I Said Yes to Everything: A Memoir

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Born Lyova Haskell Rosenthal in New York City, actress Lee Grant spent her youth accumulating more experiences than most people have in a lifetime: from student at the famed Neighborhood Playhouse to member of the leg­endary Actors Studio; from celebrated Broadway star to Vogue “It Girl.” At age twenty-four, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Detective Story, and a year later found herself married and a mother for the first time, her ...

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I Said Yes to Everything: A Memoir

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Born Lyova Haskell Rosenthal in New York City, actress Lee Grant spent her youth accumulating more experiences than most people have in a lifetime: from student at the famed Neighborhood Playhouse to member of the leg­endary Actors Studio; from celebrated Broadway star to Vogue “It Girl.” At age twenty-four, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Detective Story, and a year later found herself married and a mother for the first time, her career on the rise.

And then she lost it all.

Her name landed on the Hollywood black­list, her offers for film and television roles ground to a halt, and her marriage fell apart.

Finding reserves of strength she didn’t know she had, Grant took action against anti-Communist witch hunts in the arts. She threw herself into work, accepting every theater or teaching job that came her way. She met a man ten years her junior and began a wild, liberat­ing fling that she never expected would last a lifetime. And after twelve years of fighting the blacklist, she was finally exonerated. With cour­age and style, Grant rebuilt her life on her own terms: first stop, a starring role on Peyton Place, and then leads in Valley of the Dolls, In the Heat of the Night, and Shampoo, for which she won her first Oscar.

Set amid the New York theater scene of the fifties and the star-studded parties of Malibu in the seventies, I Said Yes to Everything evokes a world of political passion and movie-star glamour. Grant tells endlessly delightful tales of costars and friends such as Warren Beatty, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, and Sidney Poitier, and writes with the verve and candor befitting such a seductive and beloved star.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

In 1953, Academy Award-nominated actress Lee Grant was on the threshold of a great career when she was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities to testify against her husband, director Arnold Manoff. When she refused to answer their questions, she, like her husband, was blacklisted. After twelve years "quarantine", she returned both as an Oscar-winning actress and as a director. In fact, she was the only Hollywood actress of her era to become a successful director. In this unconventional Tinsel Town memoir, she writes forthrightly about her triumphs, her experience, and her losses.

Publishers Weekly
In this wonderful memoir, actor Grant charts her life from a childhood in New York City through her performance in Shampoo and beyond. In short vignettes (some chapters are only two pages long), Grant tells a story filled with innumerable twists and turns—from her wayward adolescence as Lyova Haskell Rosenthal to her early successes in the theaters of 1950s New York; her 12-year battle on Hollywood’s blacklist; to the reclamation of her career in the 1970s, while living in Malibu. Whether recalling the traumas of her first marriage to screenwriter Arnold Manoff or sharing entertaining memories of her famous friends—Marlon Brando, Mia Farrow, and Warren Beatty among them—Grant does so with a with a lively, approachable tone. Though famous for her achievements as a multi-award winning actor, director, and documentarian, Grant reveals herself to be woman unafraid of continual self-reinvention. These pages tell a gripping story full of drama, humor, and hardship, offering an intimate look into the singular life of one indefatigable protagonist. (July)
From the Publisher
“The elegant theater and screen actress bares all of her insecurities and regrets…But there’s also an intimacy and directness in how she shares—including numerous dishy, behind-the-glam anecdotes….Grant has lived a long, full life. While she may prefer to be coy about precisely how long it’s lasted so far, I Said Yes to Everything serves as evidence that it’s been long enough to give her a meaty, multifaceted and compelling story to tell.”—Jen Chaney, The Washington Post

“[N]o-holds-barred…Grant doesn’t make us read between the lines here; it’s all right there, on the page. When she was jubilant after winning an Oscar for her supporting role in Shampoo, we know it; when she was disgusted, as when a television network canceled her series without telling her, we know it, too; and, of course, when she was dismayed and bewildered and depressed when she couldn’t find work during her 12-year blacklisting, we know it for sure….An excellent show-business autobiography.
Booklist, STARRED review

