Cover image for Surviving myself
Surviving myself
O'Neill, Jennifer, 1948-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : William Morrow and Co., [1999]

Physical Description:
x, 238 pages ; 25 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN2287.O55 A3 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Jennifer ONeill knows all there is to know about life in the fast lane. Even before she skyrocketed to movie stardom at age twenty-two, she had already experienced more than most women twice her age: international modeling at fifteen, marriage at seventeen, and motherhood at nineteen. Then came Summer of 42.

If her career was already a dream come true, however, her private nightmare had just begun. The dark years that followed saw scandal and sorrow offset by beauty and style: eight marriages, nine miscarriages, a near-fatal gunshot wound, and three other near-death experiences. Even motherhood proved a painful trial when one of her husbands fell into the abyss of sexual abuse, with Aimee, the eldest of her three children, as his victim.

But Jennifer ONeill is a survivor -- by the grace of God. Now, with her faith intact, she looks back on the roller coaster of her past with an unsparing honesty tempered with compassion, humor, and a new understanding of herself. Her story is an unforgettable drama of a beautiful, intelligent, talented, whimsical, yet deeply troubled woman redeemed in the end by the gift of her spiritual awakening.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

There's no particular reason anyone should remember Jennifer O'Neill; her biggest movie was her first, Summer of '42. so why is she writing her autobiography? Presumably, her publisher saw her personal life as the sales hook. How does a woman who was married eight times (and engaged numerous more) find happiness and God? By the time the sorry tale is told, however, some readers may wonder why anyone should care. O'Neill comes across as one of the dimmest bulbs on the planet. Not only does she marry the wrong men, she marries horrible men. The worst of the lot is the former convict who sexually abuses O'Neill's eldest daughter--and convinces trusting Jennifer that nothing is going on. O'Neill comes across as so stupid that by the time she accidentally shoots herself, it's hard to muster up so much as a "too bad." Even becoming born again does not immediately alter O'Neill's bad judgment; there's a bad marriage or two after she finds religion. This book practically cries out to be excerpted in the tabloids, where fascination with how people mess up their lives is endless. Consequently, there may be some demand for O'Neill's story; clearly, her messes are major-league caliber. Still, libraries buying on the basis of quality or author popularity may want to wait to see if the requests materialize. --Ilene Cooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

