I'm Walking as Straight as I Can: Transcending Disability in Hollywood and Beyond

I'm Walking as Straight as I Can: Transcending Disability in Hollywood and Beyond

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by Geri Jewell
     
 

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Born with cerebral palsy, Geri Jewell inspired a generation of young people when she became the first person with a disability to appear in a recurring role on prime-time television, with her groundbreaking character, Cousin Geri, on the NBC sitcom The Facts of Life. The book’s title — I’m Walking As Straight As I Can — has a double meaning,

Overview

Born with cerebral palsy, Geri Jewell inspired a generation of young people when she became the first person with a disability to appear in a recurring role on prime-time television, with her groundbreaking character, Cousin Geri, on the NBC sitcom The Facts of Life. The book’s title — I’m Walking As Straight As I Can — has a double meaning, referring to both Jewell’s sexuality and her extraordinary struggle growing up with cerebral palsy. This candid memoir details her experiences from her traumatic birth in Buffalo, New York, to her rise to stardom as a stand-up comic to becoming a television star. She documents the harsh realities of show business by recounting the relentless discrimination and abuse she suffered at the hands of people she trusted. Her experiences in the shark-infested waters of Hollywood led her on a journey from the Comedy Store to the White House, followed by a downward spiral, tax problems, drug addiction, marriage, and an accident that nearly claimed her life. When Deadwood creator David Milch recognized Jewell at a pharmacy, he offered her a role in his new HBO series on the spot, and she began to find hope and happiness once again. I’m Walking As Straight As I Can is an inspiring story, told with grace and self-deprecating humor, one that gives readers a rare glimpse of true courage and perseverance.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Geri is an amazingly courageous, talented actor. Her view of life is inspirational."  —Lily Tomlin, actress and comedian

"Geri is not only is a fabulous comedienne, actress, and motivational speaker, but advocating for people with disabilities has made a difference in the lives of millions. Lord knows she's had an impact on my life! Granted if she could just sit still, I could read her lips once in awhile!"  —Kathy Buckley, actress and comedian

"I have known, admired, and adored Geri Jewell since the beginning of her comedy career. She is not only brilliant and funny, she has overcome an impossible obstacle in Hollywood; she's brunette."  —Elayne Boosler, comedian, writer, and founder, Tails of Joy

"A natural at whatever she does. It was a joy to work with her. It's a joy to read this book."  —Ian McShane, actor who played Al Swearengen in Deadwood

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781550228830
Publisher:
ECW Press
Publication date:
04/01/2011
Pages:
275
Sales rank:
621,269
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt


The story of my birth has been told by family members over and over again, and, to be honest, I have become bored with the retelling of it. Not that it was a boring event in itself, only that I have told it so many times that I sound like a broken record. (For those of you who are too young to know what a broken record sounds like, consider that a small blessing.)

My mother was rushed to the Sisters Hospital in Buffalo, where doctors frantically tried to save her life. She was hemorrhaging, and my parents were sadly informed that Mom had lost her baby. Mom was screaming that they were wrong — she knew that I was alive even though the doctors didn’t. They explained to her that there was no indication of a heartbeat, and that they would have to do a Caesarean section. “We must remove the baby in order to save your own life at this point.”

Mom had lost a lot of blood and suffered great trauma. They explained to my dad that it could be a very long night, as they had to stabilize my mom before they could perform surgery to remove me. My dad’s sister, my Aunt Gerry, was in the waiting room with him, and she reassured him that it wasn’t over yet — she told him not to give up. The following morning, after a tremendous effort in stabilizing Mom, the doctors were finally ready to perform surgery. However, the only thing that ended up being aborted was the surgery itself. In the process of prepping for surgery, a tiny miracle was born! On the morning of September 13 at 8:34 a.m., I came into the world with a faint heartbeat, weighing just less than three pounds.

Mom was crying, saying through her tears, “I told you she was alive!” Doctors immediately informed Dad that his wife was going to make it, and that he was the father of a baby girl. He hugged Aunt Gerry, realizing that she had been right. I was placed in an incubator, going from a womb without a view to a room with nothing but windows! My parents couldn’t think of a name for me, so for the time being, I was only known as “Precious Jewell.” In 1956 babies that tiny rarely lived, so the moniker was fitting and soon caught on with everyone. “Precious Jewell in the Glass Case” made the morning paper, announcing that at that time, I was the tiniest baby who survived at that hospital. That was my very first press release.

