I grew up in show business. My mother is the Oscar- and Emmy-winning actress Lee Grant. My father, Arnold Manoff, was a screenwriter, and my stepfather, Joe Feury, is an Oscar-winning documentary film producer. We had an editing room in our garage, and throughout my childhood our home functioned as a production office. When I was 10, they sent me to summer camp, and when I returned eight weeks later I discovered that they had replaced all our frosted shower doors with clear glass. Years later, I learned that while I was off learning to ride horses, my stepfather had produced a soft-core pornographic film in our home. What can I say? It was the ’60s.

My novel, The Real True Hollywood Story of Jackie Gold, is neither about my life, nor is it true. Though I have acted on stage, television, and film since I was 17, writing a novel set in the world of show business presented challenges.

Drawing from my own experiences, I connected easily to my protagonist’s childhood. Like me, young Jackie observes Tinseltown from a safe distance. However, in later chapters, when Jackie becomes an actress, I found myself mired in the shallowness and mediocrity of day-to-day Hollywood. Off camera, we actors busy ourselves with, well, ourselves—our bodies, our skin, our hair. Where to work out? What to wear? What car to drive? (I confess to having once drained my salary on a red Maserati that I drove for exactly one week before it broke down.)

These superficial details, though accurate to the character, would’ve resulted in page skimming. It took several drafts to siphon out Jackie’s inner drive. The insecurities, fears, and thirst for attention I and every actress I know feel provided the motive for Jackie’s ambitions. Ditto her boob job and destructive behaviors. No, I have not had my boobs done, but if you knew me back in the day, I apologize for my less-than-stellar behavior.

One obvious area of concern was using real names. I use quite a few. Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, for example, are symbols of ’90s superstardom, and I used them and others to anchor the reader in the ethos of that era. I was careful to write benignly and from Jackie’s point of view. I have no wish to harm or expose anyone’s secrets. Nor do I want to get sued.

I also resisted the urge to mask celebrities I’ve known or dated and present them as fictional characters. I’m not a fan of novels that use that device to tantalize. Though I will admit to pulling dialogue from my life, like when a boyfriend tells Jackie, “If someone held a gun to my head and said I had to be in a serious relationship, it would be with you.” I couldn’t resist. You know who you are.

I threw out many sections in which I attempted to make a grand statement about Hollywood or fame because they didn’t advance Jackie’s story. One section on the benevolence stars show toward their fans nearly killed me to lose, but it didn’t serve the overall narrative. (I mention it now because I had to mention it somewhere!)

The novel did, however, afford me the chance to rant about the tabloids and the damage they cause, since the bulk of Jackie’s story takes place in the pre-internet ’80s and ’90s, when the Enquirer and Star magazines were the prime source of gossip and entertainment news. The merciless hounding of Princess Diana, who was ultimately chased to her death, inspired much of the novel.

As a younger actress, I too was a subject of tabloid stories—mostly harmless encounters until a reporter from the Enquirer showed up on my doorstep questioning my newborn child’s paternity. I chased him off my property with all the ferocity of a mother bear protecting her cub. Then I called the most powerful entertainment lawyer I knew. The reporter never bothered me again.

Moving away from Los Angeles helped give me the objectivity I needed to complete Jackie Gold. I left after a long and rewarding career, but not before I felt the sting of being an actress in her 40s, auditioning for producers fresh out of film school. Bitterness is not a trait of Jackie’s, and any residual resentments I harbored have since disappeared—or have been thrashed out in therapy.

I live now with my husband on an island a ferry ride from Seattle. I have college-bound children and a vegetable garden. I no longer act professionally, and for the last three years (until Covid), I’ve taught a weekly acting and improv class at a nearby women’s prison. People often ask me if I miss show business. The answer is no. At this stage in my life, writing about Hollywood has provided all the drama I need.

Dinah Manoff is a Tony Award–winning actress best known for her roles in the film Grease and in TV’s Empty Nest. Her first novel, The Real True Life of Jackie Gold, was released last month by Star Alley Press.