Book Reviews

Book Review – Born With Teeth: A Memoir by Kate Mulgrew

I can remember watching Kate Mulgrew on the daytime soap opera Ryan’s Hope. I was a fan of hers long before her Star Trek years. In fact, it was only recently that I finally managed to finish watching the whole Voyager series, but it wasn’t Mulgrew’s performance I took issue with.

In her autobiography, Born With Teeth, Mulgrew is brutally honest. She doesn’t hide her own missteps or those of her family. She paints a portrait of a woman who forged her own path in life and faced any consequences of her actions with bravery and determination, much like the character of Kathryn Janeway that she portrayed in Star Trek: Voyager.

Kate grew up in the Midwest in a sort of unconventional Irish family. There were many mouths to feed, as well as tragedy in the family. Life wasn’t always great, but there was love. Kate left that upbringing to become professionally trained as an actress, after having fallen in love with performing during her youth. Where does one go for that? It would either be New York or Los Angeles. In her case, it was the East Coast.

She studied under professional teachers in New York while trying out for roles, her big break came when she was cast on Ryan’s Hope just when she found out she was pregnant. She was not ready to be a parent, nor was marriage an option, so the producers of the soap helped her hide her condition. The baby was given up for adoption, something that haunted Kate for many years.

Her personal life did seem to be a series of continual missteps. The men she fell for seemed decent enough for the most part, but they were a series of relationships that burned themselves out. Again and again, she was left heartbroken as relationships failed for various reasons.

I enjoyed her descriptions of the various shows she worked on. Her age would have seemed to have made her miscast for the role of Mrs. Columbo, but she did the best she could with the part. I remembered the mini-series The Manions of America with Pierce Brosnan and was inspired to get the DVD and watch it again after reading this book. Filming in Ireland really seemed to be something she enjoyed and helped her delve into her Irish heritage.

It’s the role of Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager which really put her in the mainstream. She spends a lot of time talking about this series – one role she almost didn’t get. Actress Genevieve Bujold was actually the first one cast as Captain Janeway, but she backed out after one day. The rest, as they say, is history.

Kate is brutally honest and doesn’t try to hide from or explain away her missteps. Most of them involve her personal life. She forged her own path and though I might not agree with all of her choices, she does own them, for better or worse. I like her no-nonsense attitude. A lot of it seems to have found its way into Janeway.

The book itself was a joy to read. Her writing is excellent and it flows quite nicely. She seems to have intuition on how to balance something she is recalling; there’s enough positive to balance the negative. It felt like most situations seemed to be her describing something that happened and pushing through it to find the positive down the road. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Born With Teeth.

Unlike other books I’ve recently read where I didn’t have a problem not being acquainted with the author’s media persona, I feel like you have to recognize who Kate Mulgrew is to get the most out of her autobiography. If you know her from Star Trek: Voyager or even Orange is the New Black, I think you’ll enjoy it. It is well written, so I think it’s readable for anyone, though.