The following is an excerpt from "I Said Yes to Everything," the new memoir by Academy Award- and Emmy Award-winning actress Lee Grant.
Reprinted with permission from Blue Rider Press, a member of Penguin Group USA Inc. Copyright © 2014 by Lee Grant.
Once, when I was little, I dreamed that I could fly. I dreamed that when I breathed in, I flew upward, weightless, above the heads of all the children in the granite playground. When I breathed in I went up, up, up; when I breathed out I could swoop down and touch the tops of their heads. I swirled gracefully in the air, in my brown winter coat with the velvet collar from De Pinna's. I woke up so excited that I threw off my blanket and ran from my bed to the window in my bedroom. I threw the window open and climbed onto the radiator cover. The birds were flying outside. I would join them. I spread my arms, and from the seventh floor I saw the sparrows swooping toward the concrete below. Suddenly I saw myself smashing beside them. It shocked me, and I was afraid of myself and how easily I could fool myself into disaster.
I climbed down from the radiator. My mother opened the door. "Who opened the window?" she said. "It's cold in here."
I've experienced that sense of exaltation and intensity in my life many times: in adolescence, when the boys made my heart pound; in acting, when I jumped without a net, and ﬂew, and turned, and believed for those few hours that I inhabited another's life, and experienced new joy and pain. I've felt safe in ﬂight, in love, in sex, and with those who ﬂew with me.
I've also jumped and died, not once, but many times, unwisely and impetuously. I flew into fame as a very young Broadway actress, then jumped (through my first husband) into the Communist Party, only to find myself blacklisted for twelve years. I've reinvented myself many times over, picked up my broken wings and flapped till I could hop around again.
I'm flying again now, in my bedroom, writing, looking out my window. I had no idea, until I began putting pen to paper, that so many memories were inside me waiting to be rediscovered. I'm very lucky. I may even come to know myself.
My mother's job was to mold me into her American Dream.
Didn't young Witia from Odessa expose the child in her belly to every art museum in New York City, every day that she could carry me on her long legs? The magic of transformation was real in her young life. The Jewish child hunted in her cellar by goyim on horseback was transplanted to a new land where anything was possible, if you made it happen. And she wanted to make it happen for her daughter.
Witia was determined to plunge her hands into my baby fat and model me into a superior, beautiful being, who would either marry rich or rise above all others in the arts: ballet, theater.
There was no question about it.
My father was born in the Bronx, the youngest son of Polish Orthodox Jewish immigrants. His brother and sisters were ambitious. His brother, Aaron, and sister Anne were show business lawyers.
My father, Abraham, was the good son, the good man. He graduated from Columbia, where he had studied economics with John Dewey and was on the wrestling team. He kept a neat, tight, muscular body all his life. He bent his head over the radio every Saturday afternoon to listen to the Metropolitan Opera. He loved coloraturas. My father was the director of the Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association of the Bronx. It was a position of great responsibility, great dignity. He was the moral compass of the family.