Her new memoir is illuminating in places but vague in others
The Beauty of Living Twice, the new book by Sharon Stone about her family life, her struggles in Hollywood, and her rise to worldwide fame, comes out at a cultural moment when readers’ expectations must be especially high. This is the time of #MeToo, and surely no one knows better than Stone what it is like to work with and for powerful figures who are wont to abuse their status in the industry and treat others as sex objects. Stone’s ambiguous relationship to an entertainment machine that made her fabulously rich and world-famous while also turning her into a synonym for titillation comes across over and over in the pages of this book.
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Yet those who come to The Beauty of Living Twice looking for salacious stories may find the book something of a damp firecracker. It is a nicely written, brisk, engaging, intermittently charming memoir, quite moving on the subject of her family life and her near-fatal stroke in 2001 and the brain surgery that brought her back from the brink of death. But she (and her ghost writer) sound curiously muffled with regard to some of the things about which one might expect Stone to show candor at this point in her career, with her fans eager for an insider’s perspective on an industry where lustful tyrants have held sway for so long.
In this book, Stone comes across as at once grateful toward and resentful of an industry that made a star out of a young woman from a humble working-class Pennsylvania milieu. Nothing in the memoir is more gratifying than her account of how the success of her acting career enabled Stone to change her parents’ lives forever. After Basic Instinct opens at Cannes in 1992, Stone sends her folks an anonymous money order for $17,000. Her mother’s reaction, on realizing what has happened, is to go to her father’s shop and encourage him to take the day off and to order a sandwich costing 25 cents more than what he usually has for lunch. They can afford it now.
Stone’s pride in repaying her parents financially is of a piece with a general reverence for them and especially for her father, Joe. On the heels of a grim diagnosis laying out the impossibility of successfully operating on a tumor in Joe’s throat unless the tumor moves back behind his esophageal wall, Stone advises her father on the use of meditation to achieve that miracle. It works. The tumor retreats and Joe Stone lives. This is an inspiring story, to be sure, though how relatable and useful it may be for others faced with potentially fatal health conditions is another issue. Meditation to make a tumor operable and improve the prospects for someone given weeks to live? Don’t try it at home, kids.
A Life Semi-Explored
Even those who have watched Stone onscreen for decades may find surprising facts here. Before reading The Beauty of Living Twice, this writer was not aware that Stone visited Zimbabwe in 1984 to make King Solomon’s Mines and had to stay in a hotel in awful condition: “The hotel didn’t own a vacuum cleaner; they cleaned those carpets with rags and something that smelled like ammonia. On their hands and knees, I might add, and with not-so-clean rags. The bedding was soiled with bloodstains, holes, and God only knows what else. The towels were in similar shape.”
This part of the memoir is disappointingly brief and largely fails to explore the issues it raises. Stone’s account of a trip to Soweto during the height of antiapartheid protests is similarly cursory, an approach that she also takes about issues closer to home.
Stone is candid about the ugly side of Hollywood and pulls no punches when describing her revulsion toward those who have abused their status and subjected others to awkwardness, pain, and trauma. But whether for legal reasons or an excess of tact, Stone does not always name names or even give specifics as to where and when, or even on the set of which project, an offense allegedly occurred.
The good news is that what may seem like reticence or timidity is really, in places, something far nobler. While recognizing the scope and severity of the problem that #MeToo sets out to address, and sympathizing in general with its aims, Sharon Stone is one of the few voices urging fair-mindedness and due process and warning against witch hunts and mob justice. In all the clamor, her voice is welcome indeed.
Stone’s reticence is due in part to her most admirable trait as a commentator on the cultural revanche against sexual misconduct. That trait is her ability to see shades of gray, to recognize the humanity of those decried as sexist, and to understand how easy it is for mobs to stampede over the rights of the accused and carry out lynchings in all but the literal sense. Accused people have rights too. Here Stone is true to principles that she has put to use publicly for a while now. Just over three years ago, Stone went out on a limb to defend James Franco amid allegations of misconduct, praising Franco’s character in the highest terms, saying she was “appalled” by the charges, and criticizing those who cannot or will not make a distinction between rape and simple boorishness.
Stone’s advocacy of restraint and due process could not be wiser or more badly needed. Given that publications like The Advocate have done their best to shame celebrities like Liam Neeson and Matt Damon who have so much as dared to voice concern about the failure to make appropriate distinctions when it comes to sexual misconduct, Stone’s courage is all the more admirable. We need more public figures like Sharon Stone, who recognize the seriousness of the issue that #MeToo tackles but are adamant about protecting due process and the rights of the accused.
Despite its noble qualities, The Beauty of Living Twice also sometimes engages in random gripes and accusations. Stone has dealt with a lot of sexism. The tendency of studio executives to reduce her to a sex object has often been her biggest problem in life. Plus, some studio executives are just jerks. On page 100, Stone discloses that one of the producers of Basic Instinct got her name mixed up with that of someone named Karen and told her she had not been the first choice for the role. But if the producer really thought he was speaking to Karen, then what he said doesn’t even apply to Stone. Here is a pointless, whiny anecdote about a first-world problem.
Stone had a flourishing career prior to doing a certain scene in Basic Instinct that made her name synonymous with sexual provocation, and the Sharon Stone we watched in Total Recall or Year of the Gun could have gone on with roles that actors of either gender would have been glad to land.
When Basic Instinct first came out back in 1992, Stone by her own admission, was ecstatic. The memoir describes how she and an acquaintance hired a limo and went out to theaters all over New York, starting in Harlem and continuing on until early in the morning, watching 20 minutes of the film here and 20 minutes there, taking in all the cheering crowds with gratitude and glee. The morning after, they enjoy “a glorious, celebratory breakfast.” Yet not seldom does it appear, in the pages of this memoir, that Stone doesn’t really want to lie in the bed she has made.
One might hope that Stone’s experiences in the poorest corners of Africa could have given her a bit of perspective. It’s a bit much to hear someone with a reported net worth of $60 million go on about how the world hasn’t given her a fair shake.