First Ladies: Opening Lines from 50+ Memoirs by Actresses

One of my favorite-ever posts at my LGBTQ blog Boy Culture was an exhaustive list of first and last lines from queer novels and novellas, here.

For a long time, I've been toying with the idea of a similar list of first sentences — not counting forewords, intros, author's notes — from the memoirs of actresses, and I finally rounded up 50.

I think reading these in order is a lot of fun, and reading most of these books (as I have) was illuminating, gripping, sad and funny, in equal measure.

If you have other examples, please feel free to comment and I'll add them in!

“Early in my life I realized that I was going to have to strive for longevity to crowd in all the kinds of lives I wanted to live.” — Eve Arden, Three Phases of Eve: An Autobiography (1985)

“Who is Shirley Schrift?” — Shelley Winters, Shelley Also Known as Shirley (1980)

“The room swam crazily as I downed another glass of champagne.” — Liz Renay, My Face for the World to See (1971)

“Here’s the thing about cults: I see them everywhere.” — Rose McGowan, Brave (2018)

“I decided to write this book to clear up numerous misunderstandings.” — Marlene Dietrich, Marlene by Marlene Dietrich (1987)

“Some people’s lives change because of the smallest thing: a song, a comment, a fight, a dark night of the soul, or simply a decision.” — Kristen Johnston, Guts (2012)

“Despite all you may have heard to the contrary, I have never had a ride in a patrol wagon.” — Tallulah Bankhead, Tallulah: My Autobiography (1952)

“All I had known of films was Bette Davis and Leslie Howard.” — Lauren Bacall, By Myself (1978)

“Andy Warhol famously declared that everyone will one day have their own fifteen minutes of fame, and that prophecy is now becoming a scary reality.” — Joan Collins, The World According to Joan (2011)

“April 1, 1987: I am apprehensive about attending the memorial service for Andy Warhol at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.” — Ultra Violet, Famous for 15 Minutes: My Years with Andy Warhol

“The population of Lafayette, Minnesota, my hometown, was approximately two hundred on the day I was born, January 19, 1930, at the beginning of the darkest depression the United States has ever experienced.” — Tippi Hedren, Tippi: A Memoir (2016)

“The story of Paper Moon reflects my childhood, but it also closely parallels my mother’s and strangely foreshadows my daughter’s.” — Tatum O’Neal, A Paper Life (2004)

“When I was nine, I wrote a vow of celibacy on a piece of paper and ate it.” — Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” (2014)

“My brother is eight years older than I am.” — Tina Fey, Bossypants (2011)

“I was in fourth grade and in trouble.” — Amy Poehler, Yes Please (2014)

“It was the best time of my life.” — Drew Barrymore, Little Girl Lost (1990)

“I wanted to look like a goddess.” — Vivica A. Fox, Every Day I’m Hustling (2018)

“Before I tell you anything about myself, I would like to tell you, or at least identify for you, the world into which I was born.”— Katharine Hepburn, Me: Stories of My Life (1991)

“It was a warm day on September 12, 1956.” — Geri Jewell, I’m Walking as Straight as I Can: Transcending Disability in Hollywood and Beyond (2011)

“The Brooklyn I was born in, near the end of the 19th century, was still a city of churches, with their great bronze bells walloping calls to the faithful from early dawn, and a city of waterfront dives where the old forest of the spars of sailing ships was rapidly being replaced by funnels and the Sand Street Navy Yard already had a reputation for girl chasers.” — Mae West, Goodness Had Nothing to Do with It (1959)

“’No, Miss West — the censors will never let that through.’” — Mae West, Mae West on Sex, Health & ESP (1975)

“I am told that the first comprehensible word I uttered as a child was ‘home.’”—Julie Andrews, Home: A Memoir of Early Years (2008)

“I never will forget the day I went to see a movie which you know all about if you’ve been watching television lately: Anthony Adverse.” — Olivia de Havilland, Every Frenchman Has One (1961)

