Liam Liebling reviews Nancy Cartwright's new book in which she discusses her career as everyone's favorite troublemaker Bart Simpson.
Last Sunday, I sat in the cold rain at the Simpsons Global Fanfest with a broad smile stuck to my face. I was smiling because I was seeing something amazing: the cast of The Simpsons performing live for the finale of the first-ever Fanfest. They were reading series writer John Swartzwelder's very funny script "The Cartridge Family," and each of them was nailing every line.
I was especially paying attention to Nancy Cartwright. Seeing Cartwright perform Bart, your senses and logic begin to fight. You've heard that voice for more than ten years now, but in a fictional context that is now somehow more real than what's happening onstage. Seeing the truth -- that Bart's essence is really a short, passionate woman who could be a high school English teacher or that cool petsitter the neighbors use -- well, it's jarring.
But once you get past that, you realize you are seeing something incredible: someone who is doing exactly what they were born to do.
The Lady Behind Bart
You get a similar picture from Cartwright's book, My Life as a 10-Year-Old Boy, which chronicles her youth to her life today, focusing mainly on her voiceover career as Bart Simpson. It's a portrait of a woman completely excited about her life and the way it's turned out.
There are no revelations in the book; no juicy details of studio quarrels or tables being upended, scripts sent flying. Instead, we have a pleasant reportage of Cartwright's journey to the recording booth, from the school-wide speech contest she won at 10 to the Emmy she won in 1992 and her life beyond.
Cartwright tells her story in the quick, enthusiastic style of a friend eager to bring you up to speed on what's happened since the last time you've seen her. That's really the charm of this book: her unjaded, childlike excitement for her life's work. This excitement is never more present than in the several brief chapters in which she shares stories about her experiences recording with such stars as Elizabeth Taylor, Kirk Douglas, Tom Jones and Mel Gibson. Here, Nancy comes across more as a wide-eyed fan than as a star in her own right, making the writing a great deal of fun.
The biggest surprise is her terrific, detailed description of how an episode of The Simpsons comes into being, from the very first idea to the finished product. For those unfamiliar with the particulars of animated television production, these generous chapters will make an excellent introduction to the process.
The book also makes for an excellent oral history of The Simpsons; Cartwright was there when it all started, and she does a good job of chronicling the revolution. She also takes care in relating interesting aspects of production (a watermelon and a stalk of celery were used to make the sound effect of Bart getting his heart ripped out in "New Kid on the Block"). This is pure candy for those of us obsessed with Simpsons minutiae. And the candor in which she describes her job puts the reader at the table reads, in the recording studio and the autograph booth.
Cartwright is doing exactly what she was destined to do, and she's loving every minute of it. You can tell that, even sitting in the rain.
Liam Liebling is a lifelong Simpsons fan and is truly psyched to have acquired the Krusty the Clown Studio Playset.