Lie to Me
By David Templeton
I always lie. It entertains me. It’s like filling in a coloring book with crayons, it makes my stories brighter.
–Isabella Rossellini, Some of Me
In spite of Isabella Rossellini’s published confession to being a liar, she has a way of presenting herself in person that is so up front and forthcoming that one could easily assume that her exuberant remark about lying was itself a lie.
“Don’t let me fool you,” she laughs. “You mustn’t trust anything I say.” But it’s too late. The giddy crowd that has gathered here to witness Rossellini reading from her newly released, elegantly quirky book, Some of Me (Random House; $29.95), has already fallen under her spell; they would clearly believe anything she said.
In general, the authors at these book peddling events are treated somewhat like an odd hybrid between royalty and packaged meat. This morning however, as Rossellini takes the podium–after a glowing, excitedly stammering introduction by San Francisco’s Italian consul–it is clear that, in the eyes of this crowd, she is the queen, the goddess, the ultimate role model.
And yet she is convincingly humble, beaming at the applause and cheers that follow her reading. Dressed in a simple tan pants suit, wearing almost no make up, Rossellini is easily more gorgeous in person than ever on screen, and that’s saying something; the internationally known actress/model (Blue Velvet, Cousins, Wild at Heart, Big Night) is often numbered among the most beautiful women in the world.
But it is Rossellini the writer who is being honored today. Her generally well-reviewed, pseudo-autobiographical fantasy has leapt up as one of the most imaginative, sly, and charming among the spate of recent tell-all books. Some of Me, as the name implies, is hardly a tell-all at all; it’s a clever blend of memoir and gamesmanship, with the true stories told along with numerous snippets of picked-up wisdom and a series of her lovely, believably rendered conversations with her mother and father (Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini), ex-husband Martin Scorsese, ex-lover David Lynch, and others.
During the Q&A session, a woman in the front row–later identified as a professor of English–turns to address the crowd. “When I read this, I expected to find some interesting stories,” she says, “but I had not expected a work of literature.” Turning to Rossellini, she adds, “It’s a serious, inventive book. The forms you create are quite imaginative. When did you ever find time to become such a good writer?”
There is a thunderous roll of applause, and for a split second the author is speechless. “I hope you’re a reviewer!” she finally exclaims. Sheepishly, she admits to a fear of reviews. “I keep calling Tom Henry, the head of Random House, and I say, ‘Everything all right?’ I don’t say, ‘Any good reviews?’ because I’m afraid he’ll say, ‘Hmmmmm, not really,’ But Tom always says, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. Your plane flight is at 3:30 . . .’ and so on. So I don’t really know how the book is doing.”
Prodded for details, she continues, “I’d been solicited for years to write a book about my parents, or about my career, or even to do a book on fashion and style. But I always dismissed the idea, thinking, ‘Autobiographies are just gossip, books on style are just stupid–forget that.’ And finally my lawyer scolded me. ‘Not too many people are offered the opportunity to write books,’ he said. ‘You should seize the chance. Lancôme fired you, remember.'”
She jokes about the much-publicized brouhaha that ensued when Lancôme cosmetics–for which Rossellini had modeled for 14 years–discontinued their relationship after she turned 40, preferring to be represented by a younger model. It is a subject she treats fairly and philosophically in the book. “So I wrote a little bit,” she goes on, “about 100 pages.”
Looking for someone to show her efforts to, she chose old friend Bob Gottlieb, then head of Random House. “I said, ‘I’m almost ashamed to ask, but I’ve been solicited to write a book, and I think maybe–if I could write it like this–I could do it.’ And I left the pages with him to read.”
Not only did Gottlieb like them, he offered to edit the book, and champion its author’s offbeat approach.
As to the “lies,” she only shrugs gracefully, and smiles, “I have to say that I tried to make the invented parts very detailed,” she laughs. “I called Marty and David and asked them if what I wrote in their voice was plausible. And in case you were wondering, no, I do not hear voices in my head.”
She asks for one more question. A young woman asks why she thinks her cosmetics campaign lasted as long as it did. Rossellini thinks for a moment and replies, “I never just stood before the camera, I think. I always would summon up a huge amount of emotion, something appropriate to the particular shoot, and would let that appear on my face.
“It is something I tried to do as well in the book, to be emotionally true, if not factually so. There is one thing I have learned to live by,” she adds. “Without emotion there is no beauty.”
Web exclusive to the July 17-23, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
© Metro Publishing Inc.