Third Girl from the Left: A Memoir (Hardcover)
A New York Times Editor's Choice • A Good Morning America Buzz Pick
As a middle child in a large military family, Christine just wants to dance. Her parents support her dreams, even if they seem beyond their comprehension. At 20, determined and talented, Christine heads across the country from Santa Fe to New York City and, in a made for-Hollywood story, is chosen for the London cast of A Chorus Line.
While unwilling to fully cut ties with the traditional life her parents envision for her, she finds a new family with the dancers and more fluid, open characters that fill the theater world in London, and later New York, in the ‘70s & ‘80s. Christine learns that one member of her family is equally at home in her new world: Laughlin, her older brother—divorced, a father, ex-military and a corporate lawyer—also makes his way to New York City, where he meets, and begins to build a life, with rising fashion star Perry Ellis. The two men enjoy a partnership and a financial success that Christine both admires. and envies.
She spends much of her free time in their Upper West Side brownstone and Water Island retreat. Soon everyone is talking about a mysterious new disease. As deaths of dancers, theater folk, and eventually friends start to mount, Christine realizes she’s in the middle of an epidemic that neither her traditional family nor the public at large is ready to reckon with. As the AIDS crisis cuts closer and closer, eventually impacting those she loves most, Christine does what she has always done: she strikes her own path.
This memoir is an emotional, honest examination of what it takes to succeed in the competitive world of New York theater, how hard-won dreams can be quickly lost, what it means to redefine family, and the devastating toll AIDS exacted on a generation of artists.
About the Author
Christine Barker was raised in a military family and spent her childhood moving across Europe and the United States. By the time she started high school, her father had retired from the US Navy and the family returned to Santa Fe, New Mexico, a place they have called home since the 1880s. She devoted herself to the study of dance and at 20 made the brave decision to move to New York City to pursue a career in dance and theater. She appeared in the productions of Promises, Promises, Seesaw, and No, No Nanette before being cast in the London production of the Tony-award-winning A Chorus Line, which opened at the Royal Drury Lane Theater in 1976. She eventually joined the Broadway cast in New York City. Her theatrical life was shaped by Alvin Ailey, Tommy Tune, and finally Michael Bennett. She was working on Broadway when the AIDS epidemic hit and witnessed the tragedy unfold in the theater wings, fashion houses and finally in the hospitals of New York City. In addition to her theater credits, Christine has appeared in numerous national television commercials. She holds an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and currently lives in Connecticut.
“A heart-rending debut infuses a graceful personal narrative with cultural history.... Third Girl From The Left is a timely chronicle of vulnerable people who are marginalized by their government, ignored by the media and maligned by a ‘moral majority’ whose echoes reverberate in today’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ era.... Barker’s memoir becomes an elegy—for the third girl on the left, and the men she loved so well.” — New York Times Book Review
“Third Girl from the Left is a beautifully written memoir of life on the Broadway stage at the onset of the 1980s AIDS epidemic. This compelling, and remarkably hopeful story is particularly relevant now. With uncompromising truth, Christine Barker makes tangible the unraveling of dreams, as she dances in A Chorus Line while her older brother, Laughlin, together with his life partner Perry Ellis, builds the designer’s fashion business. Time is an enemy and choices dwindle as the author is an eyewitness to a disaster that shapes her future even as it claims the lives of men she loves.” — Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent, NPR
“Christine Barker’s Third Girl from the Left is a gorgeous show-biz tapestry from the late golden years of the Broadway musical; it is the story of a dazzled ingénue dancer’s passage through that world; and it is also, at the same time, an intimate, profoundly mature portrait of the loves and dependencies among one American family gripped by the devastating AIDS crisis of the nineteen-eighties. Beautifully written, beautifully choreographed, and heartbreaking.” — Vijay Seshadri, 2014 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for 3 Sections, James Laughlin Award winner for The Long Meadow, and author of Wild Kingdom and The Disappearances