A model and actress best known for her performance in the film Summer of '42, O'Neill recounts a litany of naïve judgments and failed relationships leading up to her present happy marriage in this gabby yet banal memoir. The daughter of an English mother and Puerto Rican father, O'Neill grew up in the Northeast, apparently emotionally impoverished by parents she characterizes as more concerned with one another than with her and her brother. Devoted to her beloved horse and dog, at the age of 14 she took an overdose of sleeping pills after her parents informed her that she would have to give up her animals because the family was relocating to Manhattan. O'Neill began a grueling and lucrative modeling career at 15, married her first husband at 17 and became a mother the following year, when their daughter, Aimee, was born. The author chronicles the details of her film career, as well as her desperate search for the right man‘a quest that resulted in seven more marriages, two more children and a number of painful miscarriages. O'Neill credits her survival and the positive changes she has made in her life to the spiritual growth she underwent when she became a born-again Christian in 1987. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The ups and considerable downs of O'Neill, star of Summer of '42. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Pink Suede Shoes     They were pink suede shoes--and they were mine. As much as I wished it wasn't so, there they were, in all their ugliness, tied with a double knot to my nine-year-old "Flintstone-shaped" feet. The shoes seemed to have taken on a life of their own just to taunt me. When I wasn't wearing them, they dominated my closet like a hungry dog on the prowl, seeming to growl at me late at night. Sometimes I stared at them from a safe distance, trying to figure out the fastest way I could wear them out. Even though I had been the owner of these shoes for just a few short days, I was sure they'd been sent to destroy me.     I felt so insecure as a child, the chameleon in me would take on other people's quirks and accents in hopes of fitting in. I just wanted to be liked. I was already struggling with the addiction that would afflict me for most of my life. My core desire wasn't drugs, alcohol, or sex, but it was just as insatiable. What I was addicted to was simply, my need to be loved. Of course, all of us want that, but when we don't receive affirmation of ourselves as children, it can set in motion a frantic search for love as we become adults. At least that was my experience. It was as if I had a hole in my heart that would not be filled and an aggressive personality that absolutely would not give up. The patterns of my life started to form in my ninth year.     My family lived in a wood-frame house set back not too far from a road in New Rochelle, New York. Although the houses were close together, we had some privacy, and each home was built in a different style. To distinguish ours, Mom and Dad poured a pink cement patio and built an enormous stone "cookout" into the hill. No one else in the neighborhood had anything like it. An older girl named Jan lived in a house behind ours, in a much more expensive area up the hill. I was in the third grade, she was in fourth. I wanted to be her friend as badly as I wanted a pet. The animal issue was not open for discussion with Mom and Dad, so I decided to plant a rock garden and find a friend. Jan was it. She had long braided black hair, I had short tufts. She had all the dolls, clothes, and pets; I had a vivid imagination. On top of that, boys liked her and she knew it. (Boys were about as interesting to me as a stubbed toe. Besides, they reminded me of my brother.)     Still, I wanted to be just like Jan. After all, she was the most popular girl I had ever run into. She must have been doing something right to be so loved by her parents that she was allowed her very own dog and cat and dollhouse and bows braided into her hair at breakfast every morning ... and penny loafers!     Jan walked on the outsides of her feet, which wore down the heels of her brown, shiny loafers, crowned by two Indian-head pennies her grandfather had given her for her birthday. But the fact that she was pigeon-toed was unimportant to me. What counted was, she was cool and I wanted to be cool, too. (I have entertained the notion that my bowed legs did not come from riding horses or family genes, but from trying to walk like Jan.)     She also bit her nails to the quick, something I noticed when we played jacks. Since she was perfect and I needed to be, I began chewing away at my fingertips with a vengeance: stumps for nails was the look for me. I could actually incorporate this bad habit into my life without anyone's permission because they were my nails and I could do what I wanted to them, right? Wrong. Mom caught me biting and polishing one of my stubs and immediately nixed my mission with Tabasco sauce. But I didn't care; all I really wanted were some penny loafers.     I waited impatiently for Mom to get around to taking me shopping; my chance came sooner than I calculated. Mom and Dad were having one of their famous parties that coming Saturday, and so, as it happened, Mom needed a new dress. Well, she didn't really need one, but she "deserved" one because she'd recently lost a lot of weight, looked grand, and just had to show herself off. No question about it, I was born to two fabulous-looking, volatile parents. Mom and Dad were also Mr. and Mrs. Revolving Charge ... Bloomingdale's owns a big chunk of what would have been their net worth.     I loved it when Mom and I went shopping together. We didn't do it often, and we didn't go on sprees, but it was just about the only time we spent alone together. Once inside the dressing room, I'd attend to her like a handmaiden, sorting, zipping, pulling at her hem. What was the most fun was being sent out into the store unaccompanied to find my mom another size or color of outfit. I was very efficient. Mom would always ask what I thought as she verbally tore herself to shreds in the three-way mirror ... a strange habit of hers, especially since she was awesome looking. I'd tell her how pretty she was, even though I knew she didn't really listen to me. The fact that she even asked what I thought thrilled me. Mom is the most secure-insecure person I've ever known.     