Cover image for Lessons in becoming myself
Lessons in becoming myself
Publication Information:
New York : Riverhead Books, 2006.
Physical Description:
viii, 453 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. ; 24 cm.
Personal Subject:


Material Type
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Item Available
Book 921 BURSTYN 1 1

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In this powerful story of a woman's search for a deeper understanding of herself, Ellen Burstyn explores the unexpected paths her life has taken in this unflinchingly honest, moving, and inspirational memoir. Ellen Burstyn has always defied expectations. Born in Detroit during the Depression, she left home at eighteen, leaving behind a complicated relationship with her mother, and moved to Dallas to become a model. Eventually, Burstyn ended up in New York City, where she performed in a variety of roles on Broadway and on television in the late 1950s and early 1960s before turning to film. Over the course of her career she delivered brilliant performances in The Last Picture Show, The Exorcist, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore-for which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress-Resurrection, and Requiem for a Dream. But this book is much more than a recitation of Burstyn's acting triumphs. It's a frank and unsparing account of her search for personal and professional authenticity and the consequences of that struggle. Burstyn's efforts as an actor to uncover the enduring truths in each of her roles, which she learned from Lee Strasberg at the renowned Actors Studio, inform her life offstage as well. In Lessons in Becoming Myself, Burstyn describes her personal missteps and how confronting them encouraged her to find a different life path. Raised a Catholic, Burstyn has spent her life exploring a wide range of spiritual experience-from the Himalayas to Cambodia, from Mont Blanc to New York City-that goes deeper than labels. Lessons in Becoming Myselfis the extraordinary story of the quest for the examined life. By turns thoughtful and funny, insightful and lighthearted, it is a brilliant accomplishment by one of the finest observers of human nature.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

In her first book, Oscar- and Tony-winning actress Burstyn has cast a life story that could easily light up the silver screen, replete with abusive parents, high school tragedy, showbiz triumph, reversals of fortune and a plucky heroine in search of professional and spiritual fulfillment. Burstyn begins with impressionistic memories of her Detroit childhood, including her tumultuous relationship with her mother and stepfather Lou, moving from the scare of her brother?s near-fatal struggle with pneumonia when she was not yet 3 to the traumatic illegal abortion she had at age 18. Burstyn?s career kicks off a few years later on Broadway, launching her on a challenging path to movie stardom, a number of failed romances-including a mentally ill husband who would stalk her for years-and her globe-spanning search for religion. Burstyn?s tell-all works beautifully, thanks to her talent for spare but clear description; the happy story of Stone House, her home in upstate New York for 11 years, covers just a few pages, but Butrym still makes her farewell to the house resonate: "I walked away with a sense of carrying my own chapel with me." The blemish in this upbeat, chatty book is Burstyn?s occasional tendency toward self-help language-"The more I struggled to free myself, the more entangled I became"-but it?s easy to forgive, given the honesty, bravery and warmth with which she tells her story. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Review

Long-winded memoir of an actress preoccupied with her own psychic structure and spiritual side. Burstyn, best remembered for her roles in the films The Exorcist and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, chronicles the successes of her career on stage and screen, her difficulties in relating to men, her failures in marriage and her never-ending search for self-understanding. First, though, there's the unhappy childhood with a much-married mother. Desperate to get away, she left home on her 18th birthday, in 1950, working as a model in Texas and a chorus girl in Montreal before heading to New York, where, in 1957, she landed a lead in a Broadway play. Already, inner voices were guiding her acting, but her private life was a shambles, with her second marriage ending in divorce in 1962. Burstyn married again in 1964, and this toxic relationship and the effects on her of her husband's mental breakdown are the subject of much of this work. A lapsed Catholic, she was attracted to Sufi mysticism and fell for a time under the sway of a guru with a compelling line of spiritual psychobabble that seems to have influenced her own writing. By the '70s, she describes herself as being "in the embryonic stage of giving birth to my own self in life." With her acting career at its peak in that decade, her inner life was focused on spiritual concerns, especially the nature of a feminine god. Ashrams, psychic nutritionists and healers, channeling, fasting, meditation--they all come into play in Burstyn's continuing search for self-knowledge, which has involved not just domestic retreats but journeys to England, Switzerland, Turkey, Ireland, Bhutan and Cambodia. Among details she provides of her acting career, perhaps the most revealing concern her filming of The Exorcist. The actress proudly describes her refusal to say scripted lines because as an actress, she has created a living character and knows better than anyone what that character would and would not say. Movie buffs, Burstyn fans, would-be actresses and perhaps fellow seekers of self-realization may relish this self-absorbed narrative. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Cast as Chris MacNeil in The Exorcist, Ellen Burstyn cinematically confronted the devil. Born Edna Rae Gilloolly, she confronted demons of her own, from her demeaning mother to her psychotic and sadistic husband. Now as one of the most acclaimed and respected actors of her generation, the ebullient Burstyn reflects on her life and 40-plus-year career, nimbly tracing the paths she followed, risks she took, mistakes she made, and lessons she learned to assess the price she paid for hard-earned wisdom. Armed with little more than a burning ambition to refute her narrow Midwest Catholic upbringing, Burstyn resolutely struck out on her own at age 18. Landing in Manhattan, she became a devoted acolyte of Lee Strasberg's Method school of acting, a technique that served her well. Foundering in a violently unstable marriage and still bearing the psychic scars of a damaging childhood, Burstyn applied the same painstaking deliberation to her quest for spiritual guidance, which took her from the heights of the Himalayas to the depths of New York City's homeless shelters. Candid and unassuming, Burstyn's intuitive memoir is a balanced mix of insider theatrical anecdotes and inspired philosophical revelations, a guileless apologia for one woman's desire to authenticate her experiences professional and personal. --Carol Haggas Copyright 2006 Booklist

Library Journal Review

Burstyn's autobiography resembles a Hollywood film, complete with an abusive, self-centered mother, sexual predator father, and failed marriages. The Oscar and Tony Award winner reflects on her life and career here, exposing all the pain and difficulty as she moves toward spiritual and creative fulfillment. Born Edna Rae Gillooly, she left home at 18, first working as a model in Detroit and then taking a bus to Manhattan to try for a career in acting. After some lean times, she eventually met acting guru Lee Strasberg and became a student of his method acting, a technique that helped propel her into prominence. She distinguished herself in such films as The Last Picture Show, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, and Same Time Next Year, in a role she also played on Broadway. Despite her professional success, Burstyn struggled with personal relationships; she married Neil Burstyn, a psychotic who stalked and threatened her even after they were divorced. Of primary interest, though, is Burstyn's ability to persevere against difficult odds and learn from her mistakes as she strives for knowledge and spiritual meaning. At times the abridgment makes for some abrupt and confusing content shifts, but overall the book is an enjoyable mix of insider film talk and New Age ideas. Burstyn reads in a pleasant though clearly mature voice, providing a convincing touch of reality. Recommended for large collections.-Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.