Review: Uncommon Knowledge by Judy Lewis

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Judy Lewis was in her thirties before she discovered Hollywood’s best-kept secret–that she was the daughter of Clark Gable and Loretta Young. Set against a backdrop of Beverly Hills mansions and lavish parties, Uncommon Knowledge is a behind-the-scenes memoir of Hollywood in its heyday. But it is also the unforgettable story of a difficult but ultimately triumphant journey of self-discovery.

Normally I wouldn’t use a nonfiction this old to go along with the historical fiction I was reading, but in this case the book coincided so well with the subject of All the Stars in the Heavens that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. While the novel spends a great deal of time focusing on Young and Gable’s thwarted romance, it spends decidedly little relating the relationship between Young and her daughter or the repercussions of Young keeping Lewis’s parentage from her. There’s good reason for that since it was clear the author of All the Stars in the Heavens had read Lewis’s autobiography and wanted to paint a more likable and sympathetic picture of Loretta Young.

The picture Lewis leaves is of a mother, who through fault of religion, abandonment by men, and strict moral code of the time period, was left with few options when finding herself pregnant by a married actor. Lewis doesn’t fault her mother for her choices she was forced to make, but she does question why she wasn’t just given up for adoption rather than embroiled in the elaborate charade of her “adoption” by Young. The image of Young left by her daughter is that of a woman distant in her affection, cold in her disapproval and determined to be the center of attention. That being said, Lewis isn’t as vindictive as many celebrity children writing tell-alls are about their parents, but she spares little pity for Tom Lewis, who was controlling and took his wrath out on Lewis in various ways (much of this stemming from the fact that Young never actually revealed who Lewis’s father was to him). Lewis is trying to excise her demons, some long held from being manipulated by her mother and her desperation to be loved by her parents, so her view of her childhood is from a woman long frustrated by her family. I don’t doubt her impressions of her family, but it’s not a completely rounded picture of a complex situation and Lewis has a tendency to repeat herself over her pain. The book is an interesting counterpoint to the fictional account of Young’s life.

3 out of 5

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