Lessons from the Mountain by Mary McDonough

This book is the autobiography of Mary McDonough, best known for playing Erin Walton in the hit TV show, The Waltons. From the title through to the marketing, Lessons from the Mountain is very much presented as if it were all about her time on the show, but, actually, there’s so much more to her life than that and even though I’m a massive fan of The Waltons, that part of the book was probably the least interesting to me.

I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t enjoy reading about her time as Erin, because I did. It’s really fascinating to get an insight into the mind of the person who brought to life one of the fictional characters I’m so familiar and fond of, and her anecdotes about life on the set were interesting and sometimes heartwarming – there was a story about Will Geer trying to make her become more comfortable with her body that I particularly liked, for example.

At the same time, she certainly doesn’t shy away from the tolls that being a child actor takes on a person. The depression and anxiety that she had to deal with while acting is kind of heart-breaking, and it certainly highlights the morally dubious nature of children being actors, because despite the fact that it might seem glamourous, they are still starting jobs at a very young age, and experiencing all the stress that people normally wouldn’t encounter until their adult years.

She also writes about the general difficulties of being a woman working in Hollywood: about sexual harassment, about extreme pressures to look a certain way, seedy directors trying to make her do nude scenes she didn’t want to, and much more besides. As much as she was writing about her experiences as an actor in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, I think a lot of this remains important to this day.

But really, I think the part of the book that was most interesting to me, was where she detailed her work as an activist. She explains that due to the body image problems she experienced, and the fact that she felt like she would get more work if she had larger breasts, she decided to have breast implants.

When she had the procedure, she wasn’t told anything about the health risks, or the fact that they would need to be changed every few years or so, and because of this lack of information, she ended up experiencing a severe decline in health and was ultimately diagnosed with lupus. She would later discover that there are many women who had become similarly ill, or who had even lost their lives, after undergoing a breast enlargement procedure.

Together with other women who had experienced the same problem, she tried to sue the medical company behind it with a class action lawsuit. Sadly, it was unsuccessful, and she details the harassment she received as a result of this, and how the media tried to smear the character of everyone involved. It’s such appalling stuff, and it’s incredible that she stood alongside many other brave individuals to challenge these unethical practises.

Before reading, I had no idea whatsoever that breast enlargement was anything but a simple routine with no real risks. When you see it discussed in film and TV, it’s portrayed as if it’s no big deal, but awareness needs to be raised about the serious harm that they can do, and in writing this book, Mary McDonough has helped shine a light on a social issue which seems to receive very little acknowledgement in the mainstream media. This is why it was so much more interesting to me than the story of her time on The Waltons (as much as I love it).

When I started reading this book, I respected Mary McDonough for her acting abilities in portraying Erin Walton (and for writing the book One Year). When I finished reading this book, I respected Mary McDonough as a fine actor and writer, as well as someone who actively fights to make the world a better place.

Score: 9.3/10

Buy it here.

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