When most babies come into the world, they find the reassuring comfort of being held in their mother’s arms, being fed and cared for. I always wondered what it must have felt like for me living within a heated glass enclosure for the first three months of my life. I have seen pictures of me inside the incubator with one leg propped up on the thermometer. Perhaps I was content; after all, what did I have to compare it to? It was all I knew.

One morning at 4 a.m. my parents were awakened by the shrill ring of the phone. They immediately went into a panic, knowing intuitively that something was wrong, and expected the worst. Somehow I had managed to get pneumonia, and I was not expected to survive the night. A nurse told my parents it was imperative that I be baptized immediately. “We have contacted the parish priest,” she said, “and he will be waiting for your arrival.” Mom notified my godparents, Aunt Gerry and Uncle Russell, so they could be present for my baptism. Soon everyone was gathered around me, praying for my life but knowing that I might not live to see daybreak.

I obviously lived but was unable to keep any formula down until a doctor decided to give me some mashed banana, mainly for the potassium and weight gain. It could have been a combination of everything that gave me the strength needed to survive: between the Jewish doctor who had donated his blood for my transfusion, the Hindu nurse who watched over me, and the Catholic priest who performed my baptism, it seemed I had many faiths rooting for me! I was finally named Geraldine Ann Jewell, but “Precious Jewell” remained on my incubator. Aunt Gerry always thought I was named after her, but Mom had named me after Saint Gerard, the sacred saint of life, because I fought for my life coming into the world. “Geraldine” was as close to “Gerard” as Mom could get without it sounding butch. Aunt Gerry couldn’t have been more pleased that I was named after her, and my parents were not about to spoil that pleasure for her. My name was always spelled Gerry until I personally changed the spelling in the ninth grade to Geri.

At three months, I finally weighed in at seven pounds, and my parents were notified. “Come get her quickly, before she loses any weight!” When my parents brought me home, it was a huge celebration. I was the size of a doll, and my brothers were amazed that they could hold me with one hand! Our German shepherd, Kim, intuitively took her post as my protector, standing guard over the bassinet and watching me intently. This made Dad nervous.

“Get Kim away from the baby!” he said. “Dad, Kim’s not going to hurt her!” David protested. Nevertheless, Dad ordered Kim to come over to him, but she refused. She just gave Dad a doggy dirty look and lay down under my bassinet. Everyone agreed, Kim was very protective of this precious jewel.

Once, when Aunt Gerry babysat me, Kim wouldn’t let her near me. My family backed down the driveway in their dark green 1955 Chevrolet station wagon, leaving the three of us alone. When Aunt Gerry went to pick me up, to her surprise and frustration, Kim wouldn’t budge and actually growled at her! There was no way Kim was going to leave her post. My aunt was wily, though: she threw a bone down the basement stairs and locked Kim down there. As much as Kim loved me, dogs will be dogs. She ran after it and felt duped. When she was finally let back in, she ran faster than Rin Tin Tin, right back to my side. Kim adored me, and at night she was always curled up on the floor, watching over me like a guardian angel.

The entire first year of my life was jotted down in a steno pad. Every movement, mood, and bowel movement was painstakingly kept in a journal by Mom. I was being monitored closely, just in case my health took a turn for the worse. Mom didn’t mind doing this at all. In fact, by observing me so closely, she became aware that something wasn’t right with me. Dad sometimes became impatient with her very detailed account of everything and felt at times that she was looking for problems that didn’t exist. “My God, Olga, you’re so bent on every single detail, you’d think this steno pad belonged to a detective working on an unsolved murder!” Mom just ignored him most of the time, but it did create some tension between the two of them.

As much as Mom wanted to believe that everything was all right, she couldn’t shake the feeling that I was different. As the months went by, Mom became more and more convinced that something wasn’t right. She kept comparing me to what my brothers had done at the same age, and even though her pediatrician kept assuring her that I was normal, that not every baby does everything at the same time, Mom was not convinced. She took me to two other doctors, seeking second and third opinions. One sleepless night, she woke up my dad, telling him that she believed that I had cerebral palsy. Dad didn’t think he had heard her correctly, but she repeated the same words with equal conviction in her voice.

The following morning, Mom brought up the subject again. “Jack, we need to talk about Geri. She is not progressing normally.”

“Olga … the doctors say she is fine, just a little slower.”

“Jack, I don’t care what the doctors say. They don’t see her day in and day out. They see her once a month for about thirty minutes!”

He cut her off, waving his arms. “And they are the doctors! Did you go to Harvard?”

“Jack, I know Geri has cerebral palsy. David started crawling at six and a half months, and Fred was crawling by eight months. Geri hasn’t even tried to crawl yet, and she’s almost a year old!”

