Judy Carne had appeared in sitcoms before hitting it "big" -- if that's the word -- in Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In as the "Sock It To Me" girl who was always being doused with water or some other eventually humiliating stunt. Leaving the show, she did theater, hoped to star on a sitcom that didn't pan out, had two very bad marriages, two lesbian relationships that were comparatively wonderful (in fact, it's tempting to suggest that Carne's tragedy was in being bisexual instead of a committed lesbian, because her relationships with women were much better than the ones she had with men. She discarded one woman because the powers-that-be were telling her it would adversely affect her career, which in essence went nowhere anyway.)
Carne was trained to be a ballerina in childhood, but then the ballet is never mentioned again. Her first marriage was to Burt Reynolds, who began to slap her around on a regular basis when her career was doing better than his. At one point, according to Carne, Reynolds knocked her unconscious when her head hit the mantel and he just ran out and left her there with a concussion. Yet she calls Reynolds the great love of her life -- sick! Carne's second husband was a young gigolo who stole from her, got her arrested because of his drug and other bad habits, and cracked up a car she was in due to his drunk driving, breaking her neck and putting her head in a metal contraption for months. There were problems with Carne's Las Vegas appearances, her tour (which lost money), and despite some good reviews for her show in New York, she got more publicity when a brawl broke out at the tony Persian Room. Burt Reynolds actually had her on as a guest the first time he hosted the Tonight Show -- she even mentioned the fireplace mantel incident -- and when she desperately needed some money he gave her a grand total of five hundred dollars. Carne became addicted to heroin but was arrested more than once on drug charges after she became clean and sober; these charges were eventually dropped when "heroin" proved to be something else. One disaster and complication after another, with little real work.
Sadly, Carne's story of Show Biz Gone Sour makes for a compelling read. (The book is very well-written by Bob Merrill, whom she doesn't mention in the acknowledgments). Bad marriages, drug addiction, financial woes, battered wife syndrome -- at times the whole thing borders on grotesque black comedy, but it keeps the pages turning. Laughing on the Outside would probably make a terrific movie if it were done with care.
A note on Laugh-In. Even when I was a kid I thought the show was stupid and unfunny and couldn't understand how it became so successful for a time. The painted, bony Carne looked ridiculous, Jo Anne Worley was gross and overbearing, I couldn't stand Alan Sues, and I didn't think much of Henry Gibson's poetry, although I must say the poem he wrote as his introduction to this book is excellent.
Verdict: Often horrifying and harrowing account of one woman's descent into drug and show business purgatory. ***1/2.
UPDATE: Ms. Carne passed away at age seventy-six the very day this review was posted.