“In this wonderful memoir, actor Grant charts her life from a childhood in New York City through her performance in Shampoo and beyond…Whether recalling the traumas of her first marriage to screenwriter Arnold Manoff or sharing entertaining memories of her famous friends, Grant does so with a with a lively, approachable tone. Though famous for her achievements as a multi-award winning actor, director, and documentarian, Grant reveals herself to be woman unafraid of continual self-reinvention. These pages tell a gripping story full of drama, humor, and hardship, offering an intimate look into the singular life of one indefatigable protagonist.”—Publishers Weekly

“[T]he resilience of [Lee Grant’s] career outlasted the 12-year period when she was blacklisted by HUAC for her political affiliations…she became one of the most respected actresses of her generation….Rife with appearances from some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including an unsuccessful date with Marlon Brando, Grant’s career proves that the elusive and oft-sought-after second chance can not only be had, it can be triumphantly redeeming. An insightful, sharp Hollywood memoir that will appeal to fans and newcomers alike.”

“Lee Grant's blacklist memoir is deliciously indiscreet. She has written the definitive tell-all about life on the blacklist and no one who cares at all about those dark days can afford not to read it.”
—Victor S. Navasky, author of National Book Award-winning Naming Names

“Lee Grant came to know herself as a child, as an actress, as a woman and as a thinker. I have come to know her intimately in reading her book, and am so grateful for the experience.”
—Vanessa Redgrave

“Having had the privilege to work with Lee Grant on the motion picture screen was truly a delight. Now, out of nowhere, she has written a most wonderful book about her family and herself.  It’s warm, it’s touching and it’s a book that speaks of the human experience—the wonders of it, the magic of it, the difficulties of it, the history of a life’s unfolding, beautifully and brilliantly with purpose and with guts.”
—Sidney Poitier
“Read this book—every juicy page! Lee has lived her life and practiced her craft with reckless abandon, bravery, honesty and ultimately brutal clarity. You will want to be her friend, lover, child or student, and you will finish the final pages her ardent admirer. A ferocious and fragile woman who unapologetically states: For better or for worse, I'm right here!”
—Frank Langella
"If there is any adventure, from love to politics, that you feel you've missed in life, Lee Grant has had it for you—and describes it here with wit, honesty and all five senses. No one, but no one, has better explained, say, the difference between the theater and Hollywood, between love and romance, or between families born and chosen.  Go ahead, live a little. Say yes to Lee Grant."
—Gloria Steinem
“Lee Grant’s I Said Yes to Everything is heart-stopping. More than just a show business memoir or chronicle of the Hollywood blacklist era, it is a terrifying account of a gifted artist’s tumultuous journey—both personal and professional.  You will feel every jolt of terror that Grant endured, wondering if you would have been as brave. Her triumph becomes our own. Readers of this gripping book will surely reach the final page shouting a victorious ‘Yes!’ to everything that is Lee Grant.”
—Marlo Thomas
“Lee Grant—I have worked with her—is a great actress.  Lee Grant is also my friend—a great conversationalist.  I never knew about her writing talent.  She has written a wonderful book.  It made me laugh, it made me cry.  Read it!”—Kirk Douglas
“Lee knows how to tell a good story with passion, honesty and a good sense of humor.”—Michael Douglas

“It's so easy to say ‘Yes’! I loved Lee Grant's memoir—everything about it! She is direct, honest, witty and compelling!”
—Dyan Cannon

“The minute I looked at the new memoir [by] actress Lee Grant, I knew I wouldn't be able to resist I Said Yes To Everything….I'm afraid I pretty much abandoned everything else until I read it. Lee Grant is one of America’s greatest actors, most heroic survivors, a contradictory enigma one minute, a sympathetic victim the next….who keeps turning it all around into triumph.”
—Liz Smith

