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I Was Better Last Night: A Memoir

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A poignant and hilarious memoir from the cultural icon, gay rights activist, and four-time Tony Award-winning actor and playwright, revealing never-before-told stories of his personal struggles and conflict, of sex and romance, and of his fabled career Harvey Fierstein's legendary career has transported him from community theater in Brooklyn, to the lights of Broadway, A poignant and hilarious memoir from the cultural icon, gay rights activist, and four-time Tony Award-winning actor and playwright, revealing never-before-told stories of his personal struggles and conflict, of sex and romance, and of his fabled career Harvey Fierstein's legendary career has transported him from community theater in Brooklyn, to the lights of Broadway, to the absurd excesses of Hollywood and back. He's received accolades and awards for acting in and/or writing an incredible string of hit plays, films, and TV shows: Hairspray, Fiddler on the Roof, Mrs. Doubtfire, Independence Day, Cheers, La Cage Aux Folles, Torch Song Trilogy, Newsies, and Kinky Boots. While he has never shied away from the spotlight, Mr. Fierstein says that even those closest to him have never heard most of the tales--of personal struggles and conflict, of sex and romance, of his fabled career--revealed in these wildly entertaining pages. I Was Better Last Night bares the inner life of this eccentric nonconforming child from his roots in 1952 Brooklyn, to the experimental worlds of Andy Warhol and the Theatre of the Ridiculous, to the gay rights movements of the seventies and the tumultuous AIDS crisis of the eighties, through decades of addiction, despair, and ultimate triumph. Mr. Fierstein's candid recollections provide a rich window into downtown New York City life, gay culture, and the evolution of theater (of which he has been a defining figure), as well as a moving account of his family's journey of acceptance. I Was Better Last Night is filled with wisdom gained, mistakes made, and stories that come together to describe an astonishingly colorful and meaningful life. Lucky for us all, his unique and recognizable voice is as engaging, outrageously funny, and vulnerable on the page.


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A poignant and hilarious memoir from the cultural icon, gay rights activist, and four-time Tony Award-winning actor and playwright, revealing never-before-told stories of his personal struggles and conflict, of sex and romance, and of his fabled career Harvey Fierstein's legendary career has transported him from community theater in Brooklyn, to the lights of Broadway, A poignant and hilarious memoir from the cultural icon, gay rights activist, and four-time Tony Award-winning actor and playwright, revealing never-before-told stories of his personal struggles and conflict, of sex and romance, and of his fabled career Harvey Fierstein's legendary career has transported him from community theater in Brooklyn, to the lights of Broadway, to the absurd excesses of Hollywood and back. He's received accolades and awards for acting in and/or writing an incredible string of hit plays, films, and TV shows: Hairspray, Fiddler on the Roof, Mrs. Doubtfire, Independence Day, Cheers, La Cage Aux Folles, Torch Song Trilogy, Newsies, and Kinky Boots. While he has never shied away from the spotlight, Mr. Fierstein says that even those closest to him have never heard most of the tales--of personal struggles and conflict, of sex and romance, of his fabled career--revealed in these wildly entertaining pages. I Was Better Last Night bares the inner life of this eccentric nonconforming child from his roots in 1952 Brooklyn, to the experimental worlds of Andy Warhol and the Theatre of the Ridiculous, to the gay rights movements of the seventies and the tumultuous AIDS crisis of the eighties, through decades of addiction, despair, and ultimate triumph. Mr. Fierstein's candid recollections provide a rich window into downtown New York City life, gay culture, and the evolution of theater (of which he has been a defining figure), as well as a moving account of his family's journey of acceptance. I Was Better Last Night is filled with wisdom gained, mistakes made, and stories that come together to describe an astonishingly colorful and meaningful life. Lucky for us all, his unique and recognizable voice is as engaging, outrageously funny, and vulnerable on the page.

30 review for I Was Better Last Night: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Doug

