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Laura Dern, Mom Diane Ladd ‘Walk and Talk’ About Life, Death, Love (and Recipes) in Their New Book

‘Honey, Baby, Mine’ attempts to leave nothing left unsaid between the two actresses

spinner image left book cover honey baby mine by laura dern and diane ladd right laura dern and diane ladd
Grand Central Publishing / Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

​You’ve heard of the talking cure? Now there’s the walking-and-talking cure. 

​Hollywood mother-and-daughter duo Laura Dern and Diane Ladd are sharing in their new book the therapeutic benefits of rambling and gabbing in an effort to prolong Ladd’s life. 

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​It worked, though not in the way either anticipated. But it allowed Dern, 56, and Ladd, 87, to say things to each other they had never said, to confront their pasts and face their futures, to call up heartbreak and hilarity, apologize for old conflicts and acknowledge their mutual love and dependence. 

​The result is Honey, Baby, Mine: A Mother and Daughter Talk Life, Death, Love (and Banana Pudding), publishing on April 25 with a forward by Reese Witherspoon, close friend to both women.

​Ladd and Dern have been working actresses for a few decades each: Ladd since the 1950s, Dern since the 1980s. Between them they have appeared in hundreds of movies, TV series and Broadway productions, gathering armfuls of awards and nominations. 

​This is a celebrity book, but it’s less about gossip and more about healing in all senses of the word. And there’s a happy ending, plus family photos, songs and poetry, movie posters and tales from sets, and favorite recipes along the way. 

​Here’s some of what we learn: 

Why have Ladd and Dern written this book? 

​The impetus for this is a scary diagnosis Ladd gets from her doctor after she begins having trouble breathing. Dern, her only child (her father is Ladd’s first husband, actor Bruce Dern; they were divorced when Dern was 2), is there when the doctor says her lungs are so compromised she might have just six months to live. Both are stunned. 

​At the doctor’s suggestion, Dern decides to help her mother expand her lung capacity through walking, even though Ladd resists because she finds the effort excruciating at first. How to distract her? Keep her talking, which came naturally to the Mississippi born-and-bred storyteller. Dern taped the conversations, writing that she turned herself into a “Santa Monica version of The Arabian Nights.” 

​“It became my job to keep her talking (and therefore walking) as long as possible,” Dern writes. “The only way I can cope with my fear of her dying is by making sure that we talk about everything and that we leave nothing unsaid.” 

What’s the meaning of the title? 

​“Honey, Baby, Mine” comes from a line in an old folk song, “The Crawdad Song,” which Woodie Guthrie recorded in the 1940s. Ladd’s Mississippi family loved it and sang it often. Later, Ladd would sing Dern to sleep with the song, and it’s now a term of affection in their family. 

What happened to Ladd’s lungs? 

​She and her doctor believe it’s due to the spraying of pesticides near her home, and she is furious about it enough to become an environmental activist. 

​“They were spraying in my neighborhood with pesticides – like we were cockroaches!” Ladd writes. “For three years! Without telling me! ... It was only after my dog, Ginger, was poisoned by the air and died in my arms that I began to realize what was happening. I was left with lungs so severely damaged that I can barely breathe.” 

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​Ladd resists, but slowly she can walk more as the two chatter and chide each other, discussing acting, art and their careers, their divorces and children, the tribulations of Hollywood and the persistence of sexism in an industry they both love. ​ ​By the end of the book, Ladd has gained enough strength to work again. “Our talking and your love have prolonged my life,” she tells Dern. Even better, there’s a temporary ban on the pesticide she blames for her affliction. 

Ladd’s cousin Tennessee Williams tells her he narrowly avoided being lobotomized. 

