LOVE, PAMELA, by Pamela Anderson
By now the story of Pamela Anderson, “Baywatch” babe turned rock wife and erstwhile celebrity sex-tape star, has become familiar. It unfolded in public and has been rehashed many times since, most recently in a Hulu drama series but also by Anderson herself, in her 2014 memoir “Raw” and two romans à clef. Given this glut of content, the arrival of a new memoir, in tandem with a Netflix documentary, might feel like overkill. But as it turns out, the most disappointing thing about “Love, Pamela” is that it doesn’t come in a form that can be injected directly into your veins.
Anderson is a natural storyteller, which shouldn’t come as a surprise; her ability to sustain a personal narrative is what’s kept her in the public eye for going on four decades. “Love, Pamela” is a dazzling and occasionally dizzying ride through this period, in which vivid scenes of ’80s and ’90s decadence bump up against blind items about Russian oligarchs and brief but iconic celebrity cameos. (“You have NO organs,” Tom Ford tells her, approvingly, after lacing her into a corset for a photo shoot.)
Woven throughout are passages written in verse, which is not as annoying as it sounds: There’s so much going on that you need the extra line breaks to catch your breath.
Crafting narratives is something Anderson has been doing her whole life, as we learn in the chapters about her early childhood on Vancouver Island, described in lush detail (“fragrant purple lilacs, sour grapes in vines strangling the trunks of tart green apple trees”). But interspersed among these sun-dappled scenes are episodes of harrowing violence. To cope with the traumas she experienced, Anderson retreated into her imagination: “a dream world,” she calls it, where she could “disconnect” — and thus survive — by pretending to be someone else. “It’s how I learned to control my life,” she writes. “One fantasy after another.”
There were downsides to this approach, among them her tendency to see “diamonds in lumps of coal.” Edward Gorey would have a field day with Anderson’s exes: Billy was in a gang and used nunchakus; Jack tried to run her over in his car. Playboy became her unlikely savior: The magazine’s decision to make her a Playmate in 1989 enabled her to leave a bad fiancé (Michael threw a tray of silverware at her head) and start a new life in Hollywood, where she could date nice guys like the director Mario Van Peebles. “We made love for the first time in a field of long, soft grasses,” she writes, “as horses ran by dangerously close, almost trampling us.” So that happened.
Still, Anderson cannot resist the siren song of the bad boy, and when the Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee sidles up to her in a club — “wallet chain swinging, no shirt on, just tattoos and nipple rings” — well, you know the rest. This relationship — which begins with an impromptu beach wedding in Mexico and ends, in horrible slow motion, after the theft of a private videotape from the couple’s home — is the focus of the Hulu series “Pam & Tommy.” Anderson’s version of the ensuing “sex tape” scandal does not differ substantially from that in the show (which she did not participate in), but the amount of space she allots it — one chapter — is a pointed reminder that this is only a tiny piece of her story. While it was “one of the most difficult things I have gone through,” she writes, recent reports saying it “destroyed” her life feel almost like a disservice in light of what, according to “Love, Pamela,” actually happened.
Which was that Anderson picked herself up and took herself back to her not one but two beachfront properties in Malibu, where she has lived a lot of life since. She raised her two sons (from her marriage to Tommy Lee) in an idyll by the beach where they surfed in the mornings before school and had random Tom Hanks sightings. She spent the next few decades doing all kinds of fun stuff, like pole-dancing behind Elton John, assisting a magician in Vegas and playing Roxie Hart in “Chicago” on Broadway. She’s been in something like 20 movies and 60 TV shows, and still found time to marry Kid Rock on a yacht, get drunk with Julian Assange and persuade Vladimir Putin to save 12 beluga whales. Recently, she was photographed dragging a Christmas tree through the streets of Paris in a fluffy white dress and matching hat. Evidence enough that Pamela Anderson has been living the dream, one fantasy at a time.
Jessica Pressler is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.
LOVE, PAMELA | By Pamela Anderson | 240 pp. | Dey Street | $30