    Although I've been aware of and generally admiring of his work for decades, I wouldn't necessarily consider myself a huge fan of the author. I've read and seen his work performed but have only seen him live on stage once - during the tour of 'Fiddler on the Roof', where he was a surprisingly good, if anachronistic, Tevye, despite his less than mellifluous singing voice. I didn't know a lot about him personally but thought his memoir might be an interesting read - and boy, howdy! Luckily, Mr. F. Although I've been aware of and generally admiring of his work for decades, I wouldn't necessarily consider myself a huge fan of the author. I've read and seen his work performed but have only seen him live on stage once - during the tour of 'Fiddler on the Roof', where he was a surprisingly good, if anachronistic, Tevye, despite his less than mellifluous singing voice. I didn't know a lot about him personally but thought his memoir might be an interesting read - and boy, howdy! Luckily, Mr. F. doesn't spend an inordinate amount of time on his childhood and gets right to the heart of the matter quickly, as he discovers his passion for theatre in his late teens. His quirky outings in the off-off-Broadway scene, including stints in the Warhol crowd's productions are fascinating, and he breaks through rather quickly in my good friend Robert Patrick's The Haunted Host, and then with his own writing, most notably what eventually became the international sensation Torch Song Trilogy. I wasn't aware of much else he had done, other than when he returned two decades later as the book doctor and star of the huge musical hit Hairspray. But this book filled in the gaps, and he actually was quite prolific, led a really interesting life with the usual struggles and triumphs. Mainly this book gives a very clear picture of the warm and lovable mensch behind the created persona, and garnered some newfound respect for what he accomplished as an LGBTQ pioneer. It's not overly gossipy, but does contain a lot of very juicy anecdotes, and the pictures are priceless. I hope this gathers a lot of new fans for the author, and wouldn't be surprised to find a couple more literary prizes to go on his shelves from it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Schultz

    Although I am familiar with Harvey Fierstein's major Broadway work in Hairspray and Torch Song Trilogy, I quickly realized that I was very unfamiliar with his groundbreaking early career. Fierstein's hilarious, eye-opening, bittersweet, and powerful memoir is a rank above your everyday celebrity memoir; not only is this an entertaining theatrical memoir, but it's also a remarkable portrait of the emerging LGBTQ+ pre and post-Stonewall community, as well as the ravages it faced during the height Although I am familiar with Harvey Fierstein's major Broadway work in Hairspray and Torch Song Trilogy, I quickly realized that I was very unfamiliar with his groundbreaking early career. Fierstein's hilarious, eye-opening, bittersweet, and powerful memoir is a rank above your everyday celebrity memoir; not only is this an entertaining theatrical memoir, but it's also a remarkable portrait of the emerging LGBTQ+ pre and post-Stonewall community, as well as the ravages it faced during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Librarians/booksellers: A must read for Broadway fanatics! Purchase for your patrons/customers who enjoy frank memoirs. This will likely receive major publicity. Many thanks to Knopf Doubleday and NetGalley for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    I was enthralled from start to finish. Harvey not only had a magnificent theatrical journey, but also a journey dealing with his sexual identity from the 1950’s to present day America. I realized how much theater we have shared and how much of his work I’ve taken for granted, sorry Harvey. Reading the backstories of his productions coupled with his own emotional story kept me mesmerized throughout the book. Insights into the lives of some of my idols was enthralling. Following the genesis and ev I was enthralled from start to finish. Harvey not only had a magnificent theatrical journey, but also a journey dealing with his sexual identity from the 1950’s to present day America. I realized how much theater we have shared and how much of his work I’ve taken for granted, sorry Harvey. Reading the backstories of his productions coupled with his own emotional story kept me mesmerized throughout the book. Insights into the lives of some of my idols was enthralling. Following the genesis and evolution of La Cage was especially thrilling, since I’ve never missed an iteration of the show. Reading memoirs isn’t always as satisfying as his since it’s less a chronological retelling of events and more an invitation into the psyche of my brilliant, Jewish meshpocha. Bravo! Thank you Netgalley for this very delightful ARC.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Harvey Fierstein is a national treasure and this book serves to cement that status.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Siria

    Personal, poignant, and unmistakeably in his own voice (and I’d really recommend listening to this in audiobook if you can), Harvey Fierstein’s memoir recounts his career and discusses what it was like to be a gay man coming of age in the New York of the ‘70s and living through the AIDS crisis of the ‘80s and ‘90s. There’s plenty of wit and dish here, and while Fierstein sometimes leaves the subject of an anecdote mercifully anonymous, others are named and shamed (Ginger Rogers, for instance, do Personal, poignant, and unmistakeably in his own voice (and I’d really recommend listening to this in audiobook if you can), Harvey Fierstein’s memoir recounts his career and discusses what it was like to be a gay man coming of age in the New York of the ‘70s and living through the AIDS crisis of the ‘80s and ‘90s. There’s plenty of wit and dish here, and while Fierstein sometimes leaves the subject of an anecdote mercifully anonymous, others are named and shamed (Ginger Rogers, for instance, does not come across well here). But it’s not all frothy celebrity gossip. He is bluntly honest about his alcoholism, and while Fierstein’s recounting of how his parents accidentally found out he was gay is still clearly painful for him to tell, he does so with admirable honesty and clarity. (A small side note, but I did find it very amusing that this quintessentially street-wise New Yorker still has not, a quarter of a century later, realised that he’d had his leg pulled by an Irish person. He briefly mentions a tour stop in Dublin in about 1995 or 1996, during which he asked for the location of the nearest gay bar. A local tells him that there isn’t one: Ireland had decriminalised homosexuality so long ago that all the bars were integrated. Fierstein muses that this shows just how far behind the U.S. was in some ways. … Except of course that Ireland only decriminalised homosexuality in 1993, and by the middle of the decade, the George (long may it reign) was heading into its second decade of existence in the heart of Dublin. Ireland now is in many ways more socially progressive than the U.S., but not then!)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Morgan

