Aaron Spelling's 'A Prime-Time Life' is a prime-time dud

by Shelly-Ann Scott | 8/20/96 5:00am

If anyone actually hoped to find out anything new about famed television producer Aaron Spelling from his recently published autobiography "A Prime Time Life," written with Jefferson Graham, then they would be better advised to wait for the unauthorized version.

Spelling has produced a highly sanitized history of his years in television, with scattered tidbits of his personal life thrown in almost as an afterthought.

No one is going to find any dirt in this biography, a departure from the usual fare of Hollywood tell-alls (remember "Mummy Dearest?"). Spelling seems to have decided not to ruffle any feathers in Hollywood, and to let bygones be bygones, because he has nothing bad to say about anyone or anything in this book. His forgiving demeanor makes for pretty boring reading.

The fourth child of poor Jewish immigrants (his mother was Russian and his father Polish), Spelling grew up in a tiny house in Texas with "one bathroom and wall to wall people," an image that appears to haunt him to this day.

Small and sickly, Spelling was the target of cruel taunts from the neighborhood children because of his race. Charitably (too much so, I opine), he writes that he bears them no ill will because "those children weren't born hating, they were taught to hate." I doubt Spelling's sincerity here. I mean, if you were beat up every day for years of your life, until you got to the point where the thought of school made you so ill you took to your bed for months and could not walk, would you not remember those years with some bitterness?

As fortune would have it, though, those weeks spent out of school turned Spelling's interests to the realm of fantasy and story-telling. One of his earlier attempts at theater, a play called "Native Son" for a local all-black high school, resulted in his father being demoted at work.

The reason -- his employers did not like the fact that the son of an employee had associated with a black production. Spelling credits this episode as one of the experiences that propelled him to leave Dallas. Now, I appreciate his social consciousness and all, but I do not believe racism was confined to Texas in those days, so why try to earn brownie points for the fact that he just wanted to leave?

He travels to Los Angeles, where he launched his career as a writer, after a short-lived acting stint which actually included an appearance on "I Love Lucy" with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

Then begins the chronicles of his many hits, beginning with "Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater" in the mid-1950's, followed by the "Mod Squad," "Starsky and Hutch," "Charlie's Angels," and today's "90210" and "Melrose Place," to name a few.

He has nothing but kind words for anyone he ever worked with, it makes you think that he must have the most stress free job in the world. How did he always get to work with people he liked?

Farrah Fawcett, who deserted "Charlie's Angels" after only one season, even though the show had made her a huge star, was a "victim of poor career advice," never mind that her leaving at such an inopportune time put the show's future in jeopardy.

Shannen Doherty, the former Brenda from that famous zip code, 90210, was nowhere as much of a problem as she was made out to be in the press, according to Spelling. Spelling writes that Doherty was only late a few times, and by "mutual agreement," her role was discontinued. Spelling adds that she is a "splendid actress, and she will continue to do well." Spelling's words, although soothing, could not possibly help Doherty since she is currently out of a job. His comments only serve to assuage his own guilt about her dismissal.

Not content in vindicating only those actors who had difficulty adjusting to stardom, Spelling tells us that agents are nowhere near as bloodthirsty as they are thought to be in general. After describing his close relationship with his former agent, Bill Haber, he tells us that Bill moved to Connecticut and is now working for Save The Children. After a while, all these charitable feelings begin to grate on a reader's nerves.

He also throws in a reference to his daughter Tori's acting career. Spelling tells us that she earned the role on "90210," no nepotism was involved. Personally, I had never doubted that Tori worked hard to get that role. No way was she going to get it on her looks?

Spelling does acknowledge that he regrets his public image as the "Cotton-Candy King of Television," a label that he feels is unjustified when he has produced work such as the Emmy award-winning drama "Family" and the A.I.D.S. themed movie "And the Band Played On."

However, he should hardly be surprised for being remembered for his most popular television shows. He certainly knew himself that the glamour of a Melrose Place was certainly more eye-catching than normal life.

After having read this book, I am no closer to knowing Spelling than after watching one of his shows. Maybe it is because his voice rings false or the fact that his personal life is gapingly missing from this supposedly personal account of his life.

Nevertheless, the book still could have been a valuable behind-the-scenes look at the art of television producing, but it does not deliver. Even the photos included in the center of the book are perfunctory in nature, strict publicity fare, nothing from the Spelling family album, except for one endearing photo of his children playing dress-up.

Spelling now lives in a beautiful home in Los Angeles with his wife Candy. He is now busy with a new show premiering this fall on his adopted network, Fox. Look out for "Kindred: The Embraced," the latest vampire offering in these bloodthirsty '90s. With Aaron Spelling involved, they should be the best dressed vampires the world has ever seen!

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