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MARY-LOUISE PARKER - Bebeto Matthews - AP

I have seen Mary-Louise Parker act in three very different Broadway plays: Craig Lucas’ Prelude to a Kiss (1990), Alan Ayckbourn’s Communicating Doors (1998) and David Auburn’s Proof (2000), for which Parker won a Tony Award as Best Actress in a Play.

Witnessing those performances probably influenced my perception of Parker as a fiercely private person, a reluctant celebrity who is as elusive as a shapeshifter. She admits that she is strongly opinionated, and some who have worked with her might not call her particularly collegial. But her acting talent is undeniable — and so, it would appear, is her talent as a writer.


Dear Mr. You is billed as a memoir, but it is different from virtually any other memoir I have read. Most are fairly straight-ahead narratives, moving from Point A to Point B and onward in chronological order, including or excluding juicy details as the teller prefers. Generally speaking, you will get names, dates, places and specific happenings in various degrees of candor.

Parker, 51, does not do any of this. Instead, Dear Mr. You is written as a series of letters or thank-you notes addressed to the various men who have influenced her life. She starts with Grandpa and Daddy and includes lovers, friends, acquaintances and strangers, but not her brothers.

Almost no names are given. Dates and places aren’t often specified. There’s a fair amount of mystery here, at least if you thought you were really going to get the skinny on Parker’s past. But this memoirist isn’t giving up the goods that easily.

“People are consistently curious about other people’s business,” Parker recently toldThe Washington Post. “They always have been. They probably always will be. … No one’s entitled to anyone’s information about anyone else.”

Nevertheless, Parker reveals a fair amount of herself, or at least of the self she wants us to see, and it feels real enough that one can believe she sincerely means it. Each chapter in Dear Mr. You is a prose poem of sorts, filled with emotional memories — though Parker says in her prologue that she loathes the word memories “for both its icky tone and wistful graveyard implications.”

She fondly recalls men who “can fix my screen door, my attitude, and open most jars … slam a puck, build a decent cabinet or the perfect sandwich.” This book, it seems, is her chance to say “thank you for the tour of the elevator cage, the sound booth, the alley; thank you for the kaleidoscope, the get-well tequila, the painting, the truth.”

Among them was “Man Out of Time,” an elegant guy she met at a party, with whom she struck up a necessarily short but lovely friendship because “I just liked you so much.” It’s an elegiac story that rings true for all of us who have lost special friends much too soon.

Then there was “Mr. Cabdriver,” whose egregiously wrong turns on a bad day threw a hugely pregnant Parker into an f-bomb-fueled panic (in her defense, she had just been dumped by her longtime beau, actor Billy Crudup) and prompted the cabdriver to make an abrupt stop for her unscheduled departure. When the cabbie shouted, “Go! I am not taking you to anywhere, you are very awful! I don’t want you anymore,” Parker replied, “No one does.” Then she wailed: “I am alone. Look, see? I am pregnant and alone.”

Her misery at that moment is palpable. But so is her later joy, in “Dear Orderly,” when she writes about her son, the one perfect thing that came out of that bad time: “Look at him there, would you? I mean, have you ever? I almost can’t believe it. He’s my only and my one. He’s my ever and after. … He is my job now, the best one I’ve ever had, by a zillion, and I will be doing this one until I drop.”

In a way, Parker’s writing reminds me a bit of Anne Lamott’s, even to its offbeat, unconventionally spiritual aspects. Her most affecting chapter is her last one, “Dear Oyster Picker,” which is about her beloved father’s death. Upon finishing it, not only did I understand the meaning of the oyster shell pictured on the book’s dust cover, but I also understood exactly why Parker felt compelled to become a writer.

Joyce Sáenz Harris is a freelance writer in Dallas.

Plan your life

Mary-Louise Parker will appear with Mary Karr at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 11 at the Dallas Museum of Art as part of Arts & Letters Live. VIP tickets, which include priority seating and access to the signing line as well as a book, $75; general admission $35, with discounts for students and DMA members, at or 214-922-1818.


I took my five-year-old granddaughter to see a stage production of The Wizard of Oz, Sunday night at the Music Hall in Fair Park. We had good seats (thank you, Craigslist!), and it was fine as far as G-rated family entertainment goes.

Broadway caliber it was not: The Dallas Morning News’ drama critic had complained that the production was a bit cheesy and amateurish, and I have to admit that I’ve seen better acting and singing in any number of community theaters.

But never mind. Isabella and I share a love of the 1939 Oz movie, which we have watched together so often that by now I have memorized every line of dialogue, every song lyric, every bit of business.

Sometimes she will request an Oz song from me, usually a medley of the introductory solos sung by the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow (whom Iz charmingly refers to as “the Squarecrow”). She was fascinated by the whole stage show, although it may say something about the human actors that she was most impressed by Toto. “He’s a real dog!” she whispered, ecstatically.

Oz fanatic that I am, perhaps it was fate that I once met Judy Garland’s daughter. (No, not Liza Minnelli – Lorna Luft.) With my talent for completely useless trivia, I know an unhealthy amount about the Oz movie.  Things like: Buddy Ebsen was supposed to play the Tin Man, but he turned out to be deathly allergic to the metallic makeup and had to be replaced by Jack Haley. But you can still hear Ebsen singing in the chorus of “We’re off to see the Wizard…”

I can tell you that the Munchkin Coroner, Meinhardt Raabe, is still alive at 93. I know that Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West, suffered a terrible burn during one of her pyrotechnic vanishing scenes.

I know that Texas native King Vidor (who survived the 1900 Galveston hurricane) shot the sepia-toned opening scenes of Kansas with the still-amazing cyclone effects, while credited Oz director Victor Fleming was busy with Gone With the Wind.

It’s odd to realize that the film’s signature song, ”Over the Rainbow” almost didn’t make the final cut, thanks to MGM studio execs who thought it slowed down an already-long film. Fleming was perfectly willing to let the song go on the cutting-room floor. The songwriters, Harold Arlen and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, desperately pleaded their case to Louis B. Mayer himself, who relented — and they were vindicated when it won the Oscar for Best Song.

I still think it’s too bad that the film didn’t use the song’s introductory verse:

When all the world is a hopeless jumble
And the raindrops tumble all around
Heaven opens a magic lane
When all the clouds darken up the skyway
There’s a rainbow highway to be found
Leading from your windowpane
To a place behind the sun
Just a step beyond the rain…

Happily, they used that verse in the stage version, and it almost made up for everything the production lacked, even the Music Hall’s bad acoustics. Seventy years on, the magic of Oz is still there for those who await the rainbow.