Cover Image: Dancing on the Edge

Dancing on the Edge

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Member Reviews

I received a copy of the book "Dancing on the Edge: A Journey of Living, Loving and Tumbling through Hollywood" from Netgalley. I was pleased to see Russ Tamblyn write a memoir. I am a fan of the movies "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and West Side Story" Russ Tamblyn has had a long career as an actor. He started out as a child actor and continued his career into his eighties. He is honest of the ups and downs of his career. After West Side Story, he had many decades of working in "B" movies {or less than B} He grew tired of going on auditions even though he had already shown his successful roles in acting. He also writes of the many stars he remained friends with throughout his life. Like Dean Stockwell a fellow child actor. He was also friends with musicians. He is also a talented artist who sold his art pieces. He writes of his also talented daughter, Amber Tamblyn. I found this to be an interesting read. Glad I got the chance to read his memoir.

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The author teased his memoir for a few years now on his social media and I was looking forward to reading it. Thanks to #NetGalley and @blackstonepublishing for the advanced read. I am a huge Twin Peaks fanatic and Russ Tamblyn played the incredible character of Dr Jacoby on the show.

This memoir covers his start as a child actor. He becomes a contract dancer/actor with MGM Studios, and goes on to star in big blockbuster movies including West Side Story. After years in the business, he retreats into the world of fine art where he develops his craft and bonds with fellow artists and musicians. After a period of time, he comes back to Hollywood. I learned a lot of interesting details (great friends for decades with Dean Stockwell, Neil Young and Dennis Hopper). The memoir is honest and he tells the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s well written and has some real touching moments.

#dancingontheedge #memoir #nonfiction #hollywood #art #twinpeaks #drjacoby #dramp #westsidestory #advancedreadercopy #netgalley #readingisfundamental📚 #books #bookstagram #autobiography

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I received an ARC from NetGalley, although I finished reading it after the publication date.

There are certainly some great stories within these pages and I'm glad to have read it, but I will admit I was not too impressed with the book as a whole. I think having a physical, compiled record of his memories and stories is a wonderful thing, especially for his family, but it didn't win me over as a book. To me, the book reads as guarded and hyper-aware. I don't mean to project anything or assume how Russ actually felt writing it, but it just never quite worked for me as a reader.

There are a few definitive highlights for me, however, which make the book worth reading at least once. He tells a very touching story in chapter 10 about MGM's fiftieth anniversary, which I won't spoil any of the details of, but I will say that the last sentence of that section was particularly impactful. Additionally, I felt that the love Russ has for some of his dearest friends was one of the strongest points of his book. As they are introduced and reappear throughout his recollections, it is very clear how significant those relationships have been in his life.

I've been a fan of Russ's work—particularly West Side Story—since I was a kid, and was excited to learn he was writing this memoir. I was sure after so many years in the business, he would have some incredible stories to tell, and he certainly does. Although I am not sure writing is one of Russ's greatest talents (of which there are many), I can imagine listening to him tell any of these stories in person would be a much more engaging experience. I think perhaps it doesn't always translate well to the written word, but I'm still grateful that he spent so much time and energy putting this book together, along with Sarah Tomlinson and everyone else who contributed to the process.

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Even casual movie fans recognize the name of Russ Tamblyn for his prominent role in the classic musical “West Side Story.” Television buffs probably remember his supporting role in David Lynch’s bizarre series, “Twin Peaks.” However, few know what happened to him in the three decades between those career highlights. Tamblyn now answers those questions in a lively memoir entitled “Dancing on the Edge.” Fans of Hollywood tell-all trivia will enjoy his many anecdotes about his early career, including appearances in epics like “West Side Story” and “How the West Was Won.” However, the story of what happened to Tamblyn after he essentially dropped out of that lifestyle was just as fascinating for me.

Russ Tamblyn was a child star in an era that produced other actors like Dean Stockwell (his best lifelong friend) and Natalie Wood. His parents had been in vaudeville, and he was amazingly nimble and athletic in his youth. Tamblyn soon signed a lengthy studio contract with MGM. However, his early roles were straight dramas that didn’t take advantage of his dancing skills. His break came when he was cast in the musical “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” The choreographer, Michael Kidd, wanted trained dancers to play the parts of Howard Keel’s six younger brothers. But the studio wanted to cast people who could act in some roles. So, they compromised on four dancers and two actors, including Tamblyn. But when he showed off his hitherto unknown dancing skills to Kidd, he wound up showing those same skills in the lavish production numbers.

