Concentrating on his life and career up to his time on The West Wing, Rob Lowe’s surprisingly tough-minded memoir, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, effectively argues that the Brat Pack was basically Lowe and his Malibu classmates simultaneously getting a chance to take over Hollywood. The Sheens were neighbors: Emilio was friendly competition, Charlie mocked them both for worrying so much, and father Martin—back from shooting Apocalypse Now—patrolled on Halloween night, still in character. Together with the nearby Penn brothers, the boys went from amateur backyard movies to ’80s stardom in record time.
Stories’ dull opening pages assure us that Lowe is sober and happily married; with that moral disclaimer out of the way, he launches into the fun stuff. Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Lowe knew early on he wanted to be an actor; growing up in a TV-saturated environment, he was hyper-aware of the implications of being famous. When his family moved to Los Angeles, Lowe initially suffered through surfer-kid taunts at Malibu Park Junior High, but soon became friends with the Sheens and Penns. Without even trying, Lowe saw an early cut of Star Wars, crashed the set of The Muppet Movie, and dated Cary Grant’s daughter. Fame was everywhere, and being a star seemed like a realistic career option.
The book’s most evocative passages are about Malibu life in the late ‘70s and early ’80s. Lowe has an excellent memory for James Ellroy-worthy incidents, including one about a hitchhiker who “had his pubic hair plucked out one by one with tweezers” while tied to a tree. A sixth of the book is devoted to the casting and production of 1983’s The Outsiders, which sent Lowe, Tom Cruise, C. Thomas Howell, and others out into the public eye. Lowe recounts unorthodox casting sessions, with everyone reading for all the parts in front of each other, creating a crucible of competition. On the set, a volatile Francis Ford Coppola blasted opera and threatened to fire the entire Teamster crew.
Stories is mostly clear-eyed and non-self-congratulatory, even though Lowe describes losing his virginity (at 14, to his younger brother’s 16-year-old babysitter) as “cross[ing] that wondrous, anxiety-filled Rubicon.” Everywhere Lowe goes, he encounters/dates/acts with future celebrities; this report from the center of the storm is entertaining without being self-aggrandizing. As far as celebrity memoirs go, this is as good as it gets: all relevant anecdotes, with minimal protestations of moral reformation. Fans of Lowe’s recent TV renaissance will be disappointed that he doesn’t cover anything after The West Wing, but anyone else who’d consider reading a Lowe memoir should be satisfied.