    Harvey Fierstein is a fascinating character. His biography is as open and honest as a biography can be. He writes about what it was to be gay in the 1960’s & 70’s and the complications of ‘coming out’. Mr. Fierstein chronicles his career from beginning to end – hits and misses, triumph, tragedy and everything in between. I’ve never seen him perform live and because I am not familiar with Broadway and the theatre scene many names meant nothing to me, but I enjoyed it anyway. I love his voice and e Harvey Fierstein is a fascinating character. His biography is as open and honest as a biography can be. He writes about what it was to be gay in the 1960’s & 70’s and the complications of ‘coming out’. Mr. Fierstein chronicles his career from beginning to end – hits and misses, triumph, tragedy and everything in between. I’ve never seen him perform live and because I am not familiar with Broadway and the theatre scene many names meant nothing to me, but I enjoyed it anyway. I love his voice and even though I was not listening to the audio of his book I could hear his voice in my head, clear as day, as I read his words. I have watched the movie “Torch Song Trilogy” at least 10 times and his appearance in “Mrs. Doubtfire” is unforgettable. This line is one to keep in mind: “The jockey never recalls using a whip. The horse never forgets.” (Pg.62) Harvey Fierstein is a fascinating character and I think his book is wonderful

  7. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    What a great memoir! I love Mr. Fierstein’s trademark candor and wit, and focus on his adult life and career (unlike other memoirs which spend too much time rehashing the author’s childhood). The audiobook is sublime, and narrated by the author. Five enthusiastic stars. Highly recommended!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jack Nix

    I chose to listen to the audiobook version, and I'm so glad I did! Fierstein delivers all the stories you want to hear about (backstage dish on Torch Song Trilogy, La Cage aux Folles, Hairspray, etc), but also paints an electrifying picture of the art scene of 1970s/80s New York City. He is very open about his relationships with family, addiction, and being a gay man that made a living with fake boobs strapped to his chest. You leave the book knowing Harvey's soul. Highly recommend for fans, and I chose to listen to the audiobook version, and I'm so glad I did! Fierstein delivers all the stories you want to hear about (backstage dish on Torch Song Trilogy, La Cage aux Folles, Hairspray, etc), but also paints an electrifying picture of the art scene of 1970s/80s New York City. He is very open about his relationships with family, addiction, and being a gay man that made a living with fake boobs strapped to his chest. You leave the book knowing Harvey's soul. Highly recommend for fans, and theater lovers everywhere.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Deborah

    If you have any interest in reading this book at all, you absolutely ought to do it by audiobook. Harvey Fierstein, playwright (notably Torch Song Trilogy), actor, gay activist, and theatre and Broadway does-pretty-much-everything, has the most distinctive voice. It’s a froggy, smoky growl that he says is part hereditary and part misuse very early in his theatre career. I grabbed this as an audiobook immediately and wondered if he actually had 13 hours worth of interesting stuff to share. Boy, d If you have any interest in reading this book at all, you absolutely ought to do it by audiobook. Harvey Fierstein, playwright (notably Torch Song Trilogy), actor, gay activist, and theatre and Broadway does-pretty-much-everything, has the most distinctive voice. It’s a froggy, smoky growl that he says is part hereditary and part misuse very early in his theatre career. I grabbed this as an audiobook immediately and wondered if he actually had 13 hours worth of interesting stuff to share. Boy, does he! This is a man who lives and breathes theatre, and it’s so evident in his delivery—his entertaining, dishy stories are made even more interesting and amusing by his delivery. Harvey holds nothing back. He walks us through his childhood in a pretty typical (non-practising) Jewish household in Brooklyn, where his artistic sensibilities were recognized early on, so he went to an arts and design high school in Manhattan (meant to turn out working artists, like graphic designers and so on). I guffawed often over his tales of childhood and young manhood. He was pretty certain he was gay, but it was under the guidance of a gay high school friend that he was introduced to the hot spots and highlights of the scene. The Stonewall riots took place while he was at school, and a galvanized Harvey went the next day to the site, where there was still a lot happening. He’s never looked back as an activist. I’m not going to restate his life journey here, but if you have an interest in Broadway, you’re going to find tons to fascinate. I had no idea just how much a fixture on Broadway he has been for decades now. Candid (he’s very hard on himself), funny and poignant by turns (as we know, AIDS ran its scythe through the New York theatre community in the 80s and 90s), this is a great read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jack