“Third Girl from the Left is bursting with life, friendship, love, family, dancing, and deaths, made crueler by the shame, silence and ostracism of gay men, including the author’s brother. What makes this book so special is that these lives and deaths during the Reagan era are rendered with clarity, intelligence and… are vivid and intimate as if they were happening now to the grateful reader. This is a wonderful book, illuminating, moving, impossible not to keep reading, until, sadly, you are at the end. Histories like these will save us from forgetting.” — Myra Goldberg, author of Whistling, A New York Times Book Review Notable Book
“Look Up! A new writer has just emerged. Christine Barker, the author of Third Girl from the Left, deserves a solo bow center-stage. Her book is authentic and enthralling. I slipped into this restrained and emotional backstage memoir and discovered a complete totem of truth. It resonates deeply in my soul. Thank you, Christine, for writing down this important story.” — Tommy Tune, actor, singer, dancer, choreographer, producer, director, winner 10 Tony awards, National Medal of the Arts, star on Hollywood Walk of Fame
“Third Girl from the Left is a moving, uplifting, and ultimately tragic memoir of love and loss in the heady New York theater scene of the 1970s and 80s. Christine Barker left small-town Santa Fe to realize her dreams. She built an extraordinarily successful career on Broadway—only to find her world slowly and relentlessly devastated by the AIDS epidemic, which took away her colleagues, friends, and loved ones. Barker is an important witness to this heartbreaking decade and the disease that destroyed a generation of artists. I highly recommend this beautifully written, honest, and utterly unforgettable memoir.” — Douglas Preston, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Lost City of the Monkey God and The Monster of Florence
“Christine Barker has written a beautifully crafted book about a life in the theater and the world of fashion set in the vibrant, yet turbulent time of AIDS, that I simply could not put down. Filled with many people I also knew, and who will also be familiar to the reader, this is not only a wonderful piece of history, but also a heart-rending memoir that simply begs to be read.” — Jeffrey Banks, two-time Coty Award and CFDA Award winning designer and author of Perry Ellis: An American Original
“The world I knew at the onset of AIDS—as a New York physician, and research director of Elizabeth Taylor/Mathilde Krim’s AIDS foundation, amfAR—is vividly captured in Third Girl from the Left. There’s the fear, ignorance, and abandonment, a ‘distortion of love’ by those turning away, and so many AIDS stigma deaths. The time and place and people described cannot be forgotten.” — Jeffrey Laurence, MD, Professor of Medicine in hematology/oncology at NY Presbyterian Hospital-Cornell, Director of Laboratory for AIDS virus research
“This beautiful and haunting memoir recalls a period in our recent history with unyielding honesty. Christine Barker vividly weaves the unrelenting demands of a dancer’s life with the onset of a mysterious and bewildering disease that those of us who lived through will never quite get over. Her resilience and determination remain intact throughout this harrowing period, depicted in an uplifting and remarkable book, that I recommend highly.” — Victor Garber, award-winning star of film, television, and stage
"Christine Barker’s extraordinary memoir is a journey back in time—to the thrill of her days dancing on Broadway; to understanding her elder brother’s life as a gay man in a very anti-gay US; and to the shame and secrecy surrounding the advent of the AIDS crisis. Third Girl from the Left deftly weaves the personal and the political, ultimately reminding us of our responsibility to one another. Barker’s astute storytelling, punctuated with deep, deep love, will move and enlighten all readers. This is a hard book to put down." — Carolyn Ferrell, author of Dear Miss Metropolitan and Don’t Erase Me
“A beautifully told tale of the New York theatre world, the fashion industry, and the AIDS pandemic. Christine Barker gives the reader a front row seat to a time of great creativity and heartbreak. She writes with honesty, compassion and clarity.” — Michael Kors
"Enthralling... gorgeously written... unflinching... emotionally wrenching." — Bay Area Reporter