Sally Field explores her life, reveals surprises in the memoir ‘In Pieces’

Jane Henderson
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Oscar winner Sally Field says she didn’t publish the book to expose Hollywood or to reveal aspects of her life: She wrote it for herself.

As a small girl in her nightgown, Sally Field would be summoned to walk on her handsome stepfather’s back. As he lay naked under a sheet, the former stuntman for Errol Flynn seemed to want pain relief from the foot pressure of a petite child. “Keep going, Doodle,” he said.

Readers know where this scene is going, feeling the same queasiness Field describes in her memoir, “In Pieces,” now on sale.

Field says she didn’t publish the book to expose Hollywood or to reveal aspects of her life: She wrote it for herself.

“I’m really trying to unravel my own childhood survival mechanisms that allowed me to survive as a child, but got in my way as an adult,” Field said in a phone interview. “I had nothing to explain or even to tell. It was really my investigation, my exploration, to find pieces of myself.”

"In Pieces" by Sally Field

But she does look forward to meeting readers:

“I was always thinking to myself, ‘Just write it; you don’t have to publish it.’ (But) there is something in the communication of any of the ‘arts,’ if I can say that in quotes. Acting is that. Whether you are onstage or in front of a camera, it is a communication.

“You are offering yourself up, hoping that in return, you will get the energy of those who are witnessing it, who are reading it. That it will be a human communication between those who are reading and the person who is writing.”

Even if she isn’t trying to shock early fans of “Gidget” and “The Flying Nun,” there are revelations that have already made the news.

Besides the abuse from stepfather “Jocko” (Jacques O’Mahoney, who went on to have a TV show called “The Range Rider” and star in two Tarzan movies), Field writes that she was pregnant during “The Flying Nun,” partied with the Monkees and was told by director Bob Rafelson not only to kiss him, but also to take off her top (she did).

Even though she always resented the inanity of her role as “flying” Sister Bertrille, it was a cast mate, Madeleine Sherwood, who took her to Lee Strasberg’s famous actors studio, a pivotal moment. Field also writes about making pot brownies for her husband when he got a draft notice during Vietnam and that later Burt Reynolds didn’t want her to play “a whore.”

That “whore” role, starring in “Norma Rae,” won Field her first Oscar.

But before writing about her career, she goes into detail about her grandmother, aunts and siblings. Most importantly, she portrays her beloved mother.

“When she looked at me, it was never through me, but into me, lifting me off the ground in an invisible embrace,” Field writes.

A look-alike for the lovely actress Jennifer Jones, young Margaret Morlan was spotted by a talent scout for Paramount.

She had already married and delivered Sally and son Ricky, but as her husband served during World War II, the young mother studied with Charles Laughton. Her film career would consist mostly of minor movies, but Baa (Field’s name for her) and Jocko would both encourage Sally and give her acting advice.

Later, even as her mother drank and her ineffectual birth father showed up on weekends, Field aims more for truth than criticism.

“I’m just painting a picture of what there was. What she was and how it affected me,” Field explains.

Neither is her stepfather completely evil, sometimes pushing Sally to take risks, teaching her to ride a bike or swing from a tree. His acting experience gave her a bit of cache when she shot films like “Hooper,” which was about the life of stuntmen. In it, her stepfather had a bit part, and a character played by Brian Keith was named Jocko.

Field’s mother had long before divorced Jocko, and Field herself had stood up to him as a teenager. Yet the fact they were both in the cast was “utterly surreal,” she writes. In another curious tidbit, Field and her mother both act in a Florida theater production of “Bus Stop,” with Burt Reynolds directing.

She made three movies with Reynolds, starting with the blockbuster “Smokey and the Bandit.” Field wrote in her journal in 1976: “The script stinks but when I talked to Burt he told me we would ‘improv’ our way through it. I can’t figure out why he wants me. I don’t seem like his kind of leading lady.”

Of their resulting relationship, Field now says, “He was a very big part of my life, but for a very short time.”

She hadn’t talked to him for 30 years, but after Reynolds died this month, Field indicated he might have found her portrayal of him in the book painful.

“I try to paint him as a total human being,” she says. “He was colorful and magical and all those things” but was “vulnerable in the last years of his life.”

In the book he comes off at times as impatient and jealous, bored with talk of her two young sons. Divorced from her first husband, a friend from childhood, Field would be called to mother Reynolds, bringing him dinner and handing him Percocet for mysterious pain.

Although the #MeToo movement has illuminated sexism in Hollywood, Field insists that her industry is just one of many, saying, “It’s in every single, solitary place of business. Women are now speaking up and saying ‘stop.’

“It’s great. I grew up in a generation where that just wasn’t an option. It was difficult even to see that the behavior was outrageous.”

Field’s memoir takes readers through almost seven decades, but ends as it begins, with her mother. As Baa became ill, Field was cast as Mary Todd Lincoln, filming “Lincoln” with Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis.

She doesn’t delve into some of her roles, such as in “Forrest Gump” or “Mrs. Doubtfire,” or certainly the Netflix series “Maniac.”

Field the writer purposely adheres to her story, which she says is about her relationship with her mother and her development as an actress.

“Memoir is a very specific genre,” she says. “It’s not an autobiography, that’s a very different thing. Memoir is a story in a person’s life told by the person.

“There is a stretch of years when I was doing films that were all incredibly important, but they didn’t fit in this story. They were not about this tale that I’m telling.”

‘In Pieces’

Sally Field

Grand Central Publishing