    Harvey Fierstein, needless to say, is a sensational storyteller. His book is every bit as entertaining as his parade of plays, musicals, and movies. I have had the great pleasure of meeting Harvey a few times in my long theatrical career. Although he won't recall these passing introductions, they always made a huge impression on me. He was and is a unique talent, whose memoir is as fascinating as the man himself. From a traditional Jewish family of modest means in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, Harvey be Harvey Fierstein, needless to say, is a sensational storyteller. His book is every bit as entertaining as his parade of plays, musicals, and movies. I have had the great pleasure of meeting Harvey a few times in my long theatrical career. Although he won't recall these passing introductions, they always made a huge impression on me. He was and is a unique talent, whose memoir is as fascinating as the man himself. From a traditional Jewish family of modest means in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, Harvey becomes one of the greatest theatrical writers of the day. His parade of hit shows is like a history of gay theatre from the 1970s until this day. TORCH SONG TRILOGY was an utterly ground-breaking endeavor, an epic three-part play about a gay man coming to terms with his life - his search for love, the challenges of keeping love, his demand for respect from his harshly judgmental but oddly loving Jewish mother. This in the 1970s, when such boldly, outspokenly gay heroes were in scarce supply. Like any great storyteller, Harvey (everyone calls him Harvey) elides over the sustained trauma. He talks candidly about his battle with alcoholism, but his recovery - poof! (OK, that's a gag.) He *does* seem to recover within a few pages, with little of the drawn-out torture of most alcoholics. He and the famously combative Arthur Laurents have their disagreements, but Harvey seems to cave to the imperious director's demands with no repercussions. And LA CAGE AUX FOLLES is a huge hit, which makes him even more famous and delightfully rich. But the backstage peek at the great parade of shows and talent, from Jerry Herman to Stephen Sondheim (who said no to collaborating) to the great director-choreographer Jerry Mitch to Cyndi Lauper, is delicious. Harvey knows everyone - and I mean everyone - in the theatre. He does film and television, but his heart belongs on stage, playing characters larger than life, from Arnold Beckoff in TORCH SONG to Tevye in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF to the unforgettable Edna Turnblad in HAIRSPRAY. The voice, the timing, the drollery - there is no one as funny and bawdy and endearing as Harvey. Ditto this enchanting history of his collaborators, his lovers, his co-stars, the backstage people who make everything happen. For anyone who loves theatre, this is a Must Read. If you don't love theatre, do I even know you?

