Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew
Published by Little Brown, ISBN 978-0-316-33431-0
Hardcover, $28, 302 pages
I was very excited when I heard that actress Kate Mulgrew had written a memoir, Born With Teeth. I have been a big fan of her since her days as Mary Ryan on the ABC soap Ryan's Hope, through her groundbreaking role as Capt. Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager, and in her current role as tough and literate inmate Red on Orange Is The New Black. (Red always has a book with her.)
She begins her honest, brilliant, heartbreaking memoir by talking about her large Irish Catholic family. Jiki and Ace, as her parents were called, lived in Iowa, and had a typically large brood of children. They lost two of their daughters, one to SIDS, whom four year-old Kate mistakenly believed she had killed, and a teenage daughter who died a slow, painful death.
Kate's mother was a steely, artistic, not very affectionate woman who loved books. Books were important to the Mulgrew family, and when Kate decided she wanted to be a poet because she was chosen to read her poem at a school assembly, her mother convinced her to read The White Cliffs of Dover after she read her poems, and when the nuns sobbed during her Kate's rendition, she knew she had found her calling: acting.
Born With Teeth recounts the important events and people in Kate Mulgrew's life. She stated at an appearance to launch her book that it "summed up everything that defined me", and that may be the best way to describe this stunningly written book.
If you are looking for a run-of-the-mill celebrity biography, look elsewhere. Fans of Ryan's Hope may be disappointed that there is no juicy backstage gossip here. Only producer Claire Labine and Nancy Addison (Jillian Coleridge) are mentioned, and that is because they were good friends of Mulgrew.
When Mulgrew was working on Ryan's Hope and just in her early 20s, she became pregnant. She came to the agonizing decision to give her baby up for adoption, and that decision changed and colored her entire life.
Mulgrew worked hard at her craft, and the stage was her first love, even though she had huge success on TV. The chapters on working on Mrs. Columbo (and how she got that job after turning it down) and Star Trek: Voyager give an insider's look at the incredibly long days and hard work it takes to be a major TV actress.
She wasn't as lucky in love though. After meeting a wealthy Italian man and giving up her career to be with him, she fell in love with a man in Seattle who worked on the play in which she was cast. The love of her life came later, in Ireland, where she met a man for whom she fell head-over-heels in love.
Mulgrew and her husband had two sons in two years, and trying to be a working mother and spend time with her children was a struggle, one that many women will be able to relate to. There is a chapter where she takes her sons to the Star Trek premiere,and their behavior embarrasses her, that will make any mother cringe.
Born With Teeth is so beautifully written, and so honest. Mulgrew doesn't shy away from her mistakes and her flaws. She comes from an Irish family, where stoicism was the watchword, so this makes it even more remarkable. She is not afraid to portray her warts, whether as a woman or a mother, and I find that refreshing.
It feels like each word is so carefully chosen, yet it also feels like it sprang full-blown from her head, ready to publish. The Irish are known for their eloquence, and Mulgrew clearly inherited that from her ancestors.
I know we will see her again as an actress (season three of Orange is The New Black will be available on Netflix on June 12 and season 4 will be filming soon), I hope that we will hear again soon from author Kate Mulgrew as well.
rating 5 of 5
I saw Kate Mulgrew at her book launch, and that post is here.