Charlie and Me (Publisher; Timberlake Press) is the wonderful,new book written by Harriet Bronson. In it, Bronson describes her young love affair with ex-husband, Charles Bronson. She takes the reader on a journey from new love, happily married to becoming “Mrs. Famous” (after Charles made it big as a movie star and actor) and then shares the pain of being the last to know of her husband’s adultery. It’s also a story about starting over, self-discovery, and learning to make it on your own.
Luanne: What made you decide to write the book? Why now?
Harriet: Since my divorce, I’ve tried to do everything that interests me. My book, Charlie & Me, was started 15 years ago, but life (such as breast cancer; lung cancer; a broken femur; six months in physical rehab, and an earthquake that trashed my house) got in the way and I had to put the book on the back burner. Then, a little over a year ago, I finally got around to finishing the book. I wrote it for myself, for my children, and for other women who might benefit from my experience.
Luanne: After the marriage ended, you had to find your way. It’s written that there was a transformation from “Mrs. Famous” to the real Harriett. Was there anyone or anything that helped you during this process of discovery and finding the “real you”?
Harriet: It took years of therapy and help from people I knew, many of whom helped me with all the various projects I tried to do. It’s amazing the encouragement one can find. I think the “real” me finally happened when I hosted talk-radio shows in Los Angeles which happened about ten years after my divorce — so it took a while! I retrieved some of my lost self-esteem and finally “made my mark” as Harriett Bronson. It opened up a whole new world to me. I could see that I actually had some talent after all.
Luanne: Divorce is difficult and painful. You had to deal with the public spotlight which made your divorce more difficult than most. If you could give encouragement to a newly divorced female or share advice on how to successfully make the transition (from married to single) what would it be?
Harriet: I’d tell her to take her time to get over the loss she feels as well as the hurt. Seek professional counseling and don’t rush into anything until you are ready. Try things you have always wanted to do. You will meet new people who will encourage you. Work around your children’s schedules – if you have small children. Take chances on projects. Join groups of people with the same interests you have. Take classes. Seek out anything where you can make new friends. Take your time to reinvent yourself.
Luanne: How did you cope (and your children cope) with the tabloids?
Harriet: Initially, I didn’t cope very well with all the “fan” magazines (popular in those days) that I saw every time I went into the supermarket — cover photos of Charlie and Jill Ireland skipping off around the world. It was salt on the wound. Interestingly enough, in later years — when the tabloids replaced the fan magazines — the tabloids became “my friends” and ran many stories favorable to me. My children were too busy and too young to be affected by fan magazines or tabloids. What they had to cope with was getting used to going back and forth between two entirely different households – especially after Charlie married Jill. That joint custody/two houses thing can be hard for kids.
Luanne: Is there anything (not yet written) about you that you’d like your readers to know? What three words best describe the “real you.”
Harriet: Determined, Interested, and Friend. In addition to being determined to check out my interests, I’d say it was my friendships with a core group of women and the career mentoring help I got from a number of men that pulled me through. Those associations enabled me to find “the real me” and helped me regain my self-esteem, which had taken a beating during my 16-year marriage – especially at the end of it.
Luanne: Is there anything about Charles Bronson (not written) that you’d like your readers to know? What three words best describe him?
Harriet: Serious, Focused, and Compartmentalized. Charlie had a “life is real and life is earnest” attitude. Yet he was also able to have fun. He was extremely goal oriented and focused on success – especially financial success. What I didn’t understand at the time, was that he was also able to compartmentalize (something that’s said about many men), and while he was generous, loving and devoted at home, he was also able to carry on a kind of “double life” and see women outside the marriage (Jill Ireland, I learned later, wasn’t the only one). I always thought I knew Charlie, but I didn’t. Like so many wives, I was completely blindsided by his infidelities.
Luanne: You wrote that it took you seven years to find the real Harriett and you are still working on it. You also shared how you had to deal with a string of disasters after the divorce that included lung cancer. What was it that kept you going? How did you manage to journey on, when many people would have wanted to “quit”?
Harriet: Maybe I inherited the “don’t quit” gene from my mother – whose own determination to do what she wanted to do (in her case ride horses) ended up killing her. She died in a riding accident when I was only two. But I do believe that if you don’t help yourself, nobody else will. However, once you start helping yourself, others get on the bandwagon and are supportive. It’s quite an amazing phenomenon. And when that happens, things start falling into place. So you have a choice: Either do everything you can to get through a difficulty – or quit. I choose not to give up. It’s part of my nature to want to survive.
Luanne: On one of the last pages of your book, you share a poem that you told your children you want to have read at your funeral. You wrote that it shares your feelings about love and loss. The poem can be interpreted differently by different people, so in your own words, what are your true feelings about love and loss?
Harriet: It has to do with relationships – in my case, my relationship with Charlie and, later on, with a few other men that I have loved in my life, but, for one reason or another, those relationships ended. Love and loss is a part of life.
Luanne: Charlie said to you, “The only things in life that are permanent are memories.” In the 16 years that you were married to Charles Bronson, what is the one memory that stands out in your mind as the happiest? Which memory has the greatest significance to you?
Harriet: It was every time Charlie said, “I love you.” He said it when he asked me to marry him; he said it many time during our marriage – and he told me how proud he was of me. He also said it to our children. The words “I love you” will stay with me forever.
Luanne: What’s next for Harriett Bronson?
Harriet: At this very moment I have no idea. But, judging from my track record, I’m sure another idea will soon come along!
Harriet Bronson is a remarkable woman and her book, “Charlie and Me” shares a remarkable Hollywood love story.
To learn more about Harriet Bronson and her book check out her Facebook Page and her page at Timberlake Press. You can also read reviews of her book on Amazon and on my blog, Essence of Life Chronicles.
Thank you Harriet for teaching other women that divorce isn’t the end of life, just the end of a life once known. Your writing inspires the broken heart to believe that after loss come many hidden treasures and the beautiful opportunity for self discovery.