On this shopping day before her big party, she felt pretty good about herself, so I figured the timing was right to pop my question. "Mom, can I get some new shoes? Mine are all worn-out." I scrunched my toes to the breaking point, throwing my feet out at odd angles, which only made my sneakers look lopsided rather than old. Mom glanced down at my feet and actually seemed amused as she nodded yes. I was shocked. I hoped then and there that she'd stay thin for the rest of her life--she was such a misery when she gained weight.     Unfortunately, her good mood didn't end up saving the day. Although I saw--from five counters away--the exact penny loafers I wanted, waited an eon or two while the elderly salesman retrieved a pair and then jammed them on my feet, they turned out to be woefully too small. My mother was adamant at first. "Jen, your feet look like sausages!" But somehow I convinced her the shoes were just comfortably snug. Until, after paying for them, she saw me limping in agony off the store escalator. She took me back to the shoe department, where she discovered that the sock on my right foot was soaked in blood. The manufacturer had left a stray nail jammed between the sole and the side of the shoe and it had stabbed deeply into my foot.     After going through two handkerchiefs to mop up the mess, the salesman nervously offered us a free pair of shoes in compensation for my damaged toe. I quickly sorted through everything available in my size--sneakers, sandals, rubber slippers, even a pair of silk ballet toe shoes (which Mom insisted were not appropriate for everyday wear; neither were pink suede shoes, as I was to find out).     But when I first saw them, I fell in love: Elvis had blue suede shoes, I had pink ... and I had the floor at my parents' Saturday bash. I spun like a top and leaped through the air--I was talented. The dancing made me happy, applause made me feel safe. I was a big hit and my shoes grabbed their own share of attention from the crowd. I couldn't wait to show them off to everyone at school on Monday.     But Monday was a disaster. In my classroom, kids pointed at my pink feet and laughed. When I tried to sit on them, my teacher told me to sit up straight. Everyone laughed again. When I tried to hold my feet up under the desk to hide the offensive footwear, the teacher told me to take a walk to the principal's office. My eyes fell in embarrassment. What I thought would jump-start my way to instant popularity ended up only tightening the noose around my already doomed campaign to win friends. The worst part was, my potential older-best-girlfriend with the braids chose not to be seen with me around the school yard as long as I was shod in "those things." I felt nauseated the entire day until school let out and I walked home alone.     Jan did, however, grace me with her glorious presence that next Tuesday afternoon before her riding lesson. Riding lessons! I already knew at age nine that it was dangerous to pine for something so entirely out of the realm of my possibilities. Penny loafers were one thing, but a horse ... For me that was the most hopeless of all my dreams. My parents made their feelings very clear: "Jennifer, you are not getting riding lessons, a pony, or even a horseshoe, so don't bring the subject up again." I learned to face some facts early on.     One day while Jan and I were playing hopscotch in front of the house, my dad pulled into the driveway. I was surprised to see him home so early, and more surprised to see that he was alone. An unprecedented plan started to formulate in my miniature mind. I was going to attempt my first serious stab at the famous wrap-daddy-around-your-finger school of behavior, get whatever this little girl wanted, play the bat-your-eyes-and-whine scenario I had seen Jan pull on her father countless times. You know, the innate girl-thing that is supposed to be practiced on fathers and then refined on husbands. The beauty of this moment was that my mom wasn't around; I wouldn't have a prayer if she had been. Dad basically didn't know I was alive when Mom was anywhere nearby, which was almost always.     As I approached my father, with Jan right behind me for moral support, I stated my request for a new pair of shoes. I wiggled, I whined, I did everything I had been coached to do, and more that somehow just came naturally: I "feminine wiled" him with a vengeance.     Since Dad listened without responding right off, I thought I had it made. This wishful thinking inspired me to lay it on even thicker, especially when my friend surreptitiously gave me the thumbs-up sign. After I had used up every dramatic trick in the book, I shut up and waited for the magic answer. "Of course you can have a pair of new shoes, sweetheart. It doesn't matter that you just chose those pink ones. Tell you what, I'll take you down right now and you can pick out whatever you want," I imagined Dad saying. "Not only that," he continued in my fantasy, "why don't I take you over to the stables afterward and we'll get some horses and go for a nice long ride together." Oh, boy!     I was lost in my fantasy when, out of nowhere, Dad smacked me across the bottom so hard it knocked me into the bushes. I bounced off the hedge, then pulled myself up, shaking. My heart was pounding so loudly, I could barely hear my father say, "Jennifer, don't you ever try and pull that nonsense again! I happen to know you asked your mother this morning if you could have some new shoes. She said no. You wanted those pink things and you will wear them till they're worn out. Now go to your room and stay there until I get an apology." Before I could respond, he grabbed me by the arm and escorted me into the house. I turned to say something to Jan as I vanished, but the storm door slammed between us. I was just able to catch a glimpse of her standing there like a wooden Indian, fear frozen across her face. She never talked to me again. I felt like a very bad girl ... very ashamed. Sometimes it's easier not to remember. Copyright © 1999 Jennifer O'Neill. All rights reserved.