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    Harvey Fierstein, it seems to me, is the embodiment of gay pride. Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1952, Harvey discovered that he was different from other boys at a fairly young age, and while attending the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan, he began to live that personality that was so eager to escape. He was an artist! In early chapters of his memoir, I Was Better Last Night: A Memoir, Feinstein recalls growing up in a Jewish family with his parents and older brother, life in school wh Harvey Fierstein, it seems to me, is the embodiment of gay pride. Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1952, Harvey discovered that he was different from other boys at a fairly young age, and while attending the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan, he began to live that personality that was so eager to escape. He was an artist! In early chapters of his memoir, I Was Better Last Night: A Memoir, Feinstein recalls growing up in a Jewish family with his parents and older brother, life in school where he noticed that he was different from other kids but not necessarily in a sexual way; most of his friends were girls. He was a chubby boy, and he talks about his big “boy boobs.” Later, at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, he studies ceramics and designs some rather obscene creations, among them decorations he calls his “Bad Boy Jugs.” I found much of the recitation of these years and into his early career in theater to be a drag – pun intended. Many of the off, off, Off-Broadway plays described were quite, um, unique and vulgar. When Harvey hit his 20s, like many gay men of the 1970s, he was promiscuous, and he goes into some detail about his social life. This was when it was illegal for gay men and lesbians to even be seen holding hands. He briefly mentions Stonewall, the bar that police raided in 1969 and the riots that ensued. However, things were slow to change. Still, Harvey, it seems, was never one to stay in the closet. I felt sad for him that he was never able to maintain a long-term relationship. Later in the book he talks about that and seems to have come to terms with that part of his life. Living as a gay man in the 70s and 80s, of course he knew numerous men who contracted AIDS. We simultaneously searched for and hid from information. Newspapers devoted far greater real estate to traffic accidents. Our brains seethed with questions: Is this “gay cancer”? How is it spread? Could I have it? Who do you know? How did you know? Did you hear about him? And the answers were just as unhelpful: I didn’t know he was gay. It’s God’s punishment…Just avoid them. Fierstein recalls his successes and failures in his professional career most of all. Initially, there were many failures, and this part of the book moved quite slowly. Despite the lack of success, people in the business noticed his talent, and soon he began getting more work. He was writing screenplays, getting acting jobs, even singing. There’s a good deal of name-dropping in this book, folks like Andy Warhol, Estelle Getty (formerly Gettleman), Matthew Broderick, Stephen Sondheim, Debbie Reynolds, Ethel Merman, Julia Child, and on and on. Some of his most famous Broadway works include Torch Song Trilogy, La Cage Au Folles, and Hairspray. He also played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. While it was fun to read about his writing and stage work, I was most touched by his honest appraisal of his life, particularly of the way he came to accept and deal with his alcoholism, with relationships, and to make changes in his life. He is funny when he needs to be; he is also introspective. In writing for audiences, he writes so that the audience will not feel threatened, and then when the play reveals where it’s truly headed, they will have to rethink their old ideas. While researching one of his plays to learn why some straight men dress in women’s clothing, for instance, he found a vast spectrum of reasons and needs. He says this, “Labeling them “transvestites” or ‘cross-dressers’ was as useless as branding all winged insects ‘flies’ and claiming to understand their nature. He goes on to say that as a kid he believed there were only gay and straight. Period. Over time, he learned, he says, “the great majority of us are too afraid to know ourselves…If we can’t face ourselves in a mirror, what gall to claim we can understand others!” Thank you, Harvey Feinstein, for being fearlessly, humorously, wonderfully creatively you! Happy Pride! 3.5 stars rounded up

  12. 5 out of 5

    Martin

    First of all, I confess I'm a Broadway baby (to use a Sondheim lyric.) Born and bred in Manhattan, my parents exposed me to the Broadway stage at an early age and I've been hooked ever since. While I'm familiar with a few of Harvey Fierstein's works (Hairspray, KinkyBoots and La Cage Aux Folles) I really didn't know a lot about him or his accomplishments (I'd heard acclaim about Torch Song Trilogy, but never saw the play.) This was a fabulous memoir, refreshingly candid and oftentimes quite witt First of all, I confess I'm a Broadway baby (to use a Sondheim lyric.) Born and bred in Manhattan, my parents exposed me to the Broadway stage at an early age and I've been hooked ever since. While I'm familiar with a few of Harvey Fierstein's works (Hairspray, KinkyBoots and La Cage Aux Folles) I really didn't know a lot about him or his accomplishments (I'd heard acclaim about Torch Song Trilogy, but never saw the play.) This was a fabulous memoir, refreshingly candid and oftentimes quite witty. (When I say "candid", do be prepared for some TMI moments, especially regarding Harvey's early "romantic" adventures. Some might find it uncomfortable, but it was a frank disclosure of a young gay man's life during those years. Harvey recounts his upbringing, his very early involvement in some experimental and creative off off Broadway theater, but, for me, he is at his best when he gives us some incredible behind the scenes insights about the Broadway creative process as well as the business side of putting together a complex musical. There's just the right amount of gossipy tidbits (i.e. despite playing a very sympathetic gay man in La Cage, Gene Barry refusing to enter the same elevators used by the cast drag queens for fear of contracting AIDS.) There are some very sad episodes and some exhilarating ones. I was surprised at how focused an enormous talent like Harvey Fierstein was on awards. He shares his excitement and disappointment when winning and being overlooked for Tonys. Throughout the memoir you'll always see the little Jewish boy from Brooklyn who has to pinch himself when he sees his name in lights on many a Broadway marquee. I so wish I had seen him perform on stage, but I still came to know and love him in this fabulous conversation he shares with his readers.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Woods

    Highly recommend you listen to the audiobook so you can hear the stories in Mr. Fierstein's voice. If you love live theater, you'll love this book. If you love great characters and storytelling, this is for you. If you have an open heart, you will learn about amazing human beings and be inspired by their journeys. Highly recommend you listen to the audiobook so you can hear the stories in Mr. Fierstein's voice. If you love live theater, you'll love this book. If you love great characters and storytelling, this is for you. If you have an open heart, you will learn about amazing human beings and be inspired by their journeys.