"Lee Grant's I Said Yes to Everything is a fantastic read. Beautifully written and brutally honest, she takes us through the highs and lows of her brilliant career and incredibly interesting personal life. I loved every page of it.”
—Joy Behar


Kirkus Reviews
Academy Award–winning actress Grant recounts the ups and downs of her professional and personal lives.Grant (born Lyova Haskell Rosenthal) was practically raised on the stage. Beginning at the Metropolitan Opera House, 4-year-old Grant was chosen to play a kidnapped child inL’Oracolo, but she broke scene during the opera’s climax as the star tenor was killed onstage. Grant’s precocious and heartwarmingly earnest attempt to warn the actor that he was about to be stabbed in the back won the affection of the audience. The author’s misstep, however, proved that she had a natural stage presence and that she was fearless and headlong, even if, as in this instance, it was foolhardy. After an unsuccessful attempt at a singing career, Grant truly found her footing at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where she learned method acting from Herbert Berghof, a student of Sanford Meisner. She even did a stint at the famed Actors Studio. Though Grant may not be a household name today, the resilience of her career outlasted the 12-year period when she was blacklisted by HUAC for her political affiliations (her first husband, playwright Arnold Manoff, was a registered communist), and she became one of the most respected actresses of her generation. Among her most well-known roles were inValley of the Dolls,In the Heat of the Night,Portnoy’s ComplaintandShampoo, which earned her an Oscar for best supporting actress, though she’d previously been nominated for her motion picture debut,Detective Story, in 1951. Rife with appearances from some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including an unsuccessful date with Marlon Brando, Grant’s career proves that the elusive and oft-sought-after second chance can not only be had, it can be triumphantly redeeming.An insightful, sharp Hollywood memoir that will appeal to fans and newcomers alike.
Library Journal
Just as Academy Award-nominated actress Grant (b. 1926) was working her way up into the leagues of the Hollywood elite, she fell victim to a political witch hunt. The television and film roles may have stopped coming but Grant was nowhere near throwing in the towel on her artistic dreams. Working her way up from the bottom, she won roles on stage, then landed back on screen, defying the odds with style and class. Her memoir gives film fans and others a no-holds-barred glimpse into the life of one of Hollywood's most talented and passionate actor-directors. Unapologetic and unafraid, the author reveals all the juicy details of a woman who lived in the spotlight—and on the Hollywood blacklist. VERDICT Perfect for those who enjoyed Katharine Hepburn's memoir, Me (1991) and more recently, Judy Greer's I Don't Know What You Know Me From (2014), the book is fun, emotional, exciting, and full of all the glitz and wit you'd expect from Grant. [See Prepub Alert, 2/15/14.]—Melissa Culbertson, Homewood, IL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399169304
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/8/2014
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 122,444
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Lee Grant

Lee Grant is an Emmy– and Academy Award–winning actress and director. In 1989, Women in Film honored Grant with their first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award. Grant founded the production company Feury/Grant with her husband and is an adjunct professor at Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2014 Lee Grant


Once, when I was little, I dreamed that I could fly. I dreamed that when I breathed in, I flew upward, weightless, above the heads of all the children in the granite playground. When I breathed in I went up, up, up; when I breathed out I could swoop down and touch the tops of their heads. I swirled gracefully in the air, in my brown winter coat with the velvet collar from De Pinna’s. I woke up so excited that I threw off my blanket and ran from my bed to the window in my bedroom. I threw the window open and climbed onto the radiator cover. The birds were flying outside. I would join them. I spread my arms, and from the seventh floor I saw the sparrows swooping toward the concrete below. Suddenly I saw myself smashing beside them. It shocked me, and I was afraid of myself and how easily I could fool myself into disaster.

I climbed down from the radiator. My mother opened the door. “Who opened the window?” she said. “It’s cold in here.”

