The Washington Post
Happy Accidentsby Jane Lynch
In the summer of 1974, a fourteen-year-old girl in Dolton, Illinois, had a dream. A dream to become an actress, like her idols Ron Howard and Vicki Lawrence. But it was a long way from the South Side of Chicago to Hollywood, and it didn't help that she'd recently dropped out of the school play, The Ugly Duckling. Or that the Hollywood casting directors she/i>… See more details below
In the summer of 1974, a fourteen-year-old girl in Dolton, Illinois, had a dream. A dream to become an actress, like her idols Ron Howard and Vicki Lawrence. But it was a long way from the South Side of Chicago to Hollywood, and it didn't help that she'd recently dropped out of the school play, The Ugly Duckling. Or that the Hollywood casting directors she wrote to replied that "professional training was a requirement."
But the funny thing is, it all came true. Through a series of happy accidents, Jane Lynch created an improbable--and hilarious--path to success. In those early years, despite her dreams, she was also consumed with anxiety, feeling out of place in both her body and her family. To deal with her worries about her sexuality, she escaped in positive ways--such as joining a high school chorus not unlike the one in Glee--but also found destructive outlets. She started drinking almost every night her freshman year of high school and developed a mean and judgmental streak that turned her into a real-life Sue Sylvester.
Then, at thirty-one, she started to get her life together. She was finally able to embrace her sexuality, come out to her parents, and quit drinking for good. Soon after, a Frosted Flakes commercial and a chance meeting in a coffee shop led to a role in the Christopher Guest movie Best in Show, which helped her get cast in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Similar coincidences and chance meetings led to roles in movies starring Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, and even Meryl Streep in 2009's Julie&Julia. Then, of course, came the two lucky accidents that truly changed her life. Getting lost in a hotel led to an introduction to her future wife, Lara. Then, a series she'd signed up for abruptly got canceled, making it possible for her to take the role of Sue Sylvester in Glee, which made her a megastar.
Today, Jane Lynch has finally found the contentment she thought she'd never have. Part comic memoir and part inspirational narrative, this is a book equally for the rabid Glee fan and for anyone who needs a new perspective on life, love, and success.
WITH A FOREWORD BY CAROL BURNETT
The Washington Post
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Read an Excerpt
By Jane Lynch
HyperionCopyright © 2011 Canyon Lady Productions
All right reserved.
If I could go back in time and talk to my twenty-year-old self, the first thing I would say is: "Lose the perm." Secondly I would say: "Relax. Really. Just relax. Don't sweat it."
I can't remember a time when I wasn't anxious and fearful that the parade would pass me by. And I was sure there was someone or something outside of myself with all the answers. I had a driving, anxiety-filled ambition. I wanted to be a working actor so badly. I wanted to belong and feel like I was valued and seen. Well, now I am a working actor, and I guarantee you it's not because I suffered or worried over it.
As I look back, the road to where I am today has been a series of happy accidents I was either smart or stupid enough to take advantage of. I thought I had to have a plan, a strategy. Turns out I just had to be ready and willing to take chances, look at what's right in front of me, and put my heart into everything I do. All that anxiety and fear didn't help, nor did it fuel anything useful. Finally releasing that worry served to get me out of my own way. So my final piece of advice to twenty-year-old me: Be easy on your sweet self. And don't drink Miller Lite tall boys in the morning.
* * *
I DON'T KNOW WHY, BUT I WAS BORN WITH AN EXTRA helping of angst. I would love to be able to blame this on my parents, as I'm told this is good for book sales. But I can't.
I grew up in a family that was pure Americana. We lived in Dolton, Illinois, one of the newly founded villages south of Chicago created to house the burgeoning middle class. We were like the subject of a Norman Rockwell painting, except it was the 1960s and '70s, so he would have had to paint us with bellbottoms and a stocked liquor cabinet. I didn't settle into myself as a child, but the family I had around me was entertaining and embraced the life we had.
My dad, Frank, was a classic Irish-Catholic cutup. He was always singing a ditty, dancing a soft-shoe, or cracking wise while mixing a cocktail. He was almost bald by the time he was nineteen, and every day he'd smear Sea & Ski sun lotion on top of his naked head, then slap a little VO5 onto his hands and smooth the ring of hair around the sides with a flourish. "How do you like that?" he'd say to himself in the mirror, and sing under his breath, "I've got things to do, places to go, people to see." And after that daily Sea & Ski ritual, damn if he still didn't end up getting skin cancer on his pate. However, it would be lung cancer that took my dad from us in 2003, and I miss him every day.
I can remember my dad, when I was really young—so young, it's like Vaseline over the memory—dancing with me in the living room. "Do you come here often?" he'd ask, twirling me around and singing along with Sid Caesar: "Pardon me miss, but I've never done this ... with a real live girl ..."
