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The Woman I Am: A Memoir    by Helen Reddy order for
Woman I Am
by Helen Reddy
Order:  USA  Can
Tarcher, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, Paperback
* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Helen Reddy's multi-faceted autobiography covers her career in music, movies, television, and stage, interest in psychology, three abusive marriages, and the births of her daughter Traci and son Jordan. Many will automatically connect her with the song I Am Woman. She was born in Melbourne, Australia to Max Reddy and Stella Lamond. Though Reddy's early family life was dysfunctional, with alcoholic parents, much love lies within and behind her written words.

Max and Stella included their daughters in vaudeville and radio touring performances. Reddy writes with humor of incidentals, such as the horse-racing bookie business her dad and Uncle Frank operated from the front room of Nanna's house (without Nanna's knowledge). Throughout Helen's life, she was supported by Aunty Nell and Nanna - Edith Reddy. She tells us that Nanna's 'personal pleasures were few', loving weekly 'housey-housey games' at the Catholic church hall (otherwise known as bingo or tombola), along with a Pick-a-Box radio show broadcast from Sydney. In 1959 Reddy was rushed to hospital, where a kidney 'swollen to the size of a football' was removed. Reddy was diagnosed with Addison's disease, which is incurable. Reddy won a trip to New York City in a talent contest. She later moved to LA with her three-year old daughter Traci, where she studied psychology at UCLA (she eventually became a practicing clinical hypnotherapist in Australia).

Reddy writes of her ability to sight-read music, which led to a job with the Australian Broadcasting Commission. When asked if she could sing French songs, Helen replied in the affirmative, then dashed to the record store to learn some phonetically. Reddy has performed in many venues. In December 1959 she was the opening act for Sammy Davis Jr. at the Melbourne Stadium. Reddy formed her own production company, and successfully toured Europe. In the 1980's, she went on stage in productions at the Sacramento Music Circus. Reddy was the first female Western star allowed to perform in the People's Republic. She performed at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool in a tour of Will Russell's Blood Brothers, and in four productions of Russell's one-woman play Shirley Valentine. Reddy won the Peabody Award in broadcasting. She was 'the first Australian to host a one-hour prime-time weekly variety show on an American network', and also the first Australian woman to win a Grammy.

After appearing on the Johnny Carson (Late Night) Show when Flip Wilson served as its host, Reddy was offered a contract by Capitol Records for two songs - I Don't Know How to Love Him from Jesus Christ Superstar and I Believe In Music, leading to an album contract. Reddy wanted lyrics that reflected 'pride in being a female and her evolving consciousness for women rights'. It began in her mind with the phrase 'I am Woman, hear me roar'. In 1973, the Helen Reddy Show was launched by NBC-TV with Nelson Riddle as her music director. Reddy expresses her views of women's issues, such as abortion, 'I am against all reproductive laws for the same reason I am against the draft. I believe that legal ownership of one's body is the most basic civil and human right. Without it, we are all slaves to whatever government is in power at any time.' Reddy also makes known her stand on the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment to include women (an amendment first proposed in 1923, which has not been ratified to this date). Reddy was one of the first women in the U.S. to be issued a credit card, and a mortgage!

Though Helen Reddy's book flows erratically from one aspect of her life to another and back again, the autobiography is honest, entertaining, and informative. Reddy's recent CD audio release, entitled The Woman I Am - The Definitive Collection, includes twenty-four hit songs. Her achievements are numerous (and continuing). She has lived through joys and sadness - during a trying divorce from her second husband, Reddy mused, 'Justice may be a woman wearing a blindfold, but legality is definitely a man wearing a patch over one eye.' Reading Helen Reddy's book and realizing the many barriers that rose in her way, I could not help but think of Rudyard Kipling's poem If, which begins, 'If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you'. Reddy roared with her song I Am Woman, and roars again in The Woman I Am.

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