“What makes you believe that she has cerebral palsy? I mean, there are other conditions that it could be as well.”

“Do you remember when I took that job in Maine for the summer, as a nanny?”

“Well, yes, but what does that … ?”

“Jack, they had a twelve–year–old daughter with cerebral palsy. Her mother, Anna, gave me a crash course on cerebral palsy. She wanted me to fully understand Ann’s condition, so that I could be more able to care for her properly.”

Dad was stunned, not least because the girl’s name was Ann and that is my middle name. “Did you name Geri after this other child?” Mom admitted that, in fact, she had. She loved the Turner family and wanted to pay tribute to Ann. Dad had always assumed I was named after his mother, Anna Jewell.

Naming me was one thing, but Dad was beginning to understand that Mom’s intuition wasn’t something to be ignored, so they promptly made an appointment with a specialist in downtown Buffalo. The doctor there was the first to agree with Mom. After examining me, he believed that there was definitely something not right developmentally. In fact, he even suggested that they give me up before they become too attached. “What?!” Mom was stunned, to say the least. “She will be a year old next month! It’s a little late to not get attached, don’t you think?”

Meet the Author

Geri Jewell is an actress, a motivational speaker, and a disability and diversity consultant. She has been the recipient of many awards, including the 2005 Independent Living Legacy Award and the 2006 Victory Award. She lives in Santa Monica, California. Ted Nichelson is a writer, musician, scholar, business entrepreneur, and pop culture historian. He is the coauthor of the book Love to Love You Bradys with Brady Bunch star Susan Olsen. He lives in Los Angeles.