I’ve experienced that sense of exaltation and intensity in my life many times: in adolescence, when the boys made my heart pound; in acting, when I jumped without a net, and flew, and turned, and believed for those few hours that I inhabited another’s life, and experienced new joy and pain. I’ve felt safe in flight, in love, in sex, and with those who flew with me.

I’ve also jumped and died, not once, but many times, unwisely and impetuously. I flew into fame as a very young Broadway actress, then jumped (through my first husband) into the Communist Party, only to find myself blacklisted for twelve years. I’ve reinvented myself many times over, picked up my broken wings and flapped till I could hop around again.

I’m flying again now, in my bedroom, writing, looking out my window. I had no idea, until I began putting pen to paper, that so many memories were inside me waiting to be rediscovered. I’m very lucky. I may even come to know myself.

My Family

My mother’s job was to mold me into her American Dream.

Didn’t young Witia from Odessa expose the child in her belly to every art museum in New York City, every day that she could carry me on her long legs? The magic of transformation was real in her young life. The Jewish child hunted in her cellar by goyim on horseback was transplanted to a new land where anything was possible, if you made it happen. And she wanted to make it happen for her daughter.

Witia was determined to plunge her hands into my baby fat and model me into a superior, beautiful being, who would either marry rich or rise above all others in the arts: ballet, theater.

There was no question about it.

My father was born in the Bronx, the youngest son of Polish Orthodox Jewish immigrants. His brother and sisters were ambitious. His brother, Aaron, and sister, Anne, were show business lawyers.

My father, Abraham, was the good son, the good man. He graduated from Columbia, where he had studied economics with John Dewey and was on the wrestling team. He kept a neat, tight, muscular body all his life. He bent his head over the radio every Saturday afternoon to listen to the Metropolitan Opera. He loved coloraturas. My father was the director of the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Hebrew Association of the Bronx. It was a position of great responsibility, great dignity. He was the moral compass of the family.

My grandfather went to shul every day. His tiny wife, Ida, kept an Orthodox home. They lived in a clean, old apartment on College Avenue in the Bronx. Their children must have supported them, because my grandfather never left the shul for his hardware store. But they and America raised smart, goal-oriented children.

The story goes that my mother went to the Bronx Y to get a job giving classes in dance. She had just graduated from college, where she majored in movement in the Isadora Duncan tradition. I have pictures of her from school. She was beautiful—five feet seven, straight back, long shining dark hair, hazel eyes. When she smiled, her top and bottom teeth glistened like a Spanish dancer’s.

She sat in the chair in my father’s office, reciting her qualifications for the job. She was rocking in the chair, nonchalant, when she did one rock too many. The chair tipped over and she landed on the floor. My father came from behind his desk, laughing, and helped up my flustered, embarrassed mother. And that. Was that.

My mother’s name was Witia Haskell, Americanized from Vitya Haskelovich. Her mother, Dora, had five children—three boys, Joseph, Raymond, and Jack, and two girls, Witia and Fremo. I never knew my grandfather Leon, for whom I was named. He was a clothing designer and a committed Zionist who left for Palestine with several other Zionist men before I was born. He must have done well, because he bought the brownstone on 148th and Riverside Drive before he returned to Palestine to establish a Jewish state.

They all died of malaria while fighting for their cause. There is a plaque in Rishon LeZion with his name on it. In Russian Leon is Lyov, as in Lyov Tolstoy, Leo Tolstoy. My name is Lyova. There is no such name in Russian. Try being a Lyova in a world of Bettys and Judys and Emilys and Janes.

Position your tongue for an L, then say yaw, then vah. In high school I changed the V to an R and Lyora, pronounced Leora, was born. Hence Lee.

From the time I can remember remembering, I was my mother’s beloved thing, little girl, petted, brushed, combed, bathed, fed, beautiful, lived through. Her life. Her lovely sweet breath. The light in her hazel eyes.

