Every successful acting career comes down to timing and luck, but few actor memoirs are as plainly bonkers as L.A. Law star Harry Hamlin’s. The title of Full Frontal Nudity promises all kinds of misdeeds in Hollywood, but the subtitle is more important: The Making Of An Accidental Actor. The book ends in 1977, just before Hamlin went to Hollywood. And he means literally accidental—planning to sign up for architecture courses his freshman year at Berkeley, Hamlin arrived too late to get into any, and substituted a quartet of drama courses. He wound up doing three years at Berkeley’s drama school, where he eventually headed a dorm house (and helped turn co-ed) before transferring to Yale as a result of his insubordinate attitude toward the school head.
Tidbits like that barely hint at the bizarre turns Hamlin’s young life took. After he misunderstands how to breathe in the tranquilizing gas, a dentist breaks his jaw without anesthesia. He dates a girl who tearfully confesses that Hamlin eerily resembles her dead brother—and then meets the brother’s onetime girlfriend, who tells him the same thing. He begs for a black Sting-Ray bike for Christmas at age 10, only to get a powder-blue Huffy—and a subscription to Playboy. “I’ll never forget the day I opened up a copy and saw Ursula Andress in total undress standing in a waterfall. I thought the picture of Ursula was amazing but I didn’t find her sexy. Her layout was much more art than sex. It’s ironic that some sixteen years later I would end up fathering a child with her.” Years later, his mother refuses to speak to him for two years after he gives up a job as a PBS production assistant and joins the American Conservatory Theater, where a role in Equus in San Francisco led to a film and TV career.
As the line above indicates, Hamlin can be pretty corny. He likes to amplify jokes and give people cute nicknames. But his stories are genuinely funny and entertaining—rare enough for an author, much less a celebrity memoir. Hamlin’s good humor and sharp eye make Full Frontal Nudity a nicely unpredictable coming-of-age story.