Tamblyn’s dancing skills led to an amazing three-minute tour de force in the otherwise serious, black-and-white Western, “The Fastest Gun Alive.” His shovel dance in that film is one of YouTube’s most popular dance sequences. (He also includes a spoiler about how he could perform some of his stunt work in the shovel dance routine.) From there, his career took off until his studio contract ended, and he dropped out of the major Hollywood studio system. His last starring role in a major studio production was in 1966, at the age of 32. He still got offers, including the starring role in the TV series, “Gilligan’s Island,” but he concentrated on his art instead.

As you might expect in this type of memoir, Tamblyn drops big names from Paul Newman to Elvis Presley. He recounts how touched he was when Fred Astaire complimented his dancing skills. Tamblyn also recalls a meeting with Queen Elizabeth when he attended a “West Side Story” screening where he was seated behind her in the Royal Box. He was shocked when Peter Sellers, who was sitting next to him, whispered to the Queen, “Lady, would you mind taking your crown off?” (The Queen didn’t respond.) Famous directors who influenced Tamblyn as an actor get their dues as well. Cecil B. DeMille gave him a hands-on lesson about what to do with his hands during a scene. And he recounts the difficulties he and the rest of the cast had with “West Side Story” co-director Jerome Robbins (who was fired during the production).

The Hollywood stories comprise the first third of “Dancing on the Edge.” From then on, the book becomes more of a personal memoir. I found these sections fascinating but sometimes frustrating. Tamblyn still acted occasionally (including starring in B-movie cult classics like “Satan’s Sadists”). He also did stage work in regional theater (both as an actor and choreographer), where his name was still a big draw. But for the most part, Tamblyn concentrated on his art. He befriended well-known local artists like Wallace Berman, who became his mentor. Tamblyn made collages and experimental 8mm films that were mostly assemblies of images. His artwork was emotionally rewarding, but not financially so. He recounts making less money at a gallery showing of a year’s worth of work than in a typical film role.

Tamblyn’s circle of friends changed after he dropped out. Instead of A-list Hollywood types, Tamblyn hung out with a few former child stars like Dean Stockwell and Billy Gray. He also became close with Dennis Hopper and musician Neil Young and collaborated on extensive (but ultimately commercially unsuccessful) projects with them. Ironically, Hopper was responsible for Tamblyn’s second big career break. At a party following the premiere of “Blue Velvet,” in which both Hopper and Stockwell appeared, Tamblyn met director David Lynch. The famous director told Tamblyn he would involve the actor in a future project. Tamblyn dismissed the conversation as typical Hollywood chatter until Lynch called a few years later. That future project was “Twin Peaks.”

Tamblyn has a co-writer for “Dancing on the Edge,” Sarah Tomlinson. Although Tomlinson is a former journalist who has written or ghostwritten over a dozen books and memoirs, I don’t think she drew Tamblyn out enough about his later career. Tamblyn is quite candid about his two failed marriages (the second of which lasted almost 20 years), his frequent womanizing, and his drug use. But I had a feeling that drugs and/or drinking played a more significant role in Tamblyn’s career arc than he let on here. (Tamblyn also mentions anger issues but doesn’t elaborate.) He discusses his lack of success at auditions, including not getting one part that was described as an older Russ Tamblyn-type. He finally quit trying after Quentin Tarantino rejected him for a part in “Reservoir Dogs,” a slight he took personally for years. (Tamblyn and Tarantino eventually made up, and the director gave him and his daughter Amber cameo roles in “Django Unchained.”) However, despite being almost destitute at times and subsisting on unemployment benefits, occasional residuals, and odd jobs, Tamblyn expresses few, if any, regrets about his career choices. I wish he or his co-writer had gone more in-depth about a very unconventional second stage of a prominent actor’s career.

Still, there’s a lot to enjoy in seeing Tamblyn describe his life. He doesn’t avoid tragedy, including Rudy Giuliani’s decision to stage a gala tribute for the 40th anniversary of “West Side Story” less than a month after 9/11. He also describes his reactions to the deaths of friends like Wallace Berman, Natalie Wood, Dennis Hopper, and, especially, Dean Stockwell. But there’s also a lot of joy in Tamblyn’s later years, including a blissful third marriage. He experiences a vicarious career renaissance through his daughter Amber’s career (which introduced a new generation of TV fans to the Tamblyn name). This is the rare star memoir I wish had been longer and not just to read more about Spencer Tracy and John Wayne (both of whom get a revealing mention here). Russ Tamblyn hasn’t led the typical Hollywood A-list life, and “Dancing on the Edge” is a much more entertaining book for that.

NOTE: The publisher graciously provided me with a copy of this book through NetGalley. However, the decision to review the book and the contents of this review are entirely my own.

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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing this eARC.

Dancing on the Edge chronicles the life of actor and artist Russ Tamblyn.

