By Jonathan Goldsmith
305 pages, $27
It was probably inevitable: a memoir from the guy who rocketed to fame as “the most interesting man in the world” in the long-running Dos Equis beer commercials.
Not to begrudge a little opportunistic cashing-in on a lucky break (the author admits as much), Goldsmith delivers a rambling account of his rambles, from childhood semi-delinquency to the struggling actor role in New York, Los Angeles and points in between.
It is a manly-man book of course, couched in the conceit of life-lessons learned – each chapter with a pithy title like “Know Your Roots,” “Hunger Is the Best Chef” and “Every Challenge Is a Chance to Build Your Strength.” The outer jacket shows the actor in typical interesting man pose, seated in luxury with a fat Cuban cigar and crystal snifter, clothed in a dinner jacket and enigmatic smile. The caption reads, “I Don't Always Tell Stories About My Life, but When I Do They’re True and Interesting.” His ghostwriter, Geoffrey Gray, is truly a ghost here, acknowledged only once in small print on the inner title page. Maybe they both wanted it that way.
We start out with our man living out of his truck in LA, waking up the morning of his audition and musing about his fall from grace. He has serious doubts about this gig, spokesman for Dos Equis beer, a Latino market. He is not Latino. It will be improv, ending with the mandatory line, “And that’s how I arm wrestled Fidel Castro.” That’s the hook, and we must wait some 300-odd pages to see how he did it.
But it’s not all bad in between, despite some clunky writing and most likely, coloring in of life lines. His parents divorced early on, he was trundled off to boarding schools for “difficult” children, and ran away from them all, gravitating to his adored father even as he was rejected by his mother. He attributes his love of the outdoors and sense of adventure to his father and eccentric relatives, fly fishing, shooting and the pursuit of women.
Yes, the women. Female readers be warned: This is an unashamedly chauvinistic tale, though he speaks of a few relationships with romantic tenderness and sappy sentimentality. There is Wind Nymph, an actress he met in New York with a penchant for Henry Miller. “We crammed in a full relationship in twenty-four hours … we walked in Central Park … stardust on our shoulders … I got lost in the constellation of her freckles.”
And there were the less than romantic encounters, the initiation with a prostitute, the Borscht Belt beddings of colleagues as a teen and, in a frenzy of braggadocio, this incredible passage:
“I had a lovely dalliance with Jack Warner’s much younger girlfriend, and with one of Groucho Marx’s wives. Two congressmen’s wives (both Republican), six vegetarians, nine Buddhists, eighteen nurses, sixteen teachers, eleven subs, countless receptionists … and one runner-up Miss Florida, as well as many extras, thirteen players and one Academy Award winner." (I was waiting for "and a partridge in a pear tree.")
He goes on in more detail about some of these women, naming names and circumstances, like the time he had to jump naked out of a bedroom window as the husband arrived in an untimely manner. There is a chapter about his time as a would-be gigolo and thief to an 80-something matron with a huge diamond ring (he didn't go through with it) and a chapter about spending the night with a ranger’s daughter in a Montana ghost town, how she was lovely, scarred and on the lam from a Vegas hit man (I’m not making this up).
Later, our hero makes the profound observation that the rejection by his mother may have led him to this pursuit of women.
Goldsmith had a minor career in television and film and recounts some of these events and personalities. He had brushes with the New York and Los Angeles elite during his time as a struggling actor – Dustin Hoffman (they didn't like each other), Shelley Winters (a sort of patroness), John Wayne, Tennessee Williams, Fernando Lamas and many others. He even describes brief contacts with former President Obama when his post-Dos Equis fame brought him to the White House.
There are other adventures, perilous sea passages and mountain ascents, a sham miracle worker witnessed in the Philippines, little triumphs, big failures, all to make for an “interesting” life.
Goldsmith has clearly bought into this image of himself, but absent in this tale are real-life events that would mark a normal man’s passage – his marriage to wife Barbara (his agent), his move to a country home in Vermont, five children, a nasty lawsuit against him by his talent agency, his ultimate replacement by the Dos Equis conglomerate. Not interesting, no doubt.
But we need more of these celebrity bios, real or contrived. I am eagerly awaiting Dick Wilson’s memoirs – Mr. Whipple of “don't squeeze the Charmin” fame, he of the half-readers and salacious smile. Bet he’s got some tales to tell. But never mind, he’s dead.
Kenneth Young is a veteran contributing critic to the News.