s fine with that, and so am I, because Lizzie voices genuine emotions and the only values that ought to matter. All the money in the world that her super-rich, super-famous, super-powerful movie star husband amassed couldn’t buy the freedom to choose and do the most commonplace things in life. Without these, your soul suffers.

It’s also “nicer” because the author created a character who really was the proverbial “girl-next door” (from Chicago), who became “famous for my girl-next-door character, my girl-next-door upbringing, and my girl-next-door looks.” Almost magically, she was transformed from an “IP” to a “VIP” when she becomes the girlfriend, then wife and mother of the seemingly perfect, handsomest, biggest movie star in the world, Rob Mars. (“I was known; he was worshipped.) Sweet Lizzie is not the type to stoop low and dirty to explain what went wrong in their hugely publicized marriage. Which means the prose doesn’t shoot for the jugular or the vulgar. It would have been so acceptable to go that route. It’s Hollywood, after all. Yeah for Lizzie and Liftin for taking the high road!

Lizzie’s star-struck romance with Rob Mars (“I was the clichéd princess, swept off my feet”) is an up-close look at what celebrities mean when they say they want to protect their children. Motherhood changes us all. Lizzie’s memoir drives home how high and enmeshed the stakes can get. Why should a movie star who luxuriates in the spotlight professionally have to be subjected to the same spotlight in their private lives?

Why do we get so caught up in idolizing Hollywood movie stars? “I could say I never dreamed of it … but isn’t that what everyone dreams of?” confesses Lizzie. So, if you feel you’ve missed out on Hollywood fame, fortune, and lifestyle, thank your lucky stars Liftin shows us why we should think otherwise.

Lizzie Pepper wasn’t so lucky. She got all caught up in the lavish, romantic attention of Rob Mars, twenty years her senior. An “unbelievably distant star,” his name tells all: how Hollywood power brokers and his family revolved around him. Like living on “another planet.”

Lizzie ignored the early warnings. Since we’re given a heads-up in the book’s jacket and Introduction, we have the benefit of looking for clues she was too blindsided to see.

When things are too good to be true, well, they’re too good to be true. Often Lizzie concedes Rob’s “polish was so impenetrable,” but she kept falling into an emotional trap as he always pulled off the right words to make her feel understood. Red flags surfaced, though, like the time she stumbles on Rob’s secret office, which she dubs “Bluebeard’s Castle.” He won’t let her in, which nags at her. What is he hiding?

There’s plenty of other signs to warrant our suspicions: a mysteriously banished ex-wife; an elusive relationship with Rob’s sidekick, Geoff; and questions about the trustworthiness of those supposedly closest to Lizzie. Money and acute ambition can drive people to do terrible things.

Our greatest suspicions center on Rob’s fanatical attachment to One Cell Studio: an exclusive, tightly held, mind-body cult that preaches controlling emotions. Rumors abound. Lizzie’s no fool, but it does take her a long while to put the pieces together.

“I had the world at my fingertips. I had a beautiful family. I could buy a house and live anywhere on Earth. Dream come true? But it was all on the surface. I had no idea how to find or fix what lay beneath.”

Except what’s underneath is still that “girl-next-door.” Eventually, Lizzie follows her heart, not the rules she’s so dutifully played by her whole life.

The lines between fiction and reality can be fuzzy and risky. Lizzie’s fictional story has real-life consequences. While her life will never be the same, her voice echoes something else Denton wisely put: “People are happier when they live in truth.”


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