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I'm Walking as Straight as I Can: Transcending Disability in Hollywood and Beyond 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
DestinyGuy More than 1 year ago
I have a room in my home filled with hundreds of books in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves . . . meaning that I read A LOT. Geri's book is simply the most life-changing story I've ever read (the life she changed was mine). The book is an emotional rollercoaster. I laughed, I cried, I cheered, I got angry, and I was so compelled to turn every page that I read the entire 250 pages in one sitting . . . something I have never done before. Her amazing ability to keep getting up after life knocked her down . . . over and over and over again . . . gave me a new sense of purpose in my own life, and inspired me in a way that no author, or public speaker, or best friend ever has. If you buy no other book this year, buy THIS one. Your own life will never be the same after you spend a few hours with Geri, sharing hers.
Marshallintx More than 1 year ago
I met Geri a few years ago when I hired her to perform at a disability awareness event at Washington State University. My wife and I were fortunate enough to have her actually stay in our home. She told us about the book she was writing about her life and we could not wait to read it! Frankly, she was much funnier in her live performance than I thought she would be. Likewise, her book is much better than I thought it would be. Her stories are hilarious and pack a punch for truth, justice and the American way. They also are extremely educational. The reader learns firsthand what it's like to have a disability in our society. Her honesty and straightforward, blunt language truly captures the disability experience. As a person with a disability myself I hear many others with disabilities agree with me that most people without disabilities do not "get it." Just as I'm sure people in other minority groups feel that people cannot get their issues. We all strive to find ways to get the message across. Geri masterfully accomplishes this by letting us into her world. I highly recommend this book to everyone who is interested in entertaining stories and real life. Don't wait a another moment to order this book. You will be glad you did! Marshall Mitchell Disability Consultant
DeadwoodDeputy More than 1 year ago
Being a die-hard fan of HBOs "Deadwood", I ordered this early and once it arrived I literally could not put it down. What a talent this little lady has for writing should always secure her work in Hollywood, despite her story of instant fame on "The Fact's Of Life" as Cousin Geri back in the 80s, and then...nothing. She meets just about every sleaze ball along the way it would seem, as well marrying a severely unhappy man, and we all know how that story turns out every time. Through it all this story shines with dignity, and class. Jewell's story about her Moms cancer struggle especially got me, and when she finally prevails after being told time and again her career is over..she proves to herself by landing the role on Deadwood as Jewell. Lots of Facts of Life behind the scenes stories, some of them are just painful to read that anyone would endure such things when there is a laugh track....and Jewell never once lays blame, except on maybe her own lack of sophistication and maturity at the time, this I think is overly generous of her. I give this Lady must respect and highly recommend you should read this, and so should your kids if they are to learn anything about self acceptance and tolerance. I would read anything this lady wanted to publish, she knows how to grab the reader and taken them on a ride!
AustinSommersProductions More than 1 year ago
Ms. Jewell's book I'm "Walking as Straight as I Can: Transcending Disability in Hollywood and Beyond". Was a wonderfully written and heartfelt story of her life and struggles in Hollywood and Beyond. I think everyone should take the time to read this.... It sure made me think ...and I would recommend to all my friends and family....
Ranboze More than 1 year ago
I don't have time to read a lot of books, and from the first page to the last, I was completely engaged. Geri writes with such simplicity, yet such depth and insight. Geri recounts her challenges, her triumphs, her failures, her successes with such raw and pure honesty and honor, that I was left in awe. As a professional healthcare provider, I have seen numerous children severely affected with cerebral palsy throughout my career. My eyes and heart were awakened when I read this articulate and inspiring memoir. Page after page, I experienced laughter and compassion . This book taught me a lot about cerebral palsy, about the human spirit, and about myself. Bravo Geri!
g-barbara More than 1 year ago
A couple years ago I went to an event and was introduced to Geri Jewell. We did not get a chance to talk then, but I have subsequently had the opportunity to spend some time with Geri. When she told me about the book, I thought it would be a typical autobiography. Wow, was I wrong! I felt like I was experiencing Geri's life! As the parent of a child with a disability, I really related to Geri's early days and the struggles her family went through. Geri writes from the heart, and the honesty in her storytelling makes this book a must-read!!
MRBarcelo More than 1 year ago
Geri is one of the most beautiful, honest, humble, hilarious people I know. Her book really gives an insight into her world and what life is all about. I guarantee you will be humbled and in awe after reading her book. One of my favorite chapters is chapter 4, Innocence interrupted, it reminds me of my son Alec who too has cerebral palsy, yet nothing stops this boy. I am so grateful, and blessed to have been able to read her story and you will as well, I guarantee it. She really puts humor into the pain in life. Geri is definitely someone who can keep a smile even in the darkest of places. I love her book.
tardisong More than 1 year ago
This book smacks of authenticity and persistence. Geri Jewell has written one of those books that keep you up, that you return to. We watch her as a girl child growing up with cerebral palsy, and as a woman, determined and sure, yet always integrating society's responses and reactions to her. I have the privilege of knowing Geri and I'm in awe of her spirit, her perspective. We met at a comedy fundraiser in which she was the featured comedian. She's much more than a brilliant comic, however. Geri is enormously talented as an actor, author, and inspirational speaker. Walking... is poignant, honest, and non-schmaltzy inspirational; it's a winner!
AKbarby More than 1 year ago