The most fascinating thing about this memoir is the span of history it covers. For as arguably few widely notorious projects as Russ Tamblyn has been in -- and that's not to discredit his projects, I'm a huge fan, but every time I've mentioned this book to my friends, it takes me several minutes to explain who I'm talking about -- the man has really been involved in so much Hollywood and pop culture history. Every time there was a name drop, my jaw about dropped. I think in all, this reads very much as a man nearing the end of his life, reflecting fondly on it all, and while there's absolutely nothing wrong with that -- truly, it's such a heartwarming vibe -- there is almost a saccharine sweetness to the way Tamblyn talks about his life. We move so quickly through so many decades, I often found myself thinking, wait, are we not going to unpack that a bit more? By the end, I had learned so much, and I had questions about even more.

In all, I think this is a quick, interesting memoir, and certainly worth a read even for folks who've not heard much of Russ Tamblyn, for all the interesting cultural history he had firsthand encounters with.

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I was most interested in this memoir because as a kid, what got me into musical theater was in large part the film version of ‘West Side Story’.

In the film, Tamblyn portrays Riff, leader of the Jets. He was my favorite character and as a kid I developed a slight crush on him (despite first seeing the film nearly 40 years after it was first released). Tamblyn’s memoir delivers in showing the scope of his varied film, theater, and fine art career, as well as offering many at times unflinching looks at his rebellious personal life. While I at times found his behavior pretty egregious, he’s nothing if not honest here.

My main complaint is I wish he expanded a bit more about WSS and its success afterward but I did learn so much I never knew about the actor. (Did you know he was good friends with Neil Young? I sure didn’t.)

My thanks to Blackstone Publishing for this ARC copy for review.

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Dancing on the Edge: A Journey of Living, Loving and Tumbling through Hollywood by Russ Tamblyn and Sarah Tomlinson #twentyseventhbookof2024 #arc

CW: drug use, alcoholism

This celebrity memoir is the best kind—full of hot Hollywood gossip plus some profound truths and self reflection. I loved it. It was everything I wanted to read.

From his roles in the old studio system to musicals like West Side Story, and then his transition to artist and then back to Twin Peaks and the like, Tamblyn has had a varied career and he talks about all of it. He discusses his marriages and is honest about his failures. It’s refreshing to see someone take ownership of their flaws.

This was a really fun read, and I learned a lot about the California counterculture and the arts scene. The gossip from his movie sets was so fascinating and now I want to go back and rewatch his early movies. I recommend this book wholeheartedly to anyone who enjoys old movies or musicals or just wants to learn more about someone who has a super interesting life. And what fun cover!

Thank you to @blackstonepublishing and @netgalley for the advance copy. (pub date 4/9/24)

#dancingontheedge #russtamblyn #celebritymemoir #oldhollywoodgossip

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I knew who Russ Tamblyn was at a very young age. My sister and I would watch Seven Brides for Seven Brothers on loop throughout my childhood. We recently even saw a local production because we're so fond of that particular film. For someone who's nearly 90 years old, he had a lot of stories to tell. I have only personally seen two of his projects and he didn't dedicate much time to them in his book. He briefly touched on West Side Story and had a few paragraphs about Seven Brides. He's had an incredible life, but I wasn't as interested in his later years. My favorite section was when he described Elvis crashing his place and finding peanut butter sandwiches in the bureau months later.

Russ Tamblyn has had a remarkable career and it's difficult to capture that in a memoir. From his films to children to his acrobatic skills, he's a pinnacle of Hollywood history. I wish this was shorter with more concise chapters, but I otherwise learned a lot about the actor. It was great to revisit my childhood and see why I admired a man always Dancing on the Edge.

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I've waited a lifetime for this book by the inimitable Russ Tamblyn since I saw him as Riff in West Side Story when I was 8 years old. He struck my heart in a way that has inexplicably lasted throughout my life, and his book is written with such candour and humour that I thoroughly enjoyed every word of it. Thank you Russ for sharing your life with us, and thank you Netgalley for so kindly allowing me to read an advance copy!

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First, I absolutely love the cover of this book. Second, I absolutely loved the book. It’s hard to believe Russ Tamblyn is 89 years old and has been working on this book since the 1990s. The book spans seven decades of stories surrounding movies, art, television, friends and family.

Russ teases in the beginning of the book stories about Marilyn Monroe & Paul Newman and explains how he decided to take these and similar stories to create the book. By the end of chapter two he’s told both stories and you’re hooked to hear more. Rather than go into depth on all of his pictures and tv shows, he touches on the most popular and those significant to him. He shares little stories and doesn’t mess around with giving a full synopsis on the movies either. Most of his movies are well known and well written about, so it was nice that he shared unknown personal stories along with what was going on in his life during those years. I enjoyed that he was honest about his feelings on certain roles and how he always found the positive in something that may not have been interesting for him or something he had to take for the money. I appreciated how open he was about his past issues with infidelity and being able to identify that his behavior wasn’t a good representation of himself, but that he hadn’t found his purpose to stop until he met his wife, Bonnie.

