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Lovely Pamela: 
A Review of Love, Pamela: A Memoir of Prose, Poetry and Truth photo

It was mid-summer in the late 90s and I was staying at my parents’ house on break. It was late. Probably 3 am, maybe 4, and I was coming home and coming down gently from whatever club treats I had taken at the Roxy. Even though I was technically an adult, I still crept in as quietly as I could, not wanting to wake my family. But my mother has always suffered from insomnia and this night was no different. Luckily, she ignored my oversized pupils. She sat on our family room couch in a white linen nightgown, transfixed and blue-lit by the glow of the E Entertainment special quietly playing on the television set. “Sit,” she said, patting the spot next to her on the sofa. “This is really good.”

It was Pamela on the screen, wearing no makeup, hair undone, freckles like she'd been blessed by the sun. She talked about motherhood, work, her love of animals, the earth, her body. It was a complete contrast to the tabloid Pamela we were used to, and yes, we passed the same judgement that Anderson has been fighting against for most of her life. We couldn’t believe how naturally beautiful she was, how funny, how smart. By the time the sky lightened through the back porch windows and the special turned to infomercials my mom and I were smitten. Our shared love of Pamela Anderson and the memory of that night is something we return to often.  

The Pamela we meet in Love, Pamela is the Pamela I met in the E Entertainment special twenty odd years ago. She’s dreamy, introspective, goddess-like. (In the Netflix documentary, Pamela: A Love Story, released as a pairing with the book, she is the same: make-up free and angelic in flowing pale cotton dresses, tucked on a soft white couch, surrounded by her old journals, tapes and poems). 

Love Pamela is imbued with the language of the celestial. Nymphs and sprites alight the corners of Anderson's world and her descriptions of life growing up on the island of Ladysmith, Canada are sensual, feminine and lush – tiered rock gardens, fragrant purple lilacs, lavender ice cubes in cold lemonade. If you're looking for a sleazy 90s Los Angeles Playboy Mansion Sunset Strip tell all, you won't find much here. Love, Pamela is interspersed with Anderson's gentle poetry (she had wanted to write the whole book in free verse but was strongly encouraged by her editor not to), is more of a meditation on motherhood, romantic love and a rich career than a sordid confessional. 

Early in the book though, the reader is torn out of Anderson's fairy tale reverie and whipped through the violence Anderson endured as a child: an alcoholic rage-aholic father and a mother who can’t let him go, molestation by a babysitter, and physical and sexual assault at the hands of high school boyfriends. These scenes continue to reverberate throughout Anderson's adult life in uncanny echoes. Anderson’s brother Gerry fights off their father in defense of their mom, just as her son Brandon later allegedly assaults Tommy Lee for the same reasons. Her father is a mean, violent drunk, nasty character traits she later recognizes in Tommy Lee. “My model of love,” she writes, “is slightly skewed.”

Anderson is no victim though and makes it clear throughout the book she forgives, she loves, she moves forward. She commits deeply to the process of psychological and spiritual growth. At a young age, she immerses herself in Carl Jung, “Trying,” she says, “to understand why people were so fucked up.”

By the time Anderson is twenty-two and spotted on the Jumbotron at a Canadian football game, (a classic old Hollywood ingenue story ensues: modeling contract, TV commercials, call from Playboy, Greyhound Bus to LA), she is more than ready to leave it all behind.

In the late-eighties, early nineties LA scenes we do get a few delicious peeks into seedy Hollywood. Pamela as the voyeur of Jack Nicholson in a threesome, Pamela making love in a field with Mario Van Peebles, Pamela discovering Rick Salomon’s crack pipe nestled in the branches of her family Christmas Tree. Anderson’s life at the Playboy Mansion though, is anything but sordid. It is here that Anderson finally feels safe, cared for and empowered. She considers Hugh Hefner and the Playmates her family. And she loves her work. In front of the camera, Anderson truly discovers her femininity, her gift for the erotic, luxuriating in her body. “I was wild and uninhibited, rolling, laughing, playing to the camera, pulling the cold, wet silk across my skin…goose bumps, biting my lip.”

But her time as a Playmate comes with a price - she’s forever reduced to a caricature of female eroticism, only a body, never a mind - and she spends a lifetime frustrated and furious that her razor-sharp wit, her compassion, her soulful connections are looked over. “I craved a person in my own life who might recognize me as an artist, someone who understood that I was a far cry from what people thought of me.” Over and over, she is interviewed on late night talk shows (Jay Leno) or sit-down-let’s-get-to-the-heart-of-the-matter interviews (Matt Lauer) where she’s asked in the creepily concerned manner of a drunk uncle at Thanksgiving dinner about her breasts.