  14. 4 out of 5

    N. N. Santiago

    I absolutely love Harvey but I'm sad to say this was a big disappointment. Not much of the fizz that he has in conversation comes through in the writing, even though I listened to his own reading of the audiobook. Once it gets going, this is mostly an overview of his showbiz career. Many of the stories told here are ones that he has told better in interviews, and some things that I have heard him often allude to that I hoped to hear the dish on - like his having the keys to an Episcopal church b I absolutely love Harvey but I'm sad to say this was a big disappointment. Not much of the fizz that he has in conversation comes through in the writing, even though I listened to his own reading of the audiobook. Once it gets going, this is mostly an overview of his showbiz career. Many of the stories told here are ones that he has told better in interviews, and some things that I have heard him often allude to that I hoped to hear the dish on - like his having the keys to an Episcopal church because of a priest he was sleeping with - never go any further. I have also always wanted to learn more about his celibacy in the early 80s, entered into out of boredom with the casual scene, but again, the book quickly moves on after bringing it up, and we are not told when or why he moves away from it. While I can understand a reluctance to air too much of his (and others') private life out in public, I just wish things went a bit deeper.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    Harvey writes the way he speaks, and that is a beautiful thing! It is so entertaining to read about his writing and creative journey!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Anna Martinez

    Seriously, one of the best audiobooks I've EVER heard. His humor, his pain, his life, his story, the way he tells it ... it's just all so marvelous. I want to meet this man and just chat with him about PEOPLE and life and everything. If you are any sort of performing artist, this is a must-read. If you're not, you're still going to like it. Harvey is a gift to this world. Seriously, one of the best audiobooks I've EVER heard. His humor, his pain, his life, his story, the way he tells it ... it's just all so marvelous. I want to meet this man and just chat with him about PEOPLE and life and everything. If you are any sort of performing artist, this is a must-read. If you're not, you're still going to like it. Harvey is a gift to this world.

  17. 4 out of 5

    V. Briceland

    Until the moment I plunged into I Was Better Last Night, I wasn't really convinced I needed to read a memoir by Harvey Fierstein. I abashedly admit: I was wrong. The volume's pages that are set in the years before and surrounding Fierstein's success with Torch Song Trilogy are an engaging, funny, and genuinely touching recollection of a vanished era of New York City and its theaters. The chapters thereafter touch on the highlights of the writer and actor's career—sometimes in fascinating detail, Until the moment I plunged into I Was Better Last Night, I wasn't really convinced I needed to read a memoir by Harvey Fierstein. I abashedly admit: I was wrong. The volume's pages that are set in the years before and surrounding Fierstein's success with Torch Song Trilogy are an engaging, funny, and genuinely touching recollection of a vanished era of New York City and its theaters. The chapters thereafter touch on the highlights of the writer and actor's career—sometimes in fascinating detail, and sometimes (did we really need a scant page-and-a-half chapter on Hairspray's brief run in Las Vegas?) as if he's making tick marks in the margins of his resumé. I'm willing to forgive that the proceedings get a little rote toward the end, though, because of a late-book flashback that brought me to actual tears. The world's a finer place for having Harvey Fierstein; my year is already better from having spent a few hours learning more about him.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Troy Tradup

