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Sally Kellerman Was Punk Rock
This review originally appeared on The Classical Mess, a Substack I was doing a few years ago before I found out they gave money to bigots.
Actress Sally Kellerman — you loved her in M*A*S*H, Brewster McCloud, and Meatballs III: Summer Job. Like many stars of stage and screen, Kellerman also had a passion for music. One of the more interesting subplots in her 2013 memoir Read My Lips: Stories of a Hollywood Life concerns Kellerman’s quest to be accepted as a singer, often at the expense of her bank account and her ego. Neil Diamond invited Kellerman to lunch after seeing one of her concerts; his review was comically blunt.
“You should never sing again,” he told her. “It’s not your thing. You really can’t do it.”
Anyone who’s heard Kellerman’s bluesy 1972 LP Roll With The Feelin’ can tell you she had a unique, besotted bluster that handled like a ten cent carnival ride. She was never mewling and retching like Darby Crash, though, so Diamond’s critique feels harsh. Kellerman’s reaction to Neil was definitely punk rock. She refused to let him obliterate her. “I was going to ignore Neil Diamond and keep on chasing my dream to sing.”
And so Kellerman did, establishing a musical body that occasionally bled into her screen work. If you dare to watch Sally play a live action version of cartoon femme fatale Natasha in 1992’s cable tv movie Boris and Natasha you’ll be treated to her Bon Jovi-ish rendition of “It’s Good to Be Bad” over the ending credits. Kellerman doesn’t comment on this song in Read My Lips but she does refer to Boris and Natasha director Charles Martin Smith “a darling guy” and defends the final product as “pretty good.”
Read My Lips cycles through all the other highs and lows of Kellerman’s life with varying degrees of reflection (expect more on working with Robert Altman than her appearance in the “Star Trek” pilot). It’s all presented with honesty, humility, and humor, which I would also describe as very punk rock. I’m forced to agree with the Elliott Gould pull quote printed on the dust jacket.
“It’s totally human, and you have to love it.”