Jewell of Denial

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

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Posted October 6, 2011 in Arts & Culture

Ever since you were able to understand language, those were two words that inflamed you the most. They meant denial. They were a barrier to what you wanted. They were frustrating, too. And, perhaps unbeknownst to the speaker, they were a challenge to you because they only made you work harder.

Once author Geri Jewell’s parents received the diagnosis of cerebral palsy for their daughter, they never let her think she couldn’t do anything. In her book I’m Walking as Straight as I Can (with Ted Nichelson), Jewell talks about her life and her determination.

Jewell made her worldwide debut in September, 1956, three months early due to a car accident involving her mother. Eighteen months later, after her parents noticed developmental delays and begged doctors for an explanation, Jewell was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Though institutionalization was recommended, the Jewells were adamant that Geri would be treated like their other children. They moved from New York to California so that she could get first-class care, and they enrolled her in schools that could accommodate her disabilities. Though she sometimes met discrimination, Jewell remembers a good childhood.

After graduating from high school, Jewell went to college, where she fell in love with acting. She wanted to fall in love, too, but she writes that she was emotionally stunted, “a child,” and she was also very confused.

Geri Jewell was attracted to women, but swore that she was not gay.

Her emotional immaturity didn’t stop her determination, though. Having found her funny bone, Jewell accepted as many comedy gigs as she could find and she clawed for her place in entertainment. Humor gained her lots of fans, which led to a TV career on The Facts of Life, as well as a wildly popular stage show.

But, like many Hollywood careers, Jewell’s had its problems.

She was unceremoniously ousted from Facts for reasons she still doesn’t know. Her hearing impairment got her into trouble, as did her emotional immaturity. Jewell was naïve and too trusting, which almost landed her in jail. She was broke, divorced, depressed, prescription drug-addicted and still in the closet when a chance encounter in a pharmacy line gave her the lifeline she needed most.

As Tinsel Town memoirs go, I’m Walking as Straight as I Can isn’t bad.

Though author Geri Jewell is a star herself, it’s refreshing to read about her brushes with other celebs. She drops names and tells tales with obvious wonder, much as any fan would and that’s a sweet humility that readers—tired of tabloid-type Hollywood drama—will love.

On the other hand, the trademark Jewell humor is largely missing in this book and there’s a lot of (often-justifiable) complaining that felt repetitious to me after awhile. That and some odd anecdotes and repeated comments on urination detracted from this bio.

Overall, this book is worth a look-see, but it might be best enjoyed if you’re a big Geri Jewell fan. For you, in particular, I’m Walking as Straight as I Can is a book you can’t miss.

I’m Walking as Straight as I Can by Geri Jewell with Ted Nichelson, ECW Press, hardcover, 252 pages. List price $19.95.


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