Everyone should take a look. At Geri Jewell’s wonderful book. It reads like a mystery from start to end. As she reveals all that she had to contend. I guarantee you won’t put it down And it certainly won’t leave your face with a frown.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had a hard time putting this book down, and read it quickly. Everyone should read this book, you will laugh, cry and also be angry. Geri shows that a person must never give up Hope even if you are thrown many obstacles in your path of life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Geri Jewell holds nothing back. I recommend it 100 percent!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fascinating insight into to trials and tribulations of a disabled actress who pushed the boundaries in a day and age where disability was largely unseen. The book is written from the heart, and is both touching and at times painful to read. Particularly compelling is the clashes between her vulnerabilities as a disabled gay woman and her desire to be part of the cut throat 'body-perfect' world of Hollywood. I have great admiration for her decision to go out loud and proud and dealing with the dual discrimination that can bring. Being an out lesbian is still a brave decision for any actress but particularly remarkable for an actress with an impairment. A marvellous book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend Ms Jewell's book. Once I began listening, I couldn't stop. Having a visible, physical disability myself, I relate to many aspects of her book. She describes the adversity she faced growing up, and even though, she faces turbulent times & painful situations, somehow, she finds humor within them. This illustrates how strong Ms Jewell is psychologically. Some people with disabilities would simply give up & withdraw from society & dwell in depression.  I'm sure Ms Jewell went through these emotions, but, kept pushing on. She learned not to let negative people squashed her dreams.  As she says, "…it is the risk takers who realize their dreams."  I think this applies to everybody, disability or not and believe everybody will gain something from Ms Jewell’s book. So buy it!!! :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I Am Walking As Straight as I Can is a book about a woman with a triumphant spirit. Most would say that Geri Jewell is a success in spite of her disability-- and they would be wrong! Geri Jewell is a success because of what she has experienced because of disability. Faced with many trails, she handles them all with uncommon strength! She tells her story wit brutal honesty... with healthy doses of humor sprinkled in...sharing every part of her journey. A poignant, touching story that will have the reader captivated at every turn. A must for parents, and a must for anyone in Disability Studies!
SLeeder More than 1 year ago
"Geri is not only is a fabulous comedienne, actress, and motivational speaker, but advocating for people with disabilities has made a difference in the lives of millions, especially mine forever more. Geri has an unique gift of bringing out all of your emotions at once while reading her aspiring book, crying with cheery eyes, having to laugh your head off, and having the admiration to chase your dreams with perseverance and determination. Geri makes you, especially myself and anyone around her believe in yourself, going through life trials and tribulations in finding your true self and becoming a role model in order to make a difference in society even if it is one person at a time." Thank you, Geri Jewell for believing in me and for reminding us that life is a journey with having a positive attitude will get you far in receiving rewarding successes while working at your best.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a boy growing up there were few persons with disability on television.   When there was a storyline with a disabled character it was played by a person without a disability  and you were supposed to cry at the end.   They were called “very special episodes”.   Then Gerri and the “Facts of Life” came along and I began thinking, “Cool!  I can do this too. “   The book talks about her being a role model to millions From “Facts of Life” to “Deadwood” and everything in between.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ddubbiedo More than 1 year ago
What does it mean to be disabled? One wouldn't know from reading this wonderful book. Geri Jewell shows that she is not defined by hers. She has Cerebral Palsy, but it isn't her. Yes, like an unwelcome houseguest, she has learned to live with it but it hasn't stopped her from living a full and interesting life. She falls in and out of love, shares successes and failures on stage and just moves through life with grace, humor and a wisdom that most so-called "normal" people aren't in touch with. I would recommend this book to anyone going through any type of life challenge. Geri's jewels of experiences can be a guide post for forward motion. Simply put, do yourself a favor and read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Incredible, inspirational, worthy of a voice...this voice moved and sparked necessary emotion. Compassion is the element humans need to live in peace. Geri is a jewell.
Big-R More than 1 year ago
I have been aware of Geri Jewell since I was little, and was thrilled to see someone who had the same condition as me appearing on a TV show that my family and I watched. While reading this book, I kept nodding at certain things I had in common with her. I think it's amazing how she made her dreams come true and was always true to herself, and also how strong she was when times were tough. Thank you for your story Geri!
michaelgMG More than 1 year ago
I am really enjoying this book! It was a real surprise to see it on the market. I remembered Geri Jewell from late night Comedy Store shows on TV as well as, The Facts of Life, from the 80's. Anyway, I bought the book to learn more. I like the stories and Geri's vivid descriptions of her past growing up in the 1960's and 70's. It reminds me of the tv show, The Wonder Years, somewhat. Then, her candid introspection of living with CP in Hollywood gives this book a deeper meaning too.
DSZ More than 1 year ago
Geri Jewell has done it again; this time as an author of her own autobiography. Her amazing book, "I'm Walking As Straight As I Can", is an incredible journey that is like a roller coaster ride that you haven't experienced before. It is one of the best pieces that I have read in a long, long time and is one of my all time favorite books. A stunning piece of work. She is raw in her emotions and the stories of her life resonate and heal us and remind us that the challenges of life... are life, and each of our moments, highs and lows, makes us appreciate the journey that we take. It is a book that grabs you from the beginning and takes you through the life of an incredible woman. It has brought a special love and light into my life and will for everyone who reads it. I look forward to what is next in Geri's journey and wish her so many more triumphs and successes. Geri,... with your words and love, you have helped to build a bridge for me to get to realize my next moment and the possibilities of persistence, joy, laughter, and love. My world is so much brighter because of you Geri Jewell.
sdgirlES More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this book. It's captivating and feels like the author is talking directly to you. Her success is awesome! As a more personal note, I have a physical disability and it was really wonderful to read another person with a disability's story. This book is hilarious; I never laugh out loud when I read and I was definitely cracking up. Anyone should read I'm Walking As Straight As I Can.
Teriderry More than 1 year ago
Geri has guts, gusto, verve and sassiness! She is bold, and funny and a wonderful human being and it is a pure joy to read about her life, struggles and amazing determination and heart! Geri is wonderful!
Redhead50 More than 1 year ago
I have been a big fan of Geri Jewell's for years! So when I found out about her book I was thrilled. When you experience her stand-up or her character study you soon realize Geri is one of the most prolific storytellers of our time and her personal stories in this book doesn't disappoint. You laugh, you cry, and you are amazed at the perseverance that comes from her life challenges. Reading this book will make you believe that ANYTHING is possible!! You WILL be inspired! The Nun's car story will make you wet your pants!!