They Can Kill You But They Can't Eat You: Lessons from the Front
by Dawn Steel
Pocket Books, 285 pages, $22.
In fact, you can skip any word that's not italicized (life lessons, movie titles) or capitalized (her many high-profile friends, associates and enemies) and end up with a pretty cozy read. Everything else is, as she puts it, "my truth."
The book's precious section titles ("The Dawn of Dawn," "The Break of Dawn" and "Tempered Steel") set the tone for Steel's own truth about her roller-coaster life: Poor kid overcomes misogyny and father's nervous breakdown to market Penthouse, pseudo-Gucci toilet paper and Star Trek: The Motion Picture and work her way to the top at Paramount and Columbia Pictures -- detouring along the way for affairs with Richard Gere and Martin Scorsese, among others -- and finally discovering true happiness through personal and professional motherhood (giving birth to her daughter and independently producing Cool Runnings as the book closes).
Naturally, They Can Kill You is about chutzpah (the prerequisite to life in Hollywood) and survival (the penultimate goal). The ultimate goal, success, also seems to be a part of Steel's story, but not as big a part as one would think. She valiantly notes the rewarding elements of failed relationships and lost opportunities, but underlying the hear-me-roar rhetoric is the riddle that many superwomen of the '80s kept to themselves: What does the woman who has it all really want? A nap.
Steel worked exhaustively throughout her first 40 years and reaped rewards and raspberries from her fellows in entertainment. She made friends the likes of Barbra Streisand and David Geffen, and enemies out of Frank Mancuso and Aldo Gucci. She learned a key to negotiation from Mike Ovitz ("It's a simple phrase: I'm confused") and the key to maintaining sanity from Jeffrey Katzenberg: "Don't take it personally. It's not about you." She gained a lot along the way -- life lessons -- and through it all, had a great head of hair. (According to Steel, her hair is one of her proudest possesions and a big part of her success. Sort of the flip side of Samson.)
They may have tried to kill her more than once but, as she has proven with Cool Runnings, Dawn Steel is still alive, still a player and enjoying a few just deserts...no mean feat in a world where you're lucky to make it to appetizer status.
Her stories don't always jibe with other published accounts of these subjective times, but since (here are some life lessons of my own) the truth is usually somewhere in between and speculation is the better part of scandal, accept the book as one person's version and enjoy it.
So what if you have to wade through page after page of feelings poured out in first person singular? The life lessons are in italics, and the pictures are a lot of fun, too.