It’s tricky. To be famous for being a Playmate or a Baywatch babe is to be known for a beautiful body, a sexual being. Anderson has made it clear that she has never been very interested in becoming a serious actress. She thrived and found pleasure in her work. But still, she’s vilified for finding this pleasure, for thriving. Especially later, during the sex tape trials, when she’s forced walk into lawyer’s offices adorned with her nude photos, answering questions about her sex life like she was asking for it.

Anderson yearns for her intellect to be taken seriously and still does. At times, the book reads like a first-year masters in humanities syllabus as she spends pages listing philosophers, artists, and writers she has steeped herself in (Goethe, Shakespeare, Joseph Campbell, it goes on). She’s not the first woman celebrated for her sexuality to do this - Sasha Grey and Emily Ratajkowski come to mind as well.  The effect it here though is not impressing the reader, but rather making the reader want to hold her by the shoulders and tell her she doesn't have to prove herself. That her intelligence is clearly visible through her humor, her empathy, her connection with her body, with the earth, with her loves. Even so, it feels unfair of me to make this judgement. I’ll never know what it’s like to have to spend my life listening to a misogynistic chorus. “No matter how I tried,” she writes, “the image was bigger than me and always won.”

Anderson has kind words and fond memories for her past lovers. Scott Baio, Kid Rock, even Rick Salomon of the crack pipe in the Christmas tree discovery (whom she married three times) all get a warm review. But the romance we are all waiting for doesn’t come until halfway through the book, when we are finally introduced to Tommy Lee and flown all too briefly into his and Pam’s blissed-out love nest. Ecstasy, champagne, Cancun beach forever vows, a Malibu home. And then, control, jealousy and rage. Punched out producers, sawed off shotguns and whiskey fueled brawls. Babies come, but they don’t heal Anderson and Lee’s core wounds. Tommy, jealous of his own infant children, whines that the babies were taking away from his “wife time”. And nothing more than a giant baby himself, starts physically assaulting Anderson when he can’t get what he wants, like a toddler denied a toy at the playground. And then, the sex tape.

Much has been said about the amount of space Anderson gives to hers and Lees’ marriage in Love, Pamela. It’s not a lot – Lee’s name is mentioned on about 30 of the book’s 234 pages and even less is given to the sex tape that has a heavy hand in the dissolution of their marriage. In Love, Pamela, Anderson’s marriage to Tommy Lee is an intense, passionate, painful whirlwind stop on her journey, yet the journey continues with only a mention or two of Lee’s name for the rest of the book. It’s as though she’s moved on.

In the Netflix documentary, however, about an hour out of the hour and forty-five-minute film is devoted to Lee and Anderson’s love. Forty seconds into Pamela: A Love Story, Pamela grows teary as she rewatches of VHS tape of her and Lee kissing, joking and holding one another on a trip to Europe and later has to leave the set to take a walk after watching an intimate home movie of her and Lee enjoying an evening of complete 90s R&B song romance perfection - strewn rose petals, nipple rings and TLC’s Diggin’ On You bumping in the background. It’s important to Anderson that her sons understand that they were borne of pure romantic love and so she has her son Brandon by her side as they view the clip, his expression lightly traumatized at having to watch his parents sucking face to the tune of T-Boz. Still, Anderson’s raw pain here is so palpable that my husband and I were in tears by the time the credits rolled, completely forgetting the years of violence, abuse, and general man-baby behavior in hopes that the end of the film would find them back together. It doesn’t.

Anderson writes, “When I read Robert A. Johnson's He, She and We, my world was turned upside down. Johnson talks about the myth of romantic love and how an intense, fairy-tale love is unsustainable over a length of time. Tristan and Isolde - tales with echoes of tragedy. I assimilated this and recognized the impulse in myself.” But none of the love stories she cites are fairy tales. There’s no happily ever after.

There’s an impulse to reduce the Tommy and Pam love story to easy pop-psychology terms: they had a trauma bond, he had a Madonna/Whore complex after she became a mother. They were addicted to the thrill of new romance – they got back together for a short time after their initial divorce in 1998, once in 2001 and again in 2008. Would Pamela still lust for him, sober and retired? Even the most rich and famous have to deal with the day-to-day banalities of feeding ourselves, getting enough exercise, disappointments at work, coming to the rescue when our kids mess up. Maybe those day-to-day banalities would have shattered the image of pure romance Anderson is certain her sons are borne of. No one can be sure – the only people who can understand a relationship are the people who are in it.

Recently, back on the talk show circuit, Anderson has been promoting her memoir and documentary, repeating, sometimes tearily, the same soundbite: “I’d rather be alone than not be with the father of my kids.” It’s wistful and sad. But the sentiment isn’t repeated back to her by Lee. He’s been happily married to a woman twenty-four years his junior since 2019.

To spend a few hours inside of Anderson’s fairy-tale longings is lovely. But once you close the book and turn off Netflix you realize – in life there are no real happy endings. It just keeps going.