    Audiobook, so no quotes. Read by the author and, as with Patti Smith and David Lynch, you really want the audiobook to experience the author’s voice. Both of Fierstein’s unforgettable voices, in fact — the writer and the performer. This is just a great memoir on so many levels. The life of an awkward gay kid coming of age smack in the middle of some of the most important moments in gay history. The life of an unexpected artist smack in the middle of some of the most creative and cutting-edge year Audiobook, so no quotes. Read by the author and, as with Patti Smith and David Lynch, you really want the audiobook to experience the author’s voice. Both of Fierstein’s unforgettable voices, in fact — the writer and the performer. This is just a great memoir on so many levels. The life of an awkward gay kid coming of age smack in the middle of some of the most important moments in gay history. The life of an unexpected artist smack in the middle of some of the most creative and cutting-edge years in American theatre. The rise of slightly weird background player to unlikely leading man (and, at times, leading lady!) in some of the biggest blockbusters off- and on-Broadway. And, of course, the triumphant metamorphosis of a kid with dyslexia who thinks he can’t write because he can’t spell very well into the revered author of one of the huge, towering cornerstones of contemporary gay theatre (among several other ginormous successes). As should be expected, this book is completely, unapologetically gay. There’s an eye-opening frankness and honesty about gay sex that will no doubt make some straight readers/listeners run for their smelling salts (lower Manhattan pre-AIDs — was there ever such a gay utopia in all the world in our time?). I have to imagine Fierstein’s publisher wondering what the hell they had gotten themselves into when this manuscript came in. But the book is completely honest and true to its subject, and surprisingly frank on certain elements many celebrities would at least fudge if not leave out altogether. Fierstein isn’t afraid to be catty, but he’s never overtly mean. Self-aggrandizing is kept surprisingly in check, and Fierstein often goes out of the way to show how it’s been others who have helped/led/thrust him into the wildly crazy career he’s had. The memoir is also incredibly moving without ever becoming mawkish, particularly in the late section dealing with the true heart of his relationship with his mother. His somewhat accidental coming-out story is brutal and mortifying, but skates very close to farce as well. It couldn’t really have been a surprise to many people that Harvey was gay, but the actual physical moment of discovery by his parents — yeah, you could definitely build a whole playwriting career off the aftermath of that. Loved the book and made me think I need to take another look at Torch Song Trilogy. I reread the script and the new trimmed-down version when the Broadway revival opened and it felt a bit dated and a little more Neil Simon-y than I had remembered. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Neil Simon — the man knew his way around a Broadway audience.) But hearing Fierstein’s own reaction to the “lack of danger” in Torch Song during its revival, and thinking about all the new dangers to gay rights popping up again all of a sudden makes me think, yeah, it’s time to revisit that work. What a life! “Look back, but don’t stare.” Great memoir, great audiobook.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Malum

    A lot of times I complain that autobiographies gloss over the celeb's life. We usually get something like "I was born. I did these movies/sung these songs. now my life is great. The end". Fierstein's autobiography, on the other hand, suffers a bit from the opposite problem. This is a very, very, very deep dive into Fierstein's life. While it is packed to the gills with material, it is luckily mostly great. In particular, the eye-witness accounts of gay life in the 70s and 80s-including the begin A lot of times I complain that autobiographies gloss over the celeb's life. We usually get something like "I was born. I did these movies/sung these songs. now my life is great. The end". Fierstein's autobiography, on the other hand, suffers a bit from the opposite problem. This is a very, very, very deep dive into Fierstein's life. While it is packed to the gills with material, it is luckily mostly great. In particular, the eye-witness accounts of gay life in the 70s and 80s-including the beginning of the AIDS crisis-is fascinating. Also, theater buffs in particular will love this book, as Fierstein spends most of the discussion of his career on theater and writing rather than on his movies. We get some bits here and there on his film roles, but you can really tell that his passion is the stage. I'm not much of a theater guy myself (and it's these chunks that had me zoning out now and then), but I did thoroughly enjoy Fierstein's discussions on his personal life and the world he grew up in. Just be sure that you are ready for this book if you pick it up, however. It feels every bit of its almost 400 pages.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Libby

    What a treat, to read this memoir. Harvey Fierstein has such an interesting life in the theater, and such a compelling interior life, as a funny, smart, wildly talented, beloved, loving, self-deprecating, Jewish, New Yorker, gay, activist, icon in his 60s. From his Brooklyn childhood to his early New York theater years, his Broadway triumphs and Hollywood, his life is rich. I'm so glad he wrote it all down for us. I look forward to another memoir from Harvey when he is in his 80s. What a treat, to read this memoir. Harvey Fierstein has such an interesting life in the theater, and such a compelling interior life, as a funny, smart, wildly talented, beloved, loving, self-deprecating, Jewish, New Yorker, gay, activist, icon in his 60s. From his Brooklyn childhood to his early New York theater years, his Broadway triumphs and Hollywood, his life is rich. I'm so glad he wrote it all down for us. I look forward to another memoir from Harvey when he is in his 80s.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Translator Monkey

    Excellent! Excellent, I say! Fierstein drops tons of names for me to fill out my want-to-read bookshelf even more unnecessarily large than it already is, and has me itching to get my hands on videos of the performances he talks about. Do yourself a favor - check out the YouTube video of Harvey being interviewed by Barbara Walters; if you're not itching to read this book after watching that, this isn't the book for you. And you have no pulse. Excellent! Excellent, I say! Fierstein drops tons of names for me to fill out my want-to-read bookshelf even more unnecessarily large than it already is, and has me itching to get my hands on videos of the performances he talks about. Do yourself a favor - check out the YouTube video of Harvey being interviewed by Barbara Walters; if you're not itching to read this book after watching that, this isn't the book for you. And you have no pulse.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sara Hodorowski