“The Brooks family were poor English farmers who came to America on a merchant ship at the end of the eighteenth century.” — Louise Brooks, Lulu in Hollywood (1982)

“I am inside an egg.” — Jennifer Saunders, Bonkers: My Life in Laughs (2013)

“I remember how excited all of us were the day we began shooting the Chocolate Room scene.” — Julie Dawn Cole, I Want It Now! (2011)

“Not long ago I was having lunch in New York with a friend when he asked me a question that set me to thinking deeply.” — Shirley MacLaine, My Lucky Stars: A Hollywood Memoir (1995)

“’Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’” — Ellen DeGeneres, Seriously … I’m Kidding (2011)

“’Old age isn’t for sissies.’” — Betty White, If You Ask Me (and of Course You Won’t) (2011)

Feminine Forever, the title of Dr. Robert Wilson’s best seller, could be my motto: I am a woman, above everything.” — Hedy Lamarr, Ecstasy and Me: My Life as a Woman (1966)

“It was going to be a perfect day.” — Debbie Reynolds and Dorian Hannaway, Unsinkable: A Memoir (2013)

“I have to start by telling you that my entire existence could be summed up in one phrase.” — Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking (2008)

“Have you ever looked at the online photos of Britney’s peesh?” — Kathy Griffin, Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin (2009)

“I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t chubby.” — Mindy Kaling, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) (2011)

“I was born in my home in Hartford, Connecticut, where my father, Robert Kean, worked for an insurance company.” — Jane Kean, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Honeymooners (2003)

“Sometime after I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, all the little babies were sleeping soundly in the nursery except for me, who would scream at the top of my lungs, trying to shove my whole fist in my mouth, wearing all the skin off on the end of my nose.” — Roseanne Barr, My Life as a Woman (1989)

“My feelings about my mother and about our relationship are so confused that to write them down with clarity would mean I had them all figured out, which I do not. — Brooke Shields, There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me (2014)

“I left home at seventeen.” — Cyndi Lauper, Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir (2012)

“Whenever I hear the blare of a foghorn or see a picture of a mermaid or a young couple madly in love, I feel as if I’ve been Jeannie-blinked back into my childhood, happy and secure.” — Barbara Eden, Jeannie Out of the Bottle (2011)

“I never was a child.” — Ethel Waters, His Eye Is on the Sparrow: An Autobiography (1950)

“’Valerie, don’t overdo.’”— Valerie Harper, I, Rhoda: A Memoir (2013)

“My name is Dita.” — Madonna, Sex (1992)

“In the green-lumber cubicle that passed for an office, feet resting on a much-abused desk which no further punishment could harm, and munching a box-lunch sandwich, he studed the frosted glass in the upper half of the closed door with a dreamy look in his mischievous blue eyes.” — Diana Serra Cary, What Ever Happened to Baby Peggy? (2009)

“My mother, Rheua-Nell, was five feet and one half inch tall.” — Rue McClanahan, My First Five Husbands … and the Ones Who Got Away (2007)

“Mother and her beau Charles drove me from scary New York City to the serene countryside of Bucks County, Pennsylvania.” — Joyce Bulifant, My Four Hollywood Husbands (2017)

“My mother thought it would be nice to name me Suzanne.” — Carol Channing, Just Lucky I Guess: A Memoir of Sorts (2002)

“My mother’s job was to mold me into her American Dream.” — Lee Grant, I Said Yes to Everything: A Memoir (2014)

“My grandmother Nanny and I were at the picture show.” — Carol Burnett, This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection (2010)

“I didn’t always work in Hollywood — it started in Chicago.” — Miriam Nelson, My Life Dancing with the Stars (2009)

“I sat cross-legged on the floor of the tiny home I’d created out of cardboard boxes.”— Jane Fonda, My Life So Far (2005)

“On June 9, 1983, at The New York Hospital, I had a mastectomy, followed nine days later by a stroke.” — Bette Davis, This ‘N That (1987)

“I’m a Leo.” — Lucille Ball, Love, Lucy (1996)

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