Audiobook read by the author
Little, Brown and Company (April 14, 2015), Hardcover (ISBN 0316334316 / 9780316334310)
Nonfiction: memoir, 320 pages
Source: Purchased audiobook (Hachette Audio, April 2015, ISBN 9781478903277; Audible ASIN B00U1OQ8YW)
Kate Mulgrew’s first ambition was to be a poet. When she was selected to recite some pieces in a school program, her mother suggested learning one well-known poem and including that with the originals she’d be reading. While her own work was well-received, her performance of the familiar poem brought the audience to tears, and her mother had another suggestion: Kate should decide whether she wanted to be “a mediocre poet or a great actress.”
People know Kate Mulgrew’s name from its association with other names, like Mary Ryan in the 1970s soap opera Ryan’s Hope; Mrs. Columbo, the famous TV detective’s (apparently much younger) wife; Russian-accented Litchfield Women’s Prison inmate “Red” of Orange is the New Black; and the first woman captain of a Federation starship, Kathryn Janeway of Star Trek: Voyager—clearly, Mulgrew chose the “actress” path, and has worked regularly in both theater and television for nearly four decades. But the poet never really went away, and Mulgrew’s engaging memoir, Born With Teeth, is a fine introduction to the writer she might have been otherwise.
There are work-related anecdotes scattered throughout Born With Teeth—glimpses behind the scenes at the production process, bits of light gossip, the revelation that she blew her audition for the role of Captain Janeway, but got a second chance when the original actress quit just days into filming the Voyager pilot. And it’s worth noting that Mulgrew is in a line of work where boundaries between professional and romantic partnerships often blur; she is frank about the ups and downs of being a theater actress married to her director, right up to the demise of both the marriage and their their work relationship.
Work and life also blurred when, at 22, Mulgrew unexpectedly got pregnant, and the supportive producer of Ryan’s Hope wrote in a baby for Mary Ryan, too. But Kate Mulgrew gave up her baby in a closed adoption (as most adoptions were in the late 1970s), and soon after that, also gave up being Mary Ryan. The loss of her daughter was never far from Mulgrew’s mind through the decades of work, romance, and motherhood that followed; it’s a thread of heartbreak that runs through her story, but ultimately leads to a place of joy and a future of promise. It’s also where Mulgrew’s gifts as a writer show to their best effect.
And Kate Mulgrew can write. Born With Teeth suggests that poetry might well have been a viable career choice after all, but her evocative performance of the audiobook is also a fine display of her dramatic skills. Mulgrew brings this memoir to a close around the turn of the 21st century, as Voyager is ending, but relationships with her daughter and her second husband are just beginning—I hope she’ll come back to share more of her story.
Rating: Book, 3.75 of 5; Audio, 4 of 5
Raised by unconventional Irish Catholics who knew “how to drink, how to dance, how to talk, and how to stir up the devil,” Kate Mulgrew grew up with poetry and drama in her bones. But in her mother, a would-be artist burdened by the endless arrival of new babies, young Kate saw the consequences of a dream deferred. Determined to pursue her own no matter the cost, at 18 she left her small Midwestern town for New York, where, studying with the legendary Stella Adler, she learned the lesson that would define her as an actress: “Use it,” Adler told her. Whatever disappointment, pain, or anger life throws in your path, channel it into the work.
It was a lesson she would need. At twenty-two, just as her career was taking off, she became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter. Having already signed the adoption papers, she was allowed only a fleeting glimpse of her child. As her star continued to rise, her life became increasingly demanding and fulfilling, a whirlwind of passionate love affairs, life-saving friendships, and bone-crunching work. Through it all, Mulgrew remained haunted by the loss of her daughter, until, two decades later, she found the courage to face the past and step into the most challenging role of her life, both on and off screen.
We know Kate Mulgrew for the strong women she’s played–Captain Janeway on Star Trek; the tough-as-nails “Red” on Orange is the New Black. Now, we meet the most inspiring and memorable character of all: herself. By turns irreverent and soulful, laugh-out-loud funny and heart-piercingly sad, BORN WITH TEETH is the breathtaking memoir of a woman who dares to live life to the fullest, on her own terms.
“I started out in a green house with a red door in a small town, where mysteries abounded. Immediately after issuing me into the world, my mother took me to this house and put me in a shoebox, which she placed on the dining room table so that one and all might come and gaze upon my perfect miniature beauty. Hands like starfish, to hear her tell it, grave but ravishing cornflower-blue eyes, and, most remarkable of all, a set of baby teeth. Two pearls on top and two, nonpareil, on the bottom. Shakespeare, my mother said, would have a field day. The neighborhood ladies were not impressed and stood there in silent judgment with arms crossed over pregnant stomachs. It wasn’t good form to crow about your child’s beauty, especially considering the vast numbers of children that populated those Irish-German households. My mother, however, was undaunted and maintained her frantic vigil until she convinced herself that I, her first daughter, was growing even tinier than I had been at birth. Alarmed, she rushed me to the hospital and demanded that I be incubated. Dr. Sharp, her obstetrician, shook his head but to no avail. And so it was that in that strange aquarium of light and warmth, my mother’s face pressed against the glass, I developed a constitution that could only ever be described as able and hardy.”