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 V.23 No.4 | January 23 - 29, 2014 

Book Review

Cher Me This …

It's a new biography, man.

Cher: Strong Enough

Most people know about Cher from her illustrious music career. Hits like “I Got You Babe” and “The Beat Goes On,” with her former husband and music partner Sonny Bono, put her in the public eye. But her solo hits “If I Could Turn Back Time” and “Believe”—which, I'll admit, was a personal obsession of mine as a child—are what catapulted her to iconic status. And don't forget her Oscar-winning turn in 1987's Moonstruck. But before Cher graced album covers and movie posters, she was a television star, which provides the bulk of Cher: Strong Enough by Josiah Howard.

Cher's first introduction to television in the '70s was with Sonny in “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.” While that show didn't have an extensive running-time, Cher soon took the reins of her career and decided to do something a little different. After a painful divorce that included custody battles, lawsuits and broken contracts, Cher wanted to star on a television program that would be hip, cool and edgy. The show, simply titled “Cher,” was on the tube circa 1975-1976, and ran alongside other popular '70s hits like “All in the Family,” “Good Times” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” The show worked. And also it didn't.

While her series only lasted two seasons, luminous celebrities like Labelle, David Bowie, Elton John, Bette Midler, Steve Martin and Ray Charles provided snazz and comedy for viewers. Her approach to television was to bring the edgy rock stars of her time to families who were watching at home. But bringing such risky fare to a massive platform came with a price. CBS censored Cher countless times, and the book details at length how Cher showing her belly button was a major cause for concern. The censorship even left the staff still wishing they could see the footage of sketches that never saw airtime because of racy humor and unabashed candor. And with Cher going through a tricky marriage with rock legend Gregg Allman of The Allman Brothers Band, being a mother and spending 14-hour days at the studio taping multiple episodes at once, the pressure was on. And ultimately, the show faltered.

As the title of the book suggests, Cher did prove she was “strong enough” to persevere and showed she was more than a pretty face with a glamorous wardrobe. So will Cher fans love it? Yes, because it shows the icon's will to triumph against odds that weren't necessarily in her favor. The book points out how numerous albums she recorded while taping “Cher” turned out to be flops. Still, she kept trying. Will the book create some converts? Probably not. But it's a swift, entertaining read about the nature of 1970s television and the difficult landscape that went with running a show, i.e., difficult schedules, intense costume changes and set designs, unruly guests (and some great ones!) and an entire network groveling for a hit but suppressing any major attempts at innovation. Still, it's a straightforward iteration of a woman's attempt at stardom and the challenges that came with becoming an icon.


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