‘Ham: Slices of a Life’
By Sam Harris
OK, pay attention.
Sometimes, that’s all you need: just someone to watch you, to hear what you’re saying or understand your feelings. A little attention can be a bad mood squasher, a good mood enhancer or just validation.
Yes, a minute in the spotlight can do wonders. And as you’ll see in “Ham: Slices of a Life” by Sam Harris, hogging that spotlight can be even better.
From the time he was 3 years old, growing up in Sand Springs, Okla., Sam Harris, a singer and Broadway and TV actor, embraced the dramatic.
For his third Christmas, he received a special overcoat that made him dance. By 10, he had talked his parents into allowing him to be baptized, the after-applause being more important than receiving the Holy Ghost. He loved putting on shows in his parents’ basement, doing local community theater and acting in school performances. He was unabashed about his love of the limelight.
When he was just 15, his father lied about Harris’ age so Harris could take a summer stage job in St. Louis. A year later, though he’d known for a long time that he was “different” and though it caused him anguished guilt and family strife, Harris fell in love with a boy on another stage in Nashville.
A short time in college proved to Harris that education wouldn’t make his dream come true, so he “hunted out” his stage presence in dark, colorless, largely empty clubs. Agents and producers “occasionally came slumming,” but little happened until Harris finally found someone who believed in him: his father hired Jerry Blatt, who was Bette Midler’s writer/director, as a gift. Skeptical Harris figured it would be just another disappointment, but Blatt would “become the single most important influence … and the greatest gift my dad, or anyone, ever gave me.”
In this memoir, Harris writes about growing up and how his family had the misfortune to experience home fires twice. He writes of falling in love with Mr. Wrong, then meeting his husband, falling in love again, and wanting a child so badly that he couldn’t stand seeing other children. He explains his career and his almost-didn’t-happen appearance on “Star Search.” He dishes stories of famous friends, on-stage nemeses, alcoholism, being “different” and being gay.
I’m normally not a fan of books that scramble their timelines, but in “Ham: Slices of a Life,” that bouncing around works well.
Maybe that’s because author Sam Harris writes with bouncing-on-your-toes energy, rushing from subject to subject with the occasional lingering moment to ponder things that are important to him. His is an eagerness that’s endearing.
Some of the essays in this book are funny. “Liver” will put a new metaphor in your vocabulary. The story of Liza Minelli’s wedding is hilarious, and Harris’ memories of his friend, Jerry, made me a little teary.
With humor, soul baring, name dropping, and just the right mix of vulnerability and snarkiness, this book is a definite pleasure to read. If you’re looking for a memoir you can enjoy, whole-hog, “Ham: Slices of a Life” should get your attention.