    This is the epitome of big gay energy. He doesn’t hold back, but the utmost optimism shines through even the darkest parts of his life.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Loved every minute of this. I’ve been familiar with Fierstein’s work for ages but had no idea how groundbreaking he was. This is a beautiful, funny memoir that’s a perfect read for Pride - what a gift to the community he is!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    This was SPECTACULAR. What a life Harvey has lived, most of which I had absolutely no idea about. Fascinating, funny, gossipy, and moving. I loved it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    Must listen.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    I wasn’t sure what to expect from this memoir. I won this ARC in a giveaway I very nearly didn’t enter, and now I am so glad I did. This is what a memoir should be. He doesn’t seem to hold back much of anything, even if it might not show him in the best light, and it’s so honest. It’s at times quite funny, at times painfully sad, but overall a delight to read. It’s made me wish I could’ve seen all of his shows first-run, but at the same time it’s written so well I almost feel like I was right th I wasn’t sure what to expect from this memoir. I won this ARC in a giveaway I very nearly didn’t enter, and now I am so glad I did. This is what a memoir should be. He doesn’t seem to hold back much of anything, even if it might not show him in the best light, and it’s so honest. It’s at times quite funny, at times painfully sad, but overall a delight to read. It’s made me wish I could’ve seen all of his shows first-run, but at the same time it’s written so well I almost feel like I was right there in it. A wonderful book I will definitely read again.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Phillip Oliver

    Harvey Fierstein's wildly entertaining autobiography makes for brisk reading and it is very hard to put down. Beginning with his childhood in Brooklyn, he showed an early aptitute for art and was eagerly nudged by his mother who sent him to art school. In the early 70s, he was dabbling in theater and appeared in an Andy Warhol play. His fame came when he wrote "Torch Song Trilogy" and he went on to great successes with "La Cage Aux Folles," "Hairspray," and "Fiddler on the Roof," just to name a Harvey Fierstein's wildly entertaining autobiography makes for brisk reading and it is very hard to put down. Beginning with his childhood in Brooklyn, he showed an early aptitute for art and was eagerly nudged by his mother who sent him to art school. In the early 70s, he was dabbling in theater and appeared in an Andy Warhol play. His fame came when he wrote "Torch Song Trilogy" and he went on to great successes with "La Cage Aux Folles," "Hairspray," and "Fiddler on the Roof," just to name a few. Along the way, he has acted in films, television and has written children's books. It is not all about the work though. Fierstein was just coming of age during the Stonewall era and was actuely aware of the inequalities and discrimination that gay people experienced in this country. Throughout his life, he has spoken out on a multitude of issues and has strived to educate the public whenever ignorance was noted (look up his revelation of an interview with Barbara Walters on YouTube). His gay rights activism extended into the 80s when the AIDS crisis dominated the news. (And here's a kick in the stomach - when he appeared on the Tonight Show, he overheard legendary actress Ginger Rogers tell the stage manager that she did not want to be on stage when Fierstein was there because she could not risk getting AIDS. Fierstein's comeback to her is priceless!) There are many laugh-out-loud moments in the book and hilarious stories involving Arthur Laurents, Robin Williams, Estelle Getty and many others. There are moments of sad reflection and poignancy as well. He is candid about his personal demons, his addictions and family traumas. This is a great read and will be of interest to anyone interested in the theater as well as providing a vivid look at gay life during the 70s and 80s.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ellen Margolese

    A lovely book about Mr. Fierstein’s life in and out of the theatre. Funny at times, heartbreaking at times, always warm and kind. Mr. Fierstein is universally kind, encouraging, and supportive in his descriptions of colleagues along his way. He comes across as a real mensch.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    An enjoyable memoir focusing on sexual identity, theater and gay rights history, and Harvey’s interesting life. From art school to Warhol movies, experimental theater to legitimate playwright, from risky sexual exploits to relationships and heartbreak, from sometime supporting actor to Tony-winning artist. An easy read with various photos that are always fun to peruse after their respective anecdotes. Not gossipy, and certainly not apologetic, Harvey is a larger than life character!

  30. 4 out of 5

    K.D. McQuain

    I have a very similar background as Mr. Fierstein, I grew up in New York City, I went to a specialized arts High School, my parents performed at La MaMa, I was on the Broadway Bowling League with cast members of shows he mentioned. I am a bit younger, but it was somewhat nostalgic hearing his reminiscences of the way the city was. I really enjoy his sense of humor also.

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