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Authors: Jane Lynch

Tags: #Film & Video, #Performing Arts, #Entertainment & Performing Arts, #General, #Biography & Autobiography, #Women

Happy Accidents

BOOK: Happy Accidents
4.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub




For Mom and Dad


. . . and every kid out there mustering up

the courage to answer the call of their

own hero’s journey


I first became aware of Jane Lynch when I saw
the movie
Best in Show

I had turned into a Christopher Guest junkie after seeing his brilliant comedy
Waiting for Guffman
. He created an atmosphere of sheer mirthfulness. I loved the wonderfully talented group of actors he put together. He let his players run with their characters without the benefit of a formal script. They were not only actors but also writers and improvisers. He trusted them, and they were hysterically funny. I couldn’t wait until his next movie would be released.

That turned out to be
Best in Show
. Along with his regular group of actors, there was a new face, and I thought she was terrific. I looked for her name at the end of the picture: Jane Lynch. I hoped she would become one of the rep players in Christopher’s future movies. She did.

Next came
A Mighty Wind
, followed by
For Your Consideration
. In each of these films Jane played an entirely different character, with hilarious results. Later, I was bowled over by her scene-stealing role opposite Steve Carell in
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
. These aren’t Jane’s only credits by any means, as you’ll learn when you read her down-to-earth, heartwarming (and sometimes, heartbreaking) life story.

I finally had the pleasure of not only meeting her but getting to work with her in a little-known movie,
Post Grad
, starring Michael Keaton. I played her mother-in-law, and most of my scenes were with Jane. The main thing I took away with me from that experience is how much Jane made me laugh even off camera. She sees the “funny” in everything.

And then came
. I loved the show from the get-go. I asked my agent to call the producers and let them know I’d be willing to carry a spear, or whatever, if they’d only allow me to get into their sandbox and play . . . preferably opposite Jane. My wish came true. I was cast as Jane’s mother, who was a former Nazi-hunter . . . (excuse me??). We got to sing,
“Why, oh why, oh why, oh—why did I ever leave Ohio?”
from the Broadway musical
Wonderful Town
. Did I mention that Jane has a great singing voice? Twice, I jumped up and down in front of the TV set in my living room when she won the Emmy and a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Sue Sylvester.

I remember once many years ago when I was doing
The Garry Moore Show
and the brilliant vaudeville comedian Ed Wynn was the guest star that week. Sitting at the writers’ table one afternoon, Ed was regaling us with tons of wonderful stories about the icons he had worked with and known throughout his illustrious career. Among those he mentioned were Bob Hope and Jack Benny. He gave us his definition of comedians, which I never forgot:

“Comics say funny things [Bob Hope] and comedic actors say things
[Jack Benny].”

Jane is cut from the same cloth as Jack Benny. She doesn’t need a joke to get a laugh. What’s funny about her is her “take” on any character she’s playing . . . and I might add, because she’s a wonderful actor, she plays the character very seriously, thereby making it that much funnier.

I was honored when she asked me to write this foreword. Her story is fascinating, and she relays it without holding anything back. It’s all here, warts and all. She has gone through a lot in her life (good times and bum times) and tells about it with courage and honesty. She has come out on top as a performer and as a human being.

I’m happy to call her my friend.

—Carol Burnett


f I could go back in time and talk to my
twenty-year-old self, the first thing I would say is: “Lose the perm.” Secondly I would say: “Relax. Really. Just relax. Don’t sweat it.”

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t anxious and fearful that the parade would pass me by. And I was sure there was someone or something
of myself with all the answers. I had a driving, anxiety-filled ambition. I wanted to be a working actor so badly. I wanted to belong and feel like I was valued and seen. Well, now I am a working actor, and I guarantee you it’s not because I suffered or worried over it.

