Movie Dad by Paul Dooley
A TV Book Review
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Paul Dooley has been a prolific character actor in movies, TV shows, theater, and commercials for over 60 years, as well as a standup comic, writer, cartoonist, and clown. He’s best known for playing Dennis Christopher’s father in Breaking Away and Molly Ringwald’s father in Sixteen Candles. This book is an adaptation of his one-man show, which chronicles his life from growing up in West Virginia during the Great Depression to surviving the COVID quarantine in his 90s. The title, Movie Dad, is inspired by the many father characters he’s played in movies.
Dooley writes with his trademark quick wit and old school comedy, infusing jokes and wordplay into his tales about his parents, brother, wives, children, and long career in and out of show business. He opens up about his emotionless father (and how he turned out to be a lot like him), his mother’s affair with a family friend, the time his brother ran away from home and lived in a shack by the river for months, how he got a girl pregnant and quickly rushed into a loveless “marriage of convenience,” his years of therapy, and, most poignantly, how his second wife disappeared with their two children and he didn’t see them again for 10 years.
The book is not without show biz anecdotes, and Dooley mentions many celebrities he met and worked with along the way. He also lists his favorite comedians and dramatic actors and creates a timeline of silent comedy through the decades. He discusses his many achievements, as well as those of his wife, children, and friends, but he also describes his personal mistakes and regrets and how he dealt with them.
Occasionally, Dooley goes on tangents about Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, or some other old timey comedian, as if he’s writing short biographies about them. These parts are mildly interesting, but mostly unnecessary. He also throws in a quick paragraph here and there about something one of his kids said or a joke he heard that seems out of place in the structure of the story. The last few chapters feel like just random thoughts and names he jotted down. They’re a little disjointed, but there’s some funny stuff in there.
Dooley’s life story is enthralling from the beginning to near the end. It’ll make you feel amused, surprised, shocked, saddened, relived, and ultimately satisfied. But more than anything, it’ll make you laugh, because Dooley is truly a comedian at heart. I recommend it for anyone who’s a fan of classic comedy, movies, or TV, or anyone who just loves to laugh. Buy it on Amazon!