WHAT any reasonable reader wants when picking up a celebrity memoir is a compendium of splashy anecdotes about other celebrities. Oh look! There’s Whoopi! Baryshnikov! Arbus! Channing! Manilow!—“American cultural royalty,” as Alan Cumming calls them. With this as the gold standard, the song-and-dance man with a new memoir titled Baggage: Tales from a Fully Packed Life does not disappoint.
This is actually Cumming’s third memoir, and he’s beginning to distinguish himself as a writer as well as a first-rate actor of stage and screen. A household name in Britain for his many leading roles on stage and on the telly, he’s best known in the U.S. as the Master of Ceremonies in a Broadway revival of Cabaret in 1998. His first memoir, Not My Father’s Son (2014), was a deep dive into his complicated relationship with his abusive father while growing up in Scotland. You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams (2017) was a more lighthearted look at some real-life adventures and “celebrity moments” in his adult life. Baggage is about his life in Hollywood and how his acting career “has repeatedly whisked me away from personal calamities to sets and stages around the world.” (Both memoirs were reviewed in these pages, in March-April 2015 and May-June 2017, respectively.)
Colin Carman, PhD, author of The Radical Ecology of the Shelleys, teaches English literature at Colorado Mesa University.