Actress Sissy Spacek writes tender, touching book

"My Extraordinary Ordinary Life" (Hyperion), by Sissy Spacek with Maryanne Vollers: Actress Sissy Spacek's autobiography is as tender and touching as many of her best movie roles.

Granted, there's not much tender or touching about "Carrie" (1976). One of the scarier horror films ever made, her breakthrough movie depicts high school and adolescence as a teenage nightmare.

And toughness as much as tenderness marks "Coal Miner's Daughter" (1980), the biopic that won Spacek an Oscar. Besides turning in a musical performance worthy of country singer Loretta Lynn — she shadowed Lynn for weeks on end and sang with her — Spacek captured the inner strength that Lynn needed to survive the journey from hill country to stardom.

Those two roles define Spacek's career, more so than any of the dozens of others she's played over 40 years. One of the delights of "My Extraordinary Ordinary Life" is how it sparks memories of any number of films in which Spacek has moved us, from "Badlands" (1973) and "Missing" (1982) to "Crimes of the Heart" (1986) and last year's "The Help."

In playing such deeply emotional roles as the suicidal daughter in "'night, Mother" (1986) and the grieving wife and mother in "In the Bedroom" (2001), you'd think Spacek must have drawn inspiration from a troubled personal life. Hardly. She had a wonderful childhood in east Texas, anchored by loving parents and two rascally brothers.

Nearly half of her book recounts those days, and with good reason. Life as a tomboy in little Quitman, Texas, in the 1950s and 1960s formed Spacek's core as a person and as a performer. That's where she developed the courage and self-confidence to skip college and go off to New York City to try to make it as a singer, and later to move to Los Angeles to see if she could achieve a career as an actress.

When you consider movies like the underrated "Raggedy Man" (1981), "The River" (1984) and "The Straight Story" (1999), you can imagine Spacek tapping the kinds of small-town experiences she shares in the pages of "My Extraordinary Ordinary Life."

She reminisces just a bit about some of her fellow actors — people like Lee Marvin, Gene Hackman, Martin Sheen and Jack Lemmon — and offers passing observations about top directors she's known — Terrence Malick, Brian DePalma, Costa-Gavras, Robert Altman and David Lynch among them. The production designer and art director Jack Fisk is more prominent, of course. He and Spacek met while making "Badlands" and have been married since 1974.

Light and endearing, "My Extraordinary Ordinary Life" is no tell-all. Or is it? Spacek may well be telling all about what really matters to her — her family, her friends and her art. What else do we need to know?


Douglass K. Daniel is the author of "Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks" (University of Wisconsin Press).

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