There’s no doubt Russ has lived and is still living an eccentric and fulfilling life. I was nervous that when he would delve into his art that I’d find myself bored, but he really brings the reader into the counterculture he was experiencing and why he admired certain mentors. All of this was weaved with his love of art and the antics he got into during this time and I found myself more intrigued during part two of the book than learning about some of the movies I loved in part one. He writes beautifully and honestly about his relationships with friends and spouses. He has such a deep love for his family and friends that it makes you want to know them all and be included in his circle. The book was worth the time spent writing it and is a beautiful encapsulation of the life he has lead thus far.

Thank you to Blackstone Publishing for this ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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I've always been a fan of Russ Tamblyn. So I was excited to read his journey from his words. This was a great memoir and I thought a lot of the stories were interesting. It really shed some light on to Russ Tamblyn's life. It was and was written perfectly to tell the story. I appreciate Russ tamblyn sharing his story in these pages.

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I would like to thank Net Galley and Blackstone Publishing for the opportunity to read this book as an ARC. I remember Russ Tamblyn from West Side Story , as well as many other movies and television. This book showed me that he is much more than a sum of his roles. This is a thoughtful, insightful memoir of a long Hollywood Life and career. It is a raw unvarnished look at life , love and friendship against the ups and downs of a life in show business. Nothing is sugar coated, or glossed over. It is sometimes painfully honest. Mr. Tamblyn has lots of stories to tell, and he tells them all and he tells them well. Thank you!

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My thanks to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for providing me with an advance copy of this book.

I am a big fan of Russ Tamblyn so I've been eagerly awaiting this book, which he has been writing for many years, I've seen all this major movie roles and remember him fondly from Twin Peaks. What makes him unique, and what should have made this book unique as well, is that he is one of the last major performers from the Golden Age of MGM Musicals. He even co-starred with Spencer Tracy in two movies.

Because of all that potential I was deeply disappointed in this book. It is simply not in the same league as Kirk Douglas's "The Ragman's Son" or the Shirley MacLaine and Shelley Winters memoirs, which were unsparing accounts filled with fabulous and revealing anecdotes. Dancing on the Edge is not revealing and is dull for long stretches.

The problem may be that the passage of time has dulled Mr. Tamblyn's memory, or perhaps he just wasn't very observant in the first place. Another problem is organic. Much of his life after Hollywood was spent in Topanga Canyon creating art, and we get that in copious and very tedious detail. It might interest an art aficionado but not anyone interested in Mr. Tamblyn's movie career.

We get one brief anecdote on Spencer Tracy. We get little on his spectacular performance in the landmark musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. He got to know one of the co-stars, who turned out to be a drunk, but barely mentions any of the others, who included some of the finest dancers of their era. One of his costars, Jacques D'Amboise, wrote a wonderful memoir that has all the great qualities this book lacks: self-reflection and great anecdotes.

West Side Story is the biggest disappointment, So much has been written about the making of that movie and Mr. Tamblyn adds little. Given that the cover shows him performing in that film, you'd think he would say more about it. One gets the impression that while the movie was made he just didn't pay much attention to what was happening. If he did, he has either forgotten it or doesn't care to write about it.

He talks about Peyton Place, in which he gave a superb and sensitive performance and was nominated for an Oscar, but mainly it's an account of his affair with the leading lady and his friendship with Arthur Kennedy. Little is written on the films in which he had notable secondary roles, like Hit the Deck. At one point in the book he describes how he "personally reminisced" with two of his Hit the Deck costars about the movie. That was frustrating. Why didn't he reminisce about that film in this book? After all, this is his autobiography and that is why people are reading it.

Likewise, there was nothing on Take the High Ground, a war movie in which he gave a clever and comedic performance. He co-starred with Richard Widmark, Karl Malden and other well-known performers. He has nothing to say about working on that film and just mentions it in passing.

What we do get is a lot of dreary stuff about his love life and endless discussion of his "art career," which he took up after his movie career faltered. Yet that is his where we get the most detail, that and his buddies like Dean Stockwell and the artist Wallace Berman. He goes on and on about Berman, His career took an upturn with Twin Peaks in 1990, but again he provides little in the way of insights into himself or his costars.

Finally, he talks about his daughter Amber, managing her career, but there is nothing on how she supported him, which she wrote about in a New York Times article in 2021, in which she expressed solidarity with Britney Spears, She went into some detail on that. She wrote that supporting her parents damaged their relationship. You can read about that in Wikipedia but it is not even mentioned here.

Altogether a missed opportunity.

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