The 5 Genres of Celebrity Memoir, by Hollywood Ghostwriter and Novelist Hilary Liftin


Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper is — if you can’t tell from its title — a fictional celebrity memoir written by novelist Hilary Liftin. And it just so happens that Liftin herself is an established ghostwriter of celebrity memoirs who has worked with Miley Cyrus and others.Praised by Flavorwire (and Vogue and Cosmpolitan) as one of the must-read novels of the summer, Movie Star tells the story of actress Lizzie Pepper’s divorce from her husband, megastar actor Rob Mars. Pitched as a tell-all, the novel got us thinking: what are the actual genres of celebrity memoir? Thankfully, Liftin wrote a list of her favorite celebrity memoirs along with a genre breakdown to clear things up. “As a ghostwriter,” Liftin explains, “I can’t help but read celebrity memoirs through that lens. Here are some of my favorites.” — Jonathon Sturgeon

The Meta-Romp

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography

“NPH’s genre-busting memoir lets readers choose their path through his life, thereby embracing the randomness of memory and experience. [The book is] as light and entertaining as the man himself. He openly discusses working with Daily Show writer David Javerbaum, in a refreshing acknowledgment that collaboration has true value in memoir, as in so many other places. The two of them execute the book as if it’s a magic show, pulling one trick after another out of a top hat.”

The Ultimate Sports Memoir

Andre Agassi, Open: An Autobiography

“Written with Pulitzer Prize-winner J. R. Moehringer, Agassi’s memoir of his tennis career tells the painful story of a prodigy pushed by his obsessed father into a life he never wanted. Not just for sports fans, this is a true coming-of-age tale, dark but redeeming. It famously upended the cliché that celebrity memoirs are trash without literary value.”

The Widow Princess

Carole Radziwill, What Remains

“Radzwill offers a rare outsider’s lens on the world of the American aristocracy when she falls in love with Anthony Radziwill — son of a European prince and nephew of JFK — and also befriends Carolyn Besette Kennedy. But the fairytale turns tragic when Radziwill’s husband contracts cancer and, as he nears death, Carolyn and her husband, JFK, Jr., perish in a plane accident. Heartbreaking and wise, Carolyn is an experienced journalist who brings a spirited grace to her story — but boy, was she pissed when one of her co-Real Housewives of New York suggested on camera that she worked with a ghostwriter. The notion was understandably offensive to this career writer, but it hardly merits reality show-level drama. All books are edited, to what extent is irrelevant. What matters is a story, well-told.”

The Artful Tell-all

Mia Farrow: What Falls Away

“Mia Farrow’s memoir was published in 1997, not long after the Woody Allen/Soon-Yi Previn naked pictures debacle was compounded by the Woody Allen/Dylan Farrow abuse scandal. Those salacious events, discussed here in detail, can’t help but eclipse the pleasingly nuanced observations of what came before: Farrow’s career highlights, along with her friendship with Salvador Dalí and her romance with Frank Sinatra, but also exquisite smaller moments. There’s the revelation that the day her father died, her mother ‘took cottage cheese from the refrigerator and looked at it for a while, then put it back.’ There’s no collaborator credited on this one, but it flows so seamlessly that regardless of Farrow’s storytelling talent, which must be great given the detail, it is hard to believe an editor didn’t at least help her with structure, and to great effect — although the book would gain balance with the addition of material from a later period showing perspective on that intense time.”

The Internal Confession

Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl

“I love Lena Dunham, who makes me feel like it would be okay to wear a jumpsuit even if it isn’t flattering. The subtitle says it all: A young woman tells you what she’s ‘learned.’ Her air-quotes. Dunham — acutely self-aware, laugh-out loud funny, and microcosmically brilliant —speaks for everyone who’s ever felt like an outsider, which turns out to be most of us. Dunham writes her show Girls, and most likely flew solo here. Some readers think it shows — her raw confessions include lists of what she ate — but Dunham is one-of-a-kind, and young, and let’s hope she doesn’t start editing herself anytime soon.”


Author Hilary Liftin has ghostwritten and co-written numerous New York Times best-selling memoirs and is the author of Candy & Me and coauthor of Dear Exile. Her debut novel, Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper, will be published by Viking on July 21. She lives in Los Angeles.