While waiting on line at a book signing for uncharted terriTORI by Tori Spelling (Donna, Beverly Hills 90210), I finished half the book.
It wasn’t that I was bored or anything. I was standing with some great people (hi, Lindsay!) and seething with jealousy at the girl who came wearing a Donna Martin Graduates shirt and a Beverly Hills 90210 pocketbook.
It’s that the book is that easy to read. The conversational tone and style comes as no surprise to someone who has read both of Tori’s prior books, sTORI telling and Mommywood. You breeze through them in part because you feel like Tori’s talking to you and in part because you’re on a journey, Tori’s journey.
sTORI telling took you through Tori’s life as far back as she could remember up to about 2008. Mommywood overlapped slightly but continued telling the story of her life with a focus on the major new task she faced: parenting two children. And uncharted terriTORI invites you into the next phase of Tori’s life, the uncharted territory she ventures into as a wife, mom and businesswoman.
What I noticed as I was close to finishing the book and thinking about what I would write on TDW is that, unlike other times I review books for TDW or plan to look at them in a scholarly way, I did not mark it up. There were no notes in the margins, no sentences underlined and no words circled. I couldn’t figure out why. It’s not as if the books are delicate masterpieces. Was it because they were by Tori Spelling, an actress from my all-time favorite television show? Quite possibly.
And then I realized I didn’t mark up Candy Spelling’s book Candyland either. It reminded me just how god-like I consider Aaron Spelling, the man largely responsible for creating the teen drama genre. I associate Candy and Tori with him, him with Beverly Hills 90210 or Tori with Beverly Hills 90210 and the show with him. No matter how you slice it, The Spellings are a family I feel indebted to.
It’s no surprise then that my favorite parts of uncharted terriTORI were reading about Aaron, Candy and Tori’s brother Randy. As I had in the past, I cried reading about the deterioration of Tori’s relationships with her mom and Randy, her reflections on what was and what they had become.
Of seeing Randy for the first time in two years, Tori writes, “I looked at Randy’s hands: they were hands I’d known for most of my life, I knew them so well, but I didn’t recognize them anymore. Did his hands change in two years, or had I forgotten them? We’d been so close. We were best friends. Then life went a certain way. It made me sad.” I realize that I have a not-entirely-healthy feeling of investment in this family, but if your heart doesn’t break reading that, you might want to make sure it’s not made of stone. Thankfully, as the title of the next chapter implies, the physical reunion that night was “the start of something.” I hope that something never ends.
Tori, Candy and Randy’s reunion that night takes place inside the Spelling Manor at a Christmas party complete with men dressed as toy soldiers, a Santa Claus and candy room. I never tire of hearing about the mansion, and that’s even after spending a great deal of time pouring over Candy’s descriptions of it in her book. But no matter how vivid the details, I still cannot comprehend it. I’m not sure what it says about me that one of my dreams is to one day see it in person, preferably at a Candy-hosted party. But I digress…
I cannot mislead you: discussion of BH90210 is few and far between, with sporadic references along with a few continuous pages on Tori’s current relationships with some of the cast. As little as there is quantity-wise, there is a lot of quality and I am fighting the urge to reprint everything she said. That, of course, would not be fair to Tori — you should buy the book if you want to know it all! — but I will share some parts. There’s the quote I posted earlier this week, “working on 90210 was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything,” and, as teased on the book’s inside jacket, the “I Hate Tori Club.” Now it’s not entirely clear to me that this is an actual “club” in which the BH90210 castmates actually partake, but the phrase is used to demonstrate Tori’s realization that many of her former co-stars have serious beef with her. Referenced are the entire (young) original cast with the exception of Douglas Emerson (Scott) and the inclusion of Tiffani Amber Thiessen (Valerie). It’s sad and surprising to read.
“Why did they all hate me?” Tori writes. “I was the sweet one. If it was high school (which it pretended to be and in so many ways was, I’d have been voted most popular.” At first I found this to be rather cocky and hard to believe but then I remembered what BH90210 writer-producer Larry Mollin told me in our interview: “She became a very good actress and a lovely person. Whereas all the kids kind of got jaded about the show, she always came in ‘Where’s the new script? I can’t wait to read it.’ Lovely, lovely gal. A trooper. We had some great times with her. Really well-liked by everybody. She was a trooper.” (Emphasis mine.)
What changed? I couldn’t begin to tell you. And I’m not sure Tori can either. “It was so weird,” she writes, “when we were in high school we acted like grown-ups, but now that we were grown up, it felt like high school. I thought it would be a good idea for us all to go down to the Peach Pit and talk it out over some sodas–that if is Nat, proprietor of the Peach Pit, didn’t hate me too.” Maybe that meeting will happen eventually (but probably not at the Peach Pit). In the meantime, I was comforted to know that Tori isn’t entirely alone in the BH90210 universe. She cites Jennie Garth (Kelly) as her “sole defendor.” (She also shares, in a different part, that Jennie introduced her to the word “wootle.” But I am definitely not defining it here. Read the book!)