​The great American playwright was a distant relation to Ladd, though she had not met Tom (real name Thomas Lanier Williams III) until she was 17 and appearing in his Orpheus Descending in New York. Ladd writes that Williams once told her that when his Mississippi family realized he was gay, they sought to institutionalize him for a lobotomy (like his much-loved schizophrenic sister Rose, inspiration for fragile female characters such as Laura in The Glass Menagerie). But he was saved by a young intern who helped him escape. 

​“Thank God. Or we wouldn’t have some of the best plays in American history,” Ladd tells Dern. 

What did Ladd and Dern fight about in the past? 

​Dern’s fight with Ladd over her son Ellery’s haircut was huge. He was 5, Dern was away and her mother arranged for the child’s hair to be cut because, Dern says indignantly, Ladd thought it was too long and “girly.” Dern insists she was trying to raise kids without harmful gender stereotypes. 

​“That day I left your house in a huff, went and parked the car, and sobbed my guts out. That was wrong of you,” Ladd tells her. “I feel completely right about that, actually,” Dern snaps back. 

​But the conversation 14 years later is not a failure, both add. “When you have old conflicts that go undiscussed, it’s like riding an elevator that’s rattling and that makes you feel unsafe,” Ladd writes. “It feels like there’s nothing we can’t talk about if we can talk about our old fights,” Dern tells her mother the next day. 

What Ladd thought about Dern becoming an actress: 

​ ​Again, memories differ. Dern says her mother loved the idea. Ladd is sure she did not. “The rejection! The unsteadiness of it! Never knowing when your next job will come – if there will even be another one. But I had to let you because of your talent. And because you outsmarted me. You met a film agent at a party and said, ‘My mom and daddy won’t help me and I want to act!’” 

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Hollywood has long been plagued by male sexual misconduct: 

​The two talk about their memories of jerks, creeps and casting couch abuse in the industry, especially during Ladd’s early years. “I can tell you that Hollywood has some bad people. I guess everywhere does,” Ladd tells Dern. 

​At 13, Dern remembers she did auditions for 50-year-old directors alone in rooms at the Chateau Marmont hotel. Luckily, she doesn’t have stories of traumatic situations, she says, because there was always someone around to “rescue me” if she felt uncomfortable. 

What was the dumb decision UCLA made about Dern?: 

​When she was 17, she got into UCLA to study psychology and journalism. Two days after the start of her first semester, Dern was offered a part in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. She begged UCLA to let her take off eight weeks to do the movie, or to take a gap year. No way, she says she was told. 

​“After I left, I wasn’t allowed to come back at all,” Dern recalls. “And you want to know the greatest irony? I’ve heard that if you want a master’s degree in film from UCLA, one of the key movies you study and many have written a thesis on is Blue Velvet.” 

What do Dern and Ladd cry about together? 

​Not until the end of the book, when Ladd is feeling stronger, do mother and daughter talk about the tragedy that still hangs over them: The death of Ladd’s first child, Diane Elizabeth, who died when she was 18 months old, before Laura was born. To Ladd’s surprise and uneasiness, Dern has steered their walk to the house in Santa Monica where she and Bruce Dern moved after their daughter died, and where Laura was born and where the pair subsequently divorced. 

​ ​The pain of losing a child is “indescribable,” Ladd tells Dern, and it never leaves. “We were torn asunder,” Ladd says. Dern knows this: “Almost from birth I could feel that something devastating and heartbreaking had happened,” Dern tells her. 

​As they stand in front of the house, Dern urges Ladd to think of it not as the house where she was divorced but the house where she became a mother again and where she rebuilt her life. After this painful discussion, Ladd returned home and fell into a deep sleep, waking up feeling five years younger – thanks to her daughter. 

​“With nothing more than her love and her wisdom, I could see, finally, that yes, after surviving the unimaginable, I did OK,” Ladd concludes. 

​Dern writes that these walks and talks were as much for her as her mother. “If this was our Arabian Nights, we’re both Scheherazade. The hero’s journey is never the journey we expect. ... It’s the journey of being vulnerable enough to see oneself.” ​​

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