I woke up this morning dreaming about my childhood on 148th Street. I’d learned early on from my mother that some of the women in my father’s family had made my mother’s life so miserable, had criticized her and picked on her so much, that she didn’t know where to turn. And her husband, my father, refused to take sides or defend her. The mean women in my father’s family, the Rosenthals of Poland, thrived on attack, thrived on gossip. My mother didn’t have a chance. There was no mean bitch in her Russian genes. She took me to my grandmother’s brownstone on 148th Street to live. I must have been three or even younger when she and my father separated.

We lived at 620 West 148th Street between Riverside Drive and Broadway until I was six. My mother and I slept on the bird’s-eye maple beds in the big bedroom on the second floor, with an ornate white potty underneath. There was no bathroom on the second floor. On the ground floor was the Haskell Nursery School that my mother and her younger sister, Fremo, ran.

In summer the Haskell Nursery School was a busy, humming place. All the attention wasn’t on me. Fifteen or so little children from the neighborhood arrived every morning. One morning, as I opened the door, one of them asked me, “Does everyone call you Lovey because they love you so much?” A lurch went through me. Is this what love is? A new word, a new concept.

In warm weather there were games in my grandmother’s house with children, painting with Fremo, and being wild and free in the backyard. In winter the children didn’t come and I was pushed alone into an empty, cold yard in my ugly orange and brown snowsuit, the first snowsuit on the block, my mother told me. I was bored much of the time. Bored and lonely. I had two ratty baby dolls with cloth bodies that I felt really close to. Their eyes, blue of course, opened and closed.

I fell inside myself as an only child. Other children were the holy grail—I longed for little girls to play with. My Aunt Fremo was a girl- friend. She was a grown child, delightful, peculiar.

Mostly I was coddled, and bored, and observant. I was participant and audience. I was steered into dance, given books, which I read and read. I listened. To Mother and Fremo. I was sleeping awake, doing what I was told.

In winter I climbed up to the window and pressed my forehead to the cold pane. I could see our cement yard with its one big tree in the middle.

Our house was full. Uncles Joe, who became a lawyer in Great Neck, and Raymond, who worked for the post office, and Jack lived there, Fremo, Grandma, Mother, and me. I was four. My uncles, especially Joe, teased me and played jokes on me. After my bath, when I was naked. They teased me about my behind when I clutched the towel in front of me. When I covered my behind they teased me about my front. They laughed deep men’s laughs, especially Uncle Joe.

My childhood was a waiting period, cocoon-like and plump. I don’t remember any strong feelings. I was a not-unwilling lump, but watching carefully.

I was not allowed to play on the streets with the exciting and exotically normal children. Right next door was the mysterious huge white apartment building 706 Riverside Drive, which contained all the children I longed for. It also contained Mrs. McCarthy and her handsome twenty-year-old son, John.

My mother allowed me to visit Mrs. McCarthy in her apartment by myself. I would sit on the footstool, looking up at her. She sat in the armchair opposite me. There, with the shades half-drawn, she would pour out her fears and concerns for her son. John was a drinker. Her pale face was crumpled in sadness and worry. Her sad, limp fingers played with a hankie, and she poured her heart out to me. I loved it. I loved Mrs. McCarthy. I loved her for raising me out of the oatmeal plainness of my days. Her stories were moving and thrilling. John was the center, the hero, the villain, the love of her life, lost to her now. Once, the front door opened. “That’s him,” she said, tightening her hand on my arm. It was midafternoon. A tall, dark-haired young man entered, a little off balance. I remember his head coming down to mine, the gray eyes crinkling, the white smile and pink cheeks. He must have said “Hello there” and gone off to his room. Mrs. McCarthy’s hand was tight on mine. I understood everything.

