Adrienne Barbeau – Love Writes
by Ronald Sklar
Originally posted October 13, 2010.
Writers are taught to “write what you know,” so when actress Adrienne Barbeau took her first writing class, she wrote about being eaten alive by rats.
“I had just made a low-budget horror film over in Russia,” she tells me from her California home. “I was supposed to be working with fifty trained rats. The rats were trained to only eat anything that smelled like fish. Whenever they needed these rats on my body, they just covered me with fish heads.
“So I started writing little pieces about things like that. After about six months of writing these little pastiches and these homework assignments, the teacher said, ‘you know, you’ve got a book here. You need to get an agent and see if you can make a sale.’”
That resulting sale became her bestselling memoir, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” [published by Carroll and Graff] which told of her life as an actress in some pretty impressive projects. For sure, she was not hurting for material. She had been one of the first New York go-go dancers in the sixties (“covered to the neck,” she assures me). She co-starred with Bette Midler as one of Tevye’s daughters on Broadway in Fiddler on the Roof. She was the first Rizzo in Grease on Broadway. And she first became well-known for playing the outspoken daughter of TV’s first liberated woman, on Maude.
Her career, and Barbeau herself, continued to evolve long after that initial success. When she married film director John Carpenter, she became a horror-movie-genre staple (starring in such horror classics as The Fog, Creepshow, and Swamp Thing, as well as adventure films such as Escape From New York, among others), and she has made a regular go of a voiceover career (she voiced Catwoman in the Fox animated series Batman). If this weren’t enough, she made headline news when she gave birth to twin boys at the tender age of 51, with her second husband, actor / playwright / producer (and brother of Stephen) Billy Van Zandt.
Her writing career started out as simply an aside.
She says, “I’m sure in the back of my mind I thought that [taking this writing class] was a way to meet some new friends. But if you start taking a writing class, you have to bring in homework assignments. So I just started writing about things that had happened to me in my career or growing up that I thought might be funny or interesting to other people.
“I swear, it never crossed my mind that anybody taught writing, unless they were in a school situation, and they were teaching grammar and sentence structure. I didn’t think you could learn to write. I figured you were either born Stephen King or you’re not.”
She wasn’t born Stephen King, but she’s working toward an approximate reincarnation. After the success of her memoir, she turned to horror fiction. Her first novel, Vampyres of Hollywood [St. Martin’s Press], co-written with horror author Michael Scott, also became a bestseller. Again, she paid attention to the writer rule of thumb: write what you know.
“[The main character] happened to be a writer,” she notes, “and a star of seventeen horror films, including a couple that just went straight to DVD. She also happened to be a 450-year-old vampire who was the head of a clan of very famous and well-recognized Hollywood actors, all of whom were vampires. And that [novel] was Vampyres of Hollywood.”
Her latest novel, Love Bites, is a continuation of the first, and this time as a fiction writer, she is flying solo.
“It was like having an enormous masters’ thesis that was due at the end of the semester,” she says. “I just felt like I had this homework assignment over my head all the time. It was new to me and I didn’t know my capabilities. I just wrote non-stop, whenever I wasn’t acting, whenever I wasn’t auditioning, whenever I wasn’t driving the kids back and forth, I was writing.