Happy Accidents

09.14.11

14 Juiciest Bits From Jane Lynch’s Memoir

In her new memoir, ‘Happy Accidents,’ out this week, ‘Glee’ star Jane Lynch reveals the good, bad, funny, and sometimes sad moments that led her toward becoming an Emmy winner. Before the host of this year’s Emmy ceremony takes the stage Sunday, find out about the woman behind Sue Sylvester—from the ‘Happy Days’ star who helped launch her career, to failing English. By Jaimie Etkin.

1.  She’s deaf in her right ear.

When she was 8, Jane Lynch, the middle child of a suburban family in Dolton, Ill., found out she was supposed to be hearing out of both ears. Up until then, she did not realize most people are not subject to using just one like she was. “My brother was listening to his transistor radio. He kept switching the earpiece from one ear to the other, which I thought was his idea of a joke. ‘You can’t do that,’ I said. ‘You can only hear out of one ear.’ ‘No, I can hear out of both,’ he answered,” she remembered. “And that was how I discovered I was deaf in my right ear. I really thought that everyone could only hear out of one ear, because for as long as I could remember, that had been true for me.” —Page 13

2.   She’s a recovering alcoholic.

After becoming an everyday drinker in her post-high-school career, Lynch quit drinking in the winter of 1991, when she had the last drink she ever had. (She just wishes it was a Miller Lite—her drink of choice—instead of red wine.) Though she went off the bottle on her own, after getting high for the first time, she decided to go to Alcoholics Anonymous in January 1992 at age 31, and is still sober two decades later. —Page 104 & Page 110

3.   A Happy Days star helped launch her career.

In the summer of 1974, 14-year-old Lynch called into a Chicago-based radio station when the stars of her favorite show, Happy Days, were in town for a promotional tour. She asked how she could go about breaking into the business and upon the advice of Anson Williams, who played Potsie, Lynch set out to find an agent. She went to the Screen Actors Guild office in Chicago so she could get a list of talent agents, to whom she then proceeded to write letters. She wrote a letter to Universal Studios after visiting there, and then to the casting agent on The Brady Bunch, whose name she wrote down while watching the credits. Lynch got a crushing letter back from the assistant to the head of casting for Universal Studios that read, “We do not have the luxury of training young actors who are in the learning stage when we are working under such demanding professional conditions.” Still, Anson Williams would write her personal notes in the years that followed. —Page 21 and Page 30

4.   Her first girlfriend was her college professor.

Though she was still not out as gay to herself or others, the then senior at Illinois State University started dating her professor. “She was only ten years older than we were … She started it. But I followed,” Lynch wrote. They broke up when Lynch left for an MFA program at Cornell, but she admitted she had “projected every last ounce of neediness” onto her professor turned girlfriend. —Pages 58–60

5.   She’s a reformed quitter.

Although she wanted nothing more than to be an actress, fear of failure led Lynch to back out of her first play, The Ugly Duckling, during her freshman year of high school. “When we started rehearsals, I found myself paralyzed with fear—the fear of blowing it. So … I quit the play and joined the tennis team instead,” Lynch recalled. A decade later, the pattern continued. At 25, she quit a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Michigan, convinced the actors did not have her Bard background. —Page 30 and Pages 81–82

6.   She failed an English test in her postcollegiate career.

After a difficult stint living in New York, Lynch returned to her hometown of Dolton. Her mother, who did not support her aspirations of becoming an actress, suggested she work as a secretary, like her, for Arthur Anderson. Though the MFA-holding, Ivy League-educated Lynch thought she was “overqualified for secretarial tasks,” she knew she needed a job and got an interview. “I took the English test that they gave all new submanagement employees … and failed,” Lynch recalled, much to her mother’s embarrassment. —Page 78

7.   Her favorite job was on a home-shopping TV show.

In 1987, Lynch landed a job at “America’s Shopping Place,” where she worked the overnight shift, hawking costume jewelry, electronic flea collars, and other hodgepodge items in the wee hours of the morning. “I loved everything about the job,” Lynch wrote. “I’d drop whatever I was doing to show up to do the graveyard shift of 'America’s Shopping Place.'” —Pages 82–83

