After reading her new memoir, In Pieces, I came to like Sally Field very much — and I’m glad about that because I have watched and admired her work my whole life.
I go back a long way with the actress — to Gidget, her first TV show, which she made at 18. She was adorable back then and she made California surfer life look like Nirvana to a preteen East Coaster like me. Little did we Gidget fans know that at times the young star was being tossed into Pacific waters so frigid she couldn’t even feel her legs and yet she was expected to surf, which she barely knew how to do.
Soon after, I was glued to episodes of The Flying Nun because I went to Catholic schools and I could trade the stern-faced, habit-wearing women of my daily existence for the once a week antics of Sister Bertrille, a young nun with a vivacious, slightly mischievous, personality. It was a delight. Not so much for Sally, it turns out. She admits in her memoir that she never wanted to do the show in the first place and was being hoisted up on uncomfortable harnesses — at one point while nearly nine months pregnant — and flown uncontrolled, sometimes into on-set buildings. No one cared about her bumps and bruises.
By the time the ingenue TV actress had grown into a full-fledged mature movie star and was dating the late Burt Reynolds, I was an entertainment journalist working at a national newspaper and occasionally writing about her.
The dark-haired couple who met bantering in Smokey and the Bandit fell in love, which made for an irresistible ongoing love story. Except, again, not really.
Burt was something of a controlling male chauvinist and Sally, in the 1980s, was taking care of his needs like some ’50s housewife. He told her that Norma Rae was a big nothing of a movie. Fortunately, she didn’t listen and turned in one of the best performances of her life and won every major acting award including her first Oscar, and eventually she ended things with Burt.
So, Sally Field’s life has never been what it appears until, maybe, now.
In her book, seven years in the writing, she examines the pieces that she says had the greatest impact on the woman she is today, in particular, the complex relationship with her “perfectly imperfect” mother, Margaret. That is the thread that holds her story together: the woman who often held her together.
Field’s “pieces” are raw, heartbreaking, sometimes maddening but each builds insight to who she is — and that’s the point. This work, as she thinks of it, is meant to reveal her, not to name-drop or tell unimportant tales about movies made long ago.
Through the act of writing, Field discovered a voice she was unable to find as she worked, raised a family, lived and loved these past 70-plus years. The voice is important to her now. This is not a woman who will keep quiet any longer. And that’s a good thing. She still has a lot to say.