I think we, myself included (especially as I repeatedly try to get interviews with anyone and everyone from the show), forget how deeply personal and life-changing their experiences together were. While I don’t think Tori quite forgot, too, she did experience a bit of a wake-up call. When she sees a doctor in hopes of determining the cause of headaches that have continuously plagued her for years, the doctor wants “to know what happened ten years ago when they started.” Tori writes, “Not to be melodramatic, but I gasped. I knew exactly what had happened ten years earlier: 90210 had ended. Being on the show was the only life I had known for ten years, starting at age sixteen. I went in a girl and was expected to come out a woman. In some ways I did. But it was also kind of like being pushed out of the nest and expected to fly with no safety net. My headaches had emerged then and never gone away.”
Of course, there’s so much more to the book than discussion of the Spelling family and Beverly Hills 90210 but it’s clear how interconnected everything is and you realize that the way family and work impacts all facets of her life is not all that different from the way it does ours. I think we tend to envision celebrities as living a life of leisure. We often forget that they have bills to pay, families to care for and businesses to run. In fact, Tori’s struggles are struggles we all face: the challenge of balancing work and pleasure, the insecurities that come with trying to be the best mother and wife you can be, the stress of earning a steady income, the pressure to be considered beautiful. I’m not going to pretend that Tori is just like me but there are universalities, commonalities to the issues she deals with.
But one of the things Tori and I have in common actually isn’t so universal: a dislike of the tabloids and gossip industry. Much of America relishes the lies those publications, both print and digital, spew, without realizing that they are in fact lies. I love that Tori had the guts to admit how the fabrications and sensationalism made her feel, how they impacted her life. I think if more celebrities came forward and directly addressed it — yes, going against the “all press is good press” and the “if you ignore it, it will go away” mentalities — we’d all be a lot better off.
But back to Tori: another aspect I love about all three of her books are the sections of glossy pages featuring personal photos. I love putting faces to names and seeing snapshots, literal moments in time, featuring the people we’ve heard so much about. Of course, watching Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood is helpful for that as well and may make some of the photos as well as the stories (like the cross-country RV trip) redundant.
But seeing those family photos, learning with such ease the behind-the-scenes of the life of Tori Spelling, realizing you deal with some of the very same issues, you can’t help but finish the book feeling like you know her. The Guncles are your Guncles, Mehran is your gay husband, Dean is…well, nevermind. You feel like you know Tori Spelling and you’re a better person for it.
In her dedication Tori writes, “To everyone reading this book… Find your hope within and let it inspire you on your journey. Write your own happy ending!” Tori spends much of the book sharing how she learned that lesson and I think there are few things in life more worth knowing.
The book signing I went to happened to be on the day uncharted terriTORI was released. I left Gossip Cop quite early in order to make it back to Long Island and about 30 minutes northeast of where I live to the book store that was hosting the signing. I had been there once before, circa 2004, for a signing with Nicholas Sparks and his brother Micah. I didn’t know how many people to expect but I recalled that at Sparks’ signing, there was an area for everyone to sit as Sparks read a passage and the brothers took questions and the area wasn’t that big. I concluded that Tori’s signing would be similarly set up and similarly attended. Boy was I wrong.
I arrived about an hour before the event’s scheduled start, and thought I would have time to kill. To my surprise, there was already a line out the door. Inside, I saw that the line snaked much of the store’s perimeter and a cashier told me people had started lining up at 1pm, a good six hours before the signing was supposed to start. Damn, I thought. I promptly purchased the book and joined my mom on line. I spent the next three hours intermittently chatting with the people around me but mostly reading .
As the line slowly moved and Tori came into sight, I become paparazzi-like (lord, forgive me) and started snapping pics. We were not allowed to pose with her, but could have someone snap our photo as we handed her our book to be signed (my photo turned out pretty disastrous but what can you do?). We weren’t supposed to stop and chat either but, hell, I wasn’t going to listen to that. The 30 seconds I spent face-to-face with Tori were the fasted 30 seconds of my life. I can’t tell you what I said exactly — I honestly don’t remember — but I pitched her an interview and gave her my business card. And just like that, it was over. I walked down the stairs, surprised I hadn’t burst into tears but still needing to steady myself and catch my breath. My mom followed (she had gotten my copies of sTORI telling and Mommywood signed) and we left.
I think the smile is still plastered on my face.