As I look back, the road to where I am today has been a series of happy accidents I was either smart or stupid enough to take advantage of. I thought I had to have a plan, a strategy. Turns out I just had to be ready and willing to take chances, look at what’s right in front of me, and put my heart into everything I do. All that anxiety and fear didn’t help, nor did it fuel anything useful. Finally releasing that worry served to get me out of my own way. So my final piece of advice to twenty-year-old me: Be easy on your sweet self. And don’t drink Miller Lite tall boys in the morning.

Enjoying a Very Merry Breakfast, Christmas 1980.


I don’t know why, but I was born with an extra
helping of angst. I would love to be able to blame this on my parents, as I’m told this is good for book sales. But I can’t.

I grew up in a family that was pure Americana. We lived in Dolton, Illinois, one of the newly founded villages south of Chicago created to house the burgeoning middle class. We were like the subject of a Norman Rockwell painting, except it was the
s and ’
s, so he would have had to paint us with bell-bottoms and a stocked liquor cabinet. I didn’t settle into myself as a child, but the family I had around me was entertaining and embraced the life we had.

My dad, Frank, was a classic Irish-Catholic cutup. He was always singing a ditty, dancing a soft-shoe, or cracking wise while mixing a cocktail. He was almost bald by the time he was nineteen, and every day he’d smear Sea & Ski sun lotion on top of his naked head, then slap a little VO
onto his hands and smooth the ring of hair around the sides with a flourish. “How do you like that?” he’d say to himself in the mirror, and sing under his breath, “
I’ve got things to do, places to go, people to see
.” And after that daily Sea & Ski ritual, damn if he still didn’t end up getting skin cancer on his pate. However, it would be lung cancer that took my dad from us in
, and I miss him every day.

I can remember my dad, when I was really young—so young, it’s like Vaseline over the memory—dancing with me in the living room. “Do you come here often?” he’d ask, twirling me around and singing along with Sid Caesar: “
Pardon me miss, but I’ve never done this . . . with a real live girl . . .

My dad also did a bang-up Bing Crosby. I loved it when he sang, and we never had to wait very long for it. He’d sing while putting sugar in his coffee, while buffing his shoes, or for no reason at all. He’d make up songs about us, the more ridiculous the better: To the tune of “
Val-deri, Val-dera
,” he’d sing “
Jane-eree, Jane-erah
.” My nickname became simply
. He added
to the end of anyone’s name. My older sister was Julie-anikins, my younger brother, Bob-erotomy. One of his favorite joyous exclamations was “Pon-TIFF! Pon-TIFF!” from the word “pontifical,” which was his way of saying “fabulous.” And “My cup runneth over” was boiled down to “My cup! My cup!” Speaking of cup, coffee was
, my mom was
. (Long Thing, because she was tall), and the phone was the
telephonic communicator
. We would roll our eyes or feign embarrassment—but we all wanted to be the subject of Dad’s silliness, to be a part of his joy.

The Lynch family in red, white, and blue for the 4th of July, circa 1964 (I’m on the right).


Each day, when Dad came home from his job at the bank, the first thing he’d do was put his keys and spare change into the saddlebags of the little ceramic Chihuahua that sat on his dresser. Then he and my mom would indulge in their nightly cocktail ritual with their favorite drink, Ten High Whiskey. Dad had his with ginger ale and Mom had hers with water, and they’d toast with the words “First today, badly needed.” Dad would say, “L.T., let’s get some atmosphere!” and they’d dim the lights and start singing something from
My Fair Lady
, Dad harmonizing perfectly to my mom’s melody.

Banks were closed on Wednesday, and my dad loved his day off. It started at Double D (Dunkin’ Donuts) because he loved their coffiticus and the chocolate cake donut. Wearing his blue elasticized “putter pants,” he would check off items on his to-do list. He was forever singing something goofy under his breath; “
liver, bacon, onions . . .
” was a favorite. He wanted us to be as enthusiastic as he was about his accomplishments. If Wednesday’s lawn work went unnoticed for its superior greenness, he’d plead, “Rave a little! Rave a little!”