8.   Harrison Ford helped her not look stupid.

Lynch landed her first big-screen role in the 1993 film The Fugitive, starring Indiana Jones himself, Harrison Ford. She recalled tension on set between Ford and director Andy Davis, but said she got along well with Ford “overall,” despite his silent fuming. He also taught her something simple that has remained with her 20 years later about being in front of the camera: “If you leave your mouth open, no matter how smart you are, you still look stupid.” —Pages 135–136

9.   She had an affair with her friend/producer’s girlfriend.

In 1998, Lynch wrote and starred in the award-winning play Oh Sister, My Sister. With her all-female team of friends, the show sold out night after night and earned rave review from the Los Angeles Times and LA Weekly, which also gave the play an award. But Lynch fell in love with the girlfriend of her friend and producer and started an affair. “There was no forgiveness coming in my direction, and I had no ability to forgive myself, so I became consumed with my own guilt and spiraled into depression. I didn’t even end up with the girl,” Lynch recalled of the dark time in which she lost many of her friends. —Pages 163–164

There’s nothing sexy about getting a lap dance in front of your coworkers.

10.   Frosted Flakes propelled her to stardom.

Throughout the late 1990s, Lynch did voiceovers, guest TV spots, and commercials. When she went to a callback for a Frosted Flakes commercial, she was surprised to see that it was directed by Christopher Guest, whom she’d loved since watching his movie, Waiting for Guffman time and time again. “I could have done anything to be in a movie like it,” Lynch remembered thinking. She landed the cereal commercial and went on to become a part of Guest’s highly regarded unofficial comedic casting roster: first, in Best In Show, then in A Mighty Wind, and finally, in For Your Consideration. —Page 154–155

11.   Charlie Sheen texted her sweet nothings.

Since 2004, Lynch has had a recurring role on Two and a Half Men as therapist Dr. Linda Freedman, who initially worked with Jake (Angus T. Jones) to ease his adjustment to his parents’ divorce. But she came to see Charlie (Charlie Sheen) and Allen (Jon Cryer) on occasion, as well. And despite Sheen’s recent trials, tribulations, and bizarre public diatribes, Lynch had only nice things to say of him. “I absolutely loved locking eyes with him and playing these incredibly well-crafted scenes,” she wrote. “Charlie Sheen was such a pro … He was a kind-hearted gentleman who was loved by the cast and crew. He further won me over by texting words of praise to me whenever he happened to catch me in a guest sport or movie.” —Page 220

12.   She was Cybill Shepherd’s first female kiss.

While filming the lesbian-centric Showtime series The L Word, Lynch experienced her first on-screen make-out sessions. One of which was with TV icon Cybill Shepherd, who had never kissed a woman. “When it came time for the kissing, in her spirited attempt to get past the discomfort, Cybill wound up taking the lead and dove in with enthusiasm, cutting me off with kisses before I could finish any of my lines,” Lynch remembered. “I appreciated her commitment, but I did need to get my lines out, so we eventually had to map out the scene, planning each kiss.” —Page 209

13.   She’s not into lap dances.

When her role as Sue Sylvester on Glee drew her away from the Starz series Party Down, Lynch’s co-stars wanted her to leave on a high, albeit X-rated note. “The cast threw me a surprise going-away party that included a lap dance by a real stripper. She smelled like McDonald’s and was about as comfortable writhing on my lap as I was having her there … There’s nothing sexy about getting a lap dance in front of your coworkers, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t enjoy it in private either. I was embarrassed and felt really sorry for the girl.” —Page 242

14.   She has photographic proof of the moment she met her wife-to-be.

Lynch had no idea when she went to present The L Word co-creator Ilene Chaiken with an award at the National Center for Lesbian Rights gala in 2009 that she’d meet her future wife. Dr. Lara Embry, a Florida-based therapist, was receiving the Justice Award for fighting an appeal for the court to recognize out-of-state gay and lesbian adoptions. Embry, who had noticed Lynch in the lobby of the hotel where the event was held, asked a handler to pull the actress over for a photo. “While we were posing for the photographer, she jokingly said something about her best friend telling her she should ask me to sign her breast. My heart went boom … I mustered up a cocky flirtatiousness that didn’t at all suit me and retorted, ‘I’ll sign anything you want.’” Despite the somewhat raunchy initial interaction, they’re now happily married, and Lynch is a mother to Embry’s tween daughter, Haden. —Page 249