An Interview With “Beaches” Author, Iris Rainer Dart


Iris Rainer Dart: Love is at the core
Susan Cantrell

Raise your hand if you can watch the movie “Beaches” and not cry. Ditto with the book on which it is based. Author Iris Rainer Dart, 59, says even wrestler The Rock succumbs.

“I nearly fell off my treadmill when I was watching a Barbara Walters show and a woman asked The Rock what would really get to him.” Out of the blue, he said, “I cry when I watch ‘Beaches.'”

Granted, the script doesn’t follow the book exactly. But Dart is no snob. She freely admits it boosted her career and she was wowed by the lead character, played by Bette Midler. Proof positive is a large “Beaches” poster in Dart’s writing room: a splendid nest, overlooking the ocean at Pebble Beach, filled with well-worn books and photos. Hundreds more framed photographs grace the awesome 1926 Mediterranean home that she shares with her husband, Stephen, whom she praises as the wind beneath her wings.

Dart doesn’t mince around about the characters in her books. They’re based on real people. Such as her upcoming book, “Some Kind of Miracle,” prompted by a cousin with schizophrenia. She’s doing fund-raising for an organization that aids people recovering from mental health problems. “That’s exactly why I wrote the book. I wanted to dispel myths about mental illness.”

At the core of her life and writing is love. “To me, that’s the theme of every book I write: meaningful human contact. Everything else is unimportant. That’s what ‘Beaches’ was about — and my new one and everything in between. It’s about the healing power of human relationships.”

In a poignant experience similar to the movie, her dearest friend died several months ago. And in Cee Cee Bloom (Midler) style, Dart was by her side all the way. One day, in the midst of writing a musical, she took the manuscript to the hospital where she sang, danced and acted out all the parts for her ailing friend.

Petite as a demitasse and large on laughs, the Jewish daughter of poor Russian immigrants (Ratner) andthe mother of two settled into the breakfast nook and opened her mental closets.

Q: What does it take to be your girlfriend?

A: I’ve got a lot of girlfriends. I remember the song in “Mame”: “Who else but your bosom buddy will tell you the stinkin’ truth?” It requires enormous honesty, a great sense of humor and a lot of compassion.

Q: What relationship prompted you to write “Beaches?”

A: My cousin Sandy once said to me, “When one of us dies, I hope it’ll be me first, because I couldn’t live in a world without you in it.” That inspired “Beaches.”

Q: How does your husband help your writing?

A: Well, he puts food on the table, literally and figuratively. He’s 1,000 percent supportive. He knows I live in another world. He’s used to me being not present, even if I’m in the room.

Q: How’d you meet?

A: At an Oscar party at Jerry Lewis’ house. I’d just come out of a very bad relationship. It took a while for it to fall together for me. I was a single mother with a little boy. My first husband had died. Anyway, he was so good looking I assumed he was an actor. And I wasn’t going to get involved with an actor. But he was a business man. He was so constant, grounded and sane and thoughtful.

Q: What does writing do for your heart, soul, mind, etc.?

A: Where do I start answering? I don’t know how to do anything else, except be a mom and wife, and I hope I’ve done those extremely well. I don’t cook (Stephen does), I’m not very good at sports and have no hobbies. I tell stories, always have since childhood. In the Talmud it says: “When you speak from the heart, you penetrate the heart.” So if I tell a story that moves me, it’s gonna probably move you because, at the bottom, we all want the same things.

Q: What if your writing ability were taken away (physically, mentally)?

A: My book, “When I Fall in Love,” deals with a man with cerebral palsy. The idea came after I worked on a TV show with a severely disabled man, one of the best comedy writers in the business. I don’t even want to think about the circumstance that would make me have to stop writing.

Q: What peace have you sacrificed pursuing success?

A: I haven’t. I moved here from L.A. because I loved the peace of living here… I made the decision somewhere along the line that family came first. So I worked at home where the children always knew they could break into the office anytime. But when I was the only woman writer for “The Sonny and Cher Show” I got home late at night. Those days were difficult.

Q: Are the fame, public appearances, etc., worth it?

A: I don’t think of myself as famous. I try to only do public appearances when there’s a book. When I work at home, I can be in pajamas all day. (laughs) I wrote a pilot for CBS and was on this big conference call with them and Sony. Afterward, they said, “That went well.” They didn’t know I was in my pajamas.

Q: As a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s drama department, what was your journey in acting?

A: I was a child actress at age 5 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. I was lousy to the point where even my parents couldn’t make eye contact when I came back stage (laughs).

Q: Successful people brag that they can handle rejection. How about you?

A: As an actress, I can tell you I was always too short, too dark, too ethnic, or something. So I turned away from that. And with my writing, there wasn’t much.

Q: Who/what was your lucky break?

A: George Schlatter, who was producing “Laugh-in,” called and said he was about to produce three specials — Diana Ross, Doris Day and Cher — and asked which one I wanted to work on. I’d call that my big break. (She chose Cher.) I couldn’t believe they were giving me that. (knocks on wood) No, not much rejection in writing.

Q: What is your writing MO?

A: I go through two phases with my novel writing. One is my mole period when I’m in the house and working and don’t want to hear the sound of another voice. I turn off the phones and am completely devoted to the silence of the writing experience. I always joke that I’d write more novels if I didn’t have to do the book tours at the end. I do like staying at home.

Q: What is out of control in your life?

A: You’ll think I’m the dullest person in the world. The only thing I’m having difficulty with is that all my children are on the other coast. I’m empty-nesting and that’s hard.

Q: What is your greatest handicap?

A: I try to overcome all of them. Maybe my biggest one is that I’m essentially very shy. It’s one reason I took to writing so avidly. But when you write novels, you have to come out (on tours) and face your fear of public speaking. I still get a little nervous but I’m getting used to it. I spoke to 10,000 people at Carnegie Mellon’s commencement.

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