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Book Review: The Truth is Bad Enough: What Became of the Happy Hustler? by Michael Kearns

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Even as a teen, gay actor and activist Michael Kearns was not cool. But as a “twenty something” year-old when the decade of the seventies burst forth and began a mind blowing wave of change that touched every aspect of the American culture, Kearns blew the minds of many Americans. Seemingly overnight, like the country, this good looking young guy got charisma–and more. It began with his transformation into the titular subject of The Happy Hustler, the 1975 book that propelled Michael Kearns to notoriety. At the time, he might not have achieved the degree of top-of-mind awareness as his female contemporary, Xaviera Hollander, former call girl and madam best known for her memoir The Happy Hooker. But, while Kearns would develop, over time, a reputation as a high energy party boy within the gay entertainment community, he would also go on to achieve success as a stage and small screen actor, an influential, respected gay advocate, and a devoted father to his adopted daughter.

I started reading The Truth is Bad Enough with only vague recollections of Happy Hustler. I did recall, after the book’s prompt, the episode of the long-running television series, The Waltons, in which John Boy leaves the mountain to attend college. But I did not realize at the time that Michael Kearns was the actor who played the suave upperclassman who took the bumpkin under his wing. I was, though, a young adult product of the seventies like Kearns, and as the book unfolded, I began to vividly recall, through Kearns’ gift for storytelling, a clear and fond recollection of this unique period of time. I also began to develop an intellectual bond with the author. Kearns, given the diversity and longevity of his dysfunctional life, has evolved uplifting and inspiring insights into his life-issues. Further, his thinking on life in general offers much that is positive and empowering.

As an author, Kearns stays on his path and writes what he feels. I like Michael Kearns for who he appears to be, based on this memoir. My perception of him is that he is an enigmatic, quirky, free spirit–all traits that I admire in people. The book is part stream of consciousness, part diary, part “interview bites,” part thinking out loud. It’s candid and sometimes raw. The only creative framework that Kearns has created for himself is one that is straight forward: each chapter fits into one of the three acts in which the story is presented–Act One, Actor; Act Two, Activist/Artist; and Act Three, Father.

There are a lot of different closets in which different people are hiding–child abusers; child pornographers; alcoholics; substance abusers, and on and on. People can only learn about how people got there if they are willing to learn from resources such as The Truth is Bad Enough. But if you are homophobic, don’t start your learning process with this book. In my opinion, it’s simply too honest. On the other hand, if you’re like me, and don’t have time for anything that isn’t honest, I highly recommend The Truth is Bad Enough to those who are interested in this extremely relevant cultural subject.

(Reviewed by Joseph Yurt for Reader Views)

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About Susan Vio

  • Fantastic review, Mr. Yurt! I enjoyed reading this. I especially liked your comment at the end of not having the time to read anything that’s NOT this honest.