My dad also did a bang-up Bing Crosby. I loved it when he sang, and we never had to wait very long for it. He'd sing while putting sugar in his coffee, while buffing his shoes, or for no reason at all. He'd make up songs about us, the more ridiculous the better: To the tune of "Val-deri, Val-dera," he'd sing "Jane-eree, Jane-erah." My nickname became simply Eree-Erah. He added –anikins or -erotomy to the end of anyone's name. My older sister was Julie-anikins, my younger brother, Bob-erotomy. One of his favorite joyous exclamations was "Pon-TIFF! Pon-TIFF!" from the word "pontifical," which was his way of saying "fabulous." And "My cup runneth over" was boiled down to "My cup! My cup!" Speaking of cup, coffee was coffiticus, my mom was L.T. (Long Thing, because she was tall), and the phone was the telephonic communicator. We would roll our eyes or feign embarrassment—but we all wanted to be the subject of Dad's silliness, to be a part of his joy.
Each day, when Dad came home from his job at the bank, the first thing he'd do was put his keys and spare change into the saddlebags of the little ceramic Chihuahua that sat on his dresser. Then he and my mom would indulge in their nightly cocktail ritual with their favorite drink, Ten High Whiskey. Dad had his with ginger ale and Mom had hers with water, and they'd toast with the words "First today, badly needed." Dad would say, "L.T., let's get some atmosphere!" and they'd dim the lights and start singing something from My Fair Lady, Dad harmonizing perfectly to my mom's melody.
Banks were closed on Wednesday, and my dad loved his day off. It started at Double D (Dunkin' Donuts) because he loved their coffiticus and the chocolate cake donut. Wearing his blue elasticized "putter pants," he would check off items on his to-do list. He was forever singing something goofy under his breath; "liver, bacon, onions ..." was a favorite. He wanted us to be as enthusiastic as he was about his accomplishments. If Wednesday's lawn work went unnoticed for its superior greenness, he'd plead, "Rave a little! Rave a little!"
My mom, Eileen Lynch (nee Carney), was, and still is, gorgeous. Tall and blond, with navy blue eyes and beautiful long legs, she never failed to turn heads. She always had a nice tan in the summer. And she's a clotheshorse who never pays full price ... ever ... unlike her middle kid. To this day (and she is now in her eighty-second year) she puts on an outfit every morning. She's classy down to her socks. She would kill me if she saw the comfort shoes I sneak under those long award-show gowns, especially because we have been known to watch hours and hours of What Not to Wear together. I share her love of fashion—I just don't have her eye, or the figure to look fabulous in anything off-the-rack like she does.
Mom is half-Swedish and half-Irish, but the Swedish tends to win out. She can get sentimental, but for the most part, she's strong and independent and doesn't suffer fools, show-offs, or braggarts, and of course I'm nothing if not a foolish bragging show-off. Somehow, she manages to love me anyway.
But when Mom opens her mouth, she's hilarious, though mostly she doesn't mean to be. She's a bit spacey, and her synapses don't fire as fast as the rest of ours. She has always been unperturbed by her oblivion—and barely fazed when she finally gets the joke.
Her eyeglasses were always full of fingerprints, smudges, and pancake batter. I'd take them off her head, wash them with dish detergent, then put them back on. "Wow!" she'd exclaim, seeing what she had been missing.
She is absolutely frank with her opinions and literal in her interpretations. In our family she was the perfect "straight man" to the hijinks.
Our house ran like clockwork. All five of us sat down to dinner at the same time every day, after which Mom would have another cocktail, and maybe another. Dad would watch the news, and at 10 p.m. he'd eat a Hershey bar with almonds and settle in for Johnny Carson's monologue. After that, it was time for bed.
My parents truly loved each other, and almost always got along. If you ask Mom now about their life together, the only negative comment she'd come up with is "Sometimes he'd bug me." She had to have at least one criticism; she's Swedish. Dad, on the other hand, had no criticism of my mother. And for a man in the sixties, my dad really got women—he understood and loved them. Once, when he had to go buy my mom Kotex at the store, the guy at the counter, embarrassed, slipped them into a paper bag. He started to carry them outside, so my dad could take the bag where no one would see, but my dad just laughed. "It's all right," he said. "I don't need to sneak out the back door."
He also liked women's company more than men's. For a number of years when I was a kid, we went on vacation to summer cottages in Paw Paw, Michigan. The guys would all go play golf while the women sat on the beach. My dad would stay with the women, sitting under an umbrella in his swim trunks, with Sea & Ski slathered all over his pasty white body, chatting the afternoon away.
* * *
THOUGH WE WERE ONLY TWO YEARS APART, JULIE AND I were totally different. From the moment I was born, she was looking to create her own family because she now wanted out of ours. She loved dolls, little kids, and telling people what to do. She was thin and pretty, with long blond hair—the Marcia Brady to my Jan.
But Julie had a great sense of humor—we all did, thanks to our parents, who taught us by example that being the butt of the joke is a badge of honor. Julie was the space cadet, so we Lynches would mock her in a high-pitched dumb-blonde voice that made her giggle. We were not a thin-skinned people. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Happy Accidents by Jane Lynch Copyright © 2011 by Canyon Lady Productions. Excerpted by permission of Hyperion. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Jane Lynch grew up on the south side of Chicago and currently lives in Los Angeles. She married Dr. Lara Embry in 2010, and was lucky enough to get two daughters in the deal.
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