Dad goes after Mom with our new electric knife.


My mom, Eileen Lynch (nee Carney), was, and still is, gorgeous. Tall and blond, with navy blue eyes and beautiful long legs, she never failed to turn heads. She always had a nice tan in the summer. And she’s a clotheshorse who never pays full price . . . ever . . . unlike her middle kid. To this day (and she is now in her eighty-second year) she puts on an
every morning. She’s classy down to her socks. She would kill me if she saw the comfort shoes I sneak under those long award-show gowns, especially because we have been known to watch hours and hours of
What Not to Wear
together. I share her love of fashion—I just don’t have her eye, or the figure to look fabulous in anything off-the-rack like she does.

Mom is half-Swedish and half-Irish, but the Swedish tends to win out. She can get sentimental, but for the most part, she’s strong and independent and doesn’t suffer fools, show-offs, or braggarts, and of course I’m nothing if not a foolish bragging show-off. Somehow, she manages to love me anyway.

But when Mom opens her mouth, she’s hilarious, though mostly she doesn’t mean to be. She’s a bit spacey, and her synapses don’t fire as fast as the rest of ours. She has always been unperturbed by her oblivion—and barely fazed when she finally gets the joke.

Her eyeglasses were always full of fingerprints, smudges, and pancake batter. I’d take them off her head, wash them with dish detergent, then put them back on. “Wow!” she’d exclaim, seeing what she had been missing.

She is absolutely frank with her opinions and literal in her interpretations. In our family she was the perfect “straight man” to the hijinks.

Apparently my mother was unaware that witches don’t have vampire teeth or wear sunglasses. With Dad and first grandbaby, Megan.


Our house ran like clockwork. All five of us sat down to dinner at the same time every day, after which Mom would have another cocktail, and maybe another. Dad would watch the news, and at
he’d eat a Hershey bar with almonds and settle in for Johnny Carson’s monologue. After that, it was time for bed.

My parents truly loved each other, and almost always got along. If you ask Mom now about their life together, the only negative comment she’d come up with is “Sometimes he’d bug me.” She had to have at least one criticism; she’s Swedish. Dad, on the other hand, had no criticism of my mother. And for a man in the sixties, my dad really
women—he understood and loved them. Once, when he had to go buy my mom Kotex at the store, the guy at the counter, embarrassed, slipped them into a paper bag. He started to carry them outside, so my dad could take the bag where no one would see, but my dad just laughed. “It’s all right,” he said. “I don’t need to sneak out the back door.”

He also liked women’s company more than men’s. For a number of years when I was a kid, we went on vacation to summer cottages in Paw Paw, Michigan. The guys would all go play golf while the women sat on the beach. My dad would stay with the women, sitting under an umbrella in his swim trunks, with Sea & Ski slathered all over his pasty white body, chatting the afternoon away.

Though we were only two years apart, Julie and
I were totally different. From the moment I was born, she was looking to create her own family because she now wanted out of ours. She loved dolls, little kids, and telling people what to do. She was thin and pretty, with long blond hair—the Marcia Brady to my Jan.

But Julie had a great sense of humor—we all did, thanks to our parents, who taught us by example that being the butt of the joke is a badge of honor. Julie was the space cadet, so we Lynches would mock her in a high-pitched dumb-blonde voice that made her giggle. We were not a thin-skinned people.

And although Julie and I fought like crazy, we insisted on sharing not only the same room but the same bed the whole time I was growing up. I still don’t know why. I mean, we
each other. When I recently asked her what was up with that, she had no answer either. On the same ironic note, we also wrote words to
The Newlywed Game
theme song about how much we loved being sisters. “
Everybody knows who we are / We’re not brothers, you’re a bit too far / We are sisters by far!
” I shared the writing credit for this masterpiece with Julie, but in truth, I wrote it all by myself.

BOOK: Happy Accidents
4.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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