HOLLYWOOD WITH A SMILE
My Follies and Foibles in the Film Industry
By Sandra de Bruin with Dean Brierly (BearManor Media), 218 pages, Hardback, Paperback & Kindle, ISBN 979-8-88771-028-0
Hollywood with a Smile is not your typical self-indulgent memoir. You will find no axe grinding, closet skeleton rattling, or “MeToo” posturing in these pages, just captivating accounts by Sandra de Bruin of her successful and fascinating life as an actress in the film capital of the world. During a career that spanned decades, de Bruin enjoyed professional and personal encounters with countless Hollywood icons. But rather than beating her own drum, she generously directs the focus onto these familiar faces of film and television.
These beguiling narratives enlighten and charm in equal measure: a hilarious fender-bender with Paul Newman; a working relationship/friendship with Charlton Heston; an affecting encounter with Elvis Presley; accolades from Ricardo Montalban, James Garner and Dolly Parton; recurring chance meetings with Cliff Robertson; adventures and misadventures on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson; a romantic relationship with legendary film director Robert Wise. Plus, intimate perspectives on de Bruin’s life and dreams, follies and foibles, friendships and loves.
A poetical prologue sets the book’s tone and tempo and clarifies its raison d’être. Additional context is provided through capsule biographies that introduce each chapter and personality, and which underscore an era in which stars really were stars. This one-of-a-kind book reveals a side of Hollywood rarely remarked upon—its good side. Furthermore, the insights that de Bruin offers into the vagaries of human character and behavior aren’t limited to her star-studded subjects, but have a universal resonance beyond the bounds of the fabled Dream Factory.
Q&A with Sandra de Bruin and Dean Brierly
Q: One of the most unique aspects of the book is reading about famous stars like Paul Newman and Charlton Heston outside of their familiar movie star personas.
A: This was a conscious decision—to present these iconic figures in a down-to-earth and real-world context in which they behave just like anyone else. We're all familiar with the classic stories that have been endlessly repeated and recycled. But in our book, you will encounter a different aspect, a different side, to people like Paul Newman, James Garner, Jason Robards.
Q: What was your reason for starting each celebrity chapter with their mini-biographies?
A: We did that partly with younger generations in mind who might not be familiar with some of the celebrities from Hollywood's Golden Era. And we tried whenever possible to draw parallels to contemporary entertainers: for example, comparing Harry Belafonte's talents and accomplishments to those of Usher. Not all of the subjects in the book received the same renown during their lifetimes, like actor Frederick Combs, designer Ret Turner, or C. Bernard Jackson, the African-American playwright and founder of the Inner City Cultural Center in Los Angeles, yet all three made huge creative and social contributions in their respective domains.
Q: In fact, not all of the people you write about were superstars.
A: We felt it was important to pay tribute to the working actresses and actors and the behind-the-scene folks who, in a real sense, are the backbone of Hollywood. Their stories can be just as important and inspiring as those of their famous contemporaries.
Q: Talk about the tone of the book, which is uplifting and positive rather than self-indulgent and snarky.
A: This was never intended as a "tell-all" book, which as a genre feels overdone. There are countless books devoted to dishing dirt on Hollywood stars, but we felt it important to take a different approach. Everyone who has read the book says they appreciate how positive and uplifting and funny it is in a nonjudgmental way.
Q: Sandra, to a remarkable degree, you don’t blow your own horn, and willingly reveal, as the book's subtitle reads, your own follies and foibles. The focus really seems to be on the subjects you write about rather than yourself. Why did you opt for this approach?
A: We didn’t want this book to be just another memoir about someone the general public has never really heard of. We wanted it to mainly be about the icons of Hollywood and my encounters with them, not the other way around. However, I also wanted to include some of my own follies and foibles so the reader would have a sense of who I am.
Q: Yet, these anecdotes do reveal a great deal about your character and perspective, not only with regard to the famous people you met, but towards your career as well. Were you conscious of this during the writing of the book?
A: Yes, I certainly was. Acting is definitely an art, but it is also a business. When not actually performing, I always conducted myself according to my instilled values and in a friendly business fashion. I never relied on my looks or my sexuality. Talent, intellect, and tenacity made me a professional working actress.
Q: How did these unique encounters influence your career and career decisions?
A: Meeting all these astonishing and highly successful people in a genre known for its harsh climate made me realize that I could succeed by being true to myself. The powers that be apparently respected that and my talent.
Q: What was the most enjoyable aspect of writing this book and the most challenging?
A: Writing this book brought back wonderful memories. It made me giggle at my naiveté and applaud my tenacity. The most challenging parts of it were the bios and pulling it all together, but those issues were solved by my writing partner, Dean Brierly. What a guy!
Q: Sandra, how did you come up with a limerick for the prologue? It’s heartfelt, inspiring, and delightful.
A: Thank you! Dean and I agreed that most prologues are a tad boring and wanted to come up with something different. After a glass of wine, or maybe two, I just sat down at the computer and rolled it out. It came so easily! It still astonishes me.
Q: What do you hope people will take away from your book?
A: That Hollywood is not just Tinseltown, but is also filled with lovely people, some of whom become well-deserved icons.
“Sandra de Bruin’s memories of a cherished era in entertainment history are sure to keep you captivated from one page to the next. The author’s unforgettable encounters with select celebrities are presented with such authority and clarity you feel as if you’re almost reliving the experiences with her.
--- J.R. Jordan, film historian and author of Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures
“What a happy romp Sandra has written: a mélange of memorable vignettes about stars she met or admired as a longtime actress in Hollywood. It’s at once warm, revealing and hilarious. I loved it!"
--- Nick Lyons, author of Fire in the Straw
“I always felt that actors who did not achieve superstardom have the more interesting stories, and Sandra de Bruin is no exception. She shares her life as a working actress, describing amusing encounters with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.”
— Tom Lisanti, author of Carol Lynley: Her Film & TV Career in Thrillers, Fantasy & Suspense
About the Authors
- Sandra de Bruin has appeared in over 200 television shows, several major films, many Los Angeles stage productions, numerous commercials, voiceover and looping...and, oh, yes, danced in a production at the Los Angeles Music Center. Her informative and witty articles have appeared in several magazines, and her scripts have been optioned, bought, sold and dropped by major studios and independent producers alike. She created the "Actor's Audition Log" and the "Performer's Workshop Log" to fulfill the organizational needs of her fellow performers from coast to coast and around the world.
- Dean Brierly is a film historian and writer who has contributed to numerous print and online magazines, including Cinema Retro, Filmfax, Outré, and others. Among his many celebrity interviews are Gordon Parks, David Carradine, Michael Moriarty, Stella Stevens, Fred Williamson, and Joe Dante. Dean has contributed liner notes for Blu-ray and DVD releases, and publishes several film blogs, including Fifties Crime Films and Classic Hollywood Quotes.