Her John reminded me of my Uncle Jack, who lived on the top floor. Jack was younger than John, but also handsome and funny, and he teased me and made me laugh as if I were tickled. I wasn’t allowed to enter Uncle Jack’s room because he had TB, but I would climb to the top of the stairs and run down again. It was our game—he sitting in bed on his white sheets cross-legged, me running up to his open door and down the staircase. Jack died when he was twenty-one. I’m crying as I write this, thinking of his lonely spirit trapped on the fourth floor. Mother said he was in the sky with the stars. She took me to the window and pointed at the purple sunset. It made no sense to me.

Mrs. McCarthy gave me a book. It had caricatures and illustrations of human foibles acted out by wonderful, outrageous cats. Men cats in camel hair coats, lady cats dripping with pearls in compromising positions. I got it. The cat book disappeared one day. My mother must have opened the pages. I wasn’t allowed to visit Mrs. McCarthy anymore.

I missed Mrs. McCarthy. She trusted me. She didn’t treat me like a five-year-old but saw the person I could be. I worried about her for a long time. Maybe it was she who opened me to the fear and pain of others. Maybe it was my uncle.

My heart aches for us all. The lonely only child; the beautiful immigrant mother responsible in her heart for everyone in our house. Her dreams for me, and her protectiveness, would result in an explosion of rebellion from her only child that almost destroyed her.

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Table of Contents


Overture, 1,
My Family, 3,
The Met, 9,
Paris, 15,
Life Lessons, 21,
Boys, 40,
The First High School I Was Asked To Leave, 43,
An Unsentimental Education, 51,
On the Road, 62,
Detective Story, 71,
Arms and the Man, 79,
Grandmother Dora, 81,
Bromberg's Memorial, 83,
My Parents Demand to Meet Arnie, 88,
444 Central Park West, 103,
The Committee, 108,
Dinah. My Dinah., 114,
Two for the Seesaw, 118,
Burt Lancaster, 123,
Arnie's Heart Attack, 126,
Marty Gang, 128,
AFTRA, 133,
Paris and Comeuppance, 143,
The Summer House, 151,
A New Life, 163,
Two for the Seesaw–Boston, 169,
The Balcony, 173,
Max Kampelman, 180,
Lenny Bruce, 183,
Intro to Joey, 188,
Max Calls, 193,
The Fugitive, 195,
Arnie's Death, 200,
The Public Theater and Peyton Place, 202,
The Jump, 214,
Monaco, 217,
Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell, 220,
The Pool House, 227,
Say YES to Everything, 232,
In the Heat of the Night, 236,
The Red House, 240,
Valley of the Dolls, 243,
The Landlord, 247,
Dinah, 250,
The Neon Ceiling, 255,
Portnoy's Complaint, 259,
George Schlatter, 263,
Plaze Suite and The Prisoner of Second Avenue, 267,
Adoption, 279,
Shampoo, 288,
Fay, 296,
The Stronger, 298,
Voyage of the Damned, 301,
Airport '77, 311,
The Green House, 314,
The Willmar 8, 321,
Tell Me a Riddle, 324,
Witia, 331,
"The Girl", 335,
Ohio Shuffle, 339,
Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen, 341,
A Matter of Sex, 352,
Directing Theater for Joe Papp, 356,
When Women Kill, 358,
What Sex am I?, 362,
Down and Out in America, 369,
Directors Accept Me, 373,
Battered, 375,
The Trio, 378,
Staying Together, 380,
No Place Like Home, 383,
Defending Your Life, 385,
Women on Trial, 388,
Three Hearts, 392,
Falling Apart at It's My Party, 397,
Broadway Brawler, 401,
Lifetime, 411,
Ryan and Farrah, 417,
Burt Bacharach to Elizabeth Taylor, 420,
A Father ... A Son ... Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 428,
Baghdad ER, 431,
Children of the Blacklist, 433,
Queen of Denial, 442,
Russian Easter Egg, 446,
INDEX, 453,

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2014

    A Good Read

    I like autobiographies, and had been looking for a good one. This book is funny and entertaining, but also insightful.

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    Posted November 10, 2014

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    Posted September 6, 2014

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