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Diahann Carroll's 'Legs...' an unconventional winner

Misani | 4/12/2011, 4:34 p.m.

In her own clear voice, which at times is soft and gentle, other times challenging and strong, Carroll gives us unique insights that can only come from the gritty perspective of a person who has been there and has gone through the experience. One such instance occurred on the set of "Carmen Jones" in 1954,when an older actor ordered her to take off her clothes, which she did. Subsequently, the actor left the room, locked the door from the outside and did not return until the next day. Barely in her 20s, the innocent Carroll subjected herself to this type of disrespectful treatment, which in retrospect she explained clearly stemmed from her low self-esteem. Another instance occured with her fourth and last husband, the singer Vic Damone, who was so unsupportive of her career that at the end of their disastrous marriage when she called to let him know she had just learned that she had been diagnosed with cancer, his appalling reply was, "Oh shit! What next, Diahann?" There are voluptuous moments of triumphs, such as surviving the breast cancer, breaking the color barrier in several instances in Hollywood, as well as ugly moments such as a degrading audition with Andrew Lloyd Weber for "Sunset Boulevard."

Despite the awful experience with Weber, she ended up playing the lead in the play in Toronto while in her 60s. Throughout the book, the conflicts are real. Some are resolved, such as the challenging relationship with her daughter, which the two women have now worked out, affording Carroll the ultimate joy and wonder of being a grandmother. However, some of the conflicts remain unresolved, such as certain aspects of her relationship with her mom, who at one point was living her life vicariously through her daughter's stardom. There are also moments of anger with her dapper father, who was a womanizer. Yet, there are equally poignant, tender, caring times with both parents.

This all plays out authentically and Carroll makes no excuses as she lays it all out on the table. Structurally, the pacing is great and the transitions to the back stories are seamless. There is also the use of strong descriptions throughout the book, making the scenes really her writing partner Bob Morris, shine brilliantly as writers. From the amusingly vain-glorious title to the last seductive page, Carroll lures her readers into her fascinating world, where she irresistibly traps us, making us stare at our own reflection, as we look at hers. No matter the age group (Baby Boomers, Generations X,XY and the Silent Generation), by the end of our mirrored literary experience, after reading Carroll's story we emerge healed and refreshed with a new understanding about life, our life's journey and our purpose on this earth. This is the type of empowerment that Carroll felt and expresses on the concluding page of the book: "The lady on the cover...she's happy. I hope you like her. I do. Some people come of age as teenagers. I came of age as a senior citizen." Within this gold nugget of truth and innocence uttered by the great Diahann Carroll is the awakening of hope for all humanity. Here in the wisdom of experience is a flowering of a universal camaraderie for women of all ages to embrace our boundless spirits as we look for directions on our journey in our roles as daughters, career women, lovers, wives, mothers and grandmothers.

This is the delightful power of Carroll's generous, but always sincere, humorous and elegant memoir, "The Legs Are The Last To Go...." This title speaks to everyone, making it a compelling and irresistibly gratifying read for all readers. It is highly recommended, especially as a discussion vehicle for book club members. Trust me, like Diahann Carroll, "Legs..."is an unconventional winner!" For further information, please visit www.amistadbooks.com. "The Legs Are the Last to Go: Aging, Acting, Marrying, and Other Things I Learned the Hard Way" is a highly recommended "Go Get A Book In Your Hand" Reading Team Adult Book Selection. To contact the Go Get A Book in Your Hand" Reading Team, please e-mail us at: gogetabook@yahoo.com.