Going whole hog

Posted on 07 Feb 2014 at 8:05am

Just in time for his upcoming reading, gay ‘Star Search’ winner Sam Harris proves as gifted a storyteller as singer in his dishy memoir ‘Ham’

Ham-Slices-of-a-Life-author-Ray-Garcia

Ham: Slices of a Life by Sam Harris (Gallery Books 2014), $26; 304 pp.

Ham---Slices-of-a-LifeA minute in the spotlight can do wonders for a soul. It certainly did for Sam Harris, although hogging the spotlight proved even better.

Practically since infancy, Harris embraced the dramatic. For his third Christmas in his native in Sand Springs, Okla., Harris  received a special overcoat which made him do a dance. By age 10, he had talked his parents into allowing him to be baptized, the anticipated after-applause being more important than receiving the Holy Ghost. He loved putting on shows in the basement, performing in community theater, acting in school plays. And he was unabashed about it.

At 15, his father lied about Harris’ age so Harris could take a summer stage job in St. Louis; a year later, Harris fell in love with another boy on another stage in Nashville. Knowing that college would not make his dreams come true, Harris “hunted out” his stage presence in dark, colorless, largely-empty clubs, but little happened until his dad hired Jerry Blatt, Bette Midler’s writer/director. Harris was skeptical it would work, but Blatt would “become the single most important influence … and the greatest gift my dad, or anyone, ever gave me.”

In this memoir, Harris writes about his family’s misfortune with housefires (two!), of falling in love with Mr. Wrong, then meeting his husband, falling in love again, and wanting a child so badly that he couldn’t stand seeing other children. He explains his career and his almost-didn’t-happen appearance on Star Search. He dishes stories of famous friends, on-stage nemeses, alcoholism and being gay.

I’m normally not a fan of bios that scramble their timelines, but in Ham: Slices of a Life, that bouncing around works well.

Screen shot 2014-02-06 at 2.08.30 PMMaybe that’s because Harris writes with bouncing-on-your-toes energy, rushing from subject to subject with the occasional lingering moment to ponder things that are important to him. His is an eagerness that’s endearing.

The essay “Liver” will put a new metaphor in your vocabulary, the story of Liza Minnelli’s wedding is hilarious, and Harris’ memories of Blatt got me a little teary.

With humor, soul-baring, name-dropping, and just the right mix of vulnerability and snarkiness, Ham is a definite pleasure to read. If you’re looking for a memoir that you can enjoy, embrace this one whole-hog.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 7, 2014.

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