The secret of Diana Ross’ book, “Secrets of a Sparrow,” is that--surprise-- there are no secrets.
She reveals this startling news herself, as the climax to her 299-page memoir published by Villard this month. It comes in the final line of one of the many Ross-authored poems sprinkled throughout the book.
“The secret is, there are no secrets,” she writes.
In person, Ross delivers the same line on her life and 30 years in show business. Why, for instance, did she tell Oprah Winfrey on national television that Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, fathered her first child when she doesn’t even mention it in the book?
“That wasn’t a secret!” Ross exclaims in a voice that fills every corner of the suite at Carlyle Hotel, where she is plugging her book and a four-CD boxed set called “Forever” (Motown). “I didn’t think about it that way. It’s not like you’re revealing something. It’s part of our lives, Berry and I. We never made it such a big thing. What was I supposed to do, make an announcement?”
In other words, this is not a kiss-and-tell. She’s been asked to do a book like that before and always said no, until an agent saw her on the cover of Lear’s last year and persuaded her to write a more dignified “memoir” of her life and times as a pop diva. A collaborator was hired, then fired, according to Ross, when the first chapter “didn’t sound anything like me.” She took over. That was in January. Six months later, she delivered the manuscript, poems and all.
Chapter 1 opens with her rained-out Central Park concert of 1983. Of that riot-marred fiasco, she writes: “I merged with the pouring water. I let it in. I became a part of it, it became a part of me. Rain and woman were one.”
In subsequent pages (and many, many pictures) she recounts tales of growing up poor in Detroit, her family, her loving mother and distant father, about going to work for Gordy as a secretary at 16, and about becoming the star girl of the ultimate girl group, the Supremes.
Much has been written about the years that followed, notably by Mary Wilson in her memoir, “Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme,” and by J. Randy Taraborrelli in his unauthorized biography, “Call Her Miss Ross.” Much of it was not flattering. As one reviewer wrote: “Somebody should just go ahead and lease billboard space to people who want to call Diana a bitch.”
But Ross says revenge wasn’t her motive. “I didn’t want to do a book in defense against things that had been said about me,” she insists. “There are moments that I did want to get clear, but I didn’t want to dwell on them. I look back on this as a sentimental journey, not chasing shadows or trying to hurt anybody.”
In her black cat suit, high-heeled black suede boots, black mane, lacquered talons, the 49-year-old Ross cuts a formidable figure--especially when she gets excited. Like now.
“I didn’t want to vomit all over the page, OK?” she shouts, teeth clenched into a perfect Diana Ross smile.
Told she’d been criticized in one review for not discussing the racial and social implications of her marriage to two white men, Ross says: “I married two really wonderful men. I didn’t really notice the color of their skin.”
Her husband of the last seven years is Arne Naess, a Norwegian shipping magnate who is based in London and lives in Switzerland. Ross lives in Connecticut. They see each other once a month. Their two sons, aged 5 and 6, live with their mother. Ross’ three girls are all either in, or just out of, college.
“My children and my family are the happiest time in my life,” she says. And what would have been the wildest time? New York in the early ‘80s, when Ross was a fixture at Studio 54. “I never had a romance with drugs or anything like that,” she says. “I just loved to dance.”
She came to New York to make the film version of “The Wiz” and never made another theatrical movie again. “I didn’t find one I thought was worth me,” she says. She bought the rights to Josephine Baker’s life story and “wasted a lot of money” trying to get the project made. (HBO ended up making the story with another actress.) In August of this year, she filmed “Out of Darkness,” an upcoming ABC movie about schizophrenia. Living up to her reputation for being a “perfectionist” (her word), she says she clashed with the movie’s director, Larry Elikann, before shooting even started.
As she tells it, “He said, ‘What do you think is going to be the biggest problem with you doing this film?’ and I said, ‘You.’ ” She says they learned to get along after that.
Writing “Secrets of a Sparrow” was “therapy,” says Ross, who in the book declares herself a big believer in personal growth. She now wants to get on with the “second half” of her life. After three nights in Atlantic City over the weekend and two weeks in Vegas this month, she doesn’t want to tour anymore. She wants to “write some more.” More poems, she says. “I’m a creator. I’ll create.”