Book Review: Behind the Bell by Dustin Diamond

How bitter can one celebrity be?  The 2009 “memoir,” Behind the Bell, attempts to answer that question.

I was originally planning on reviewing Behind the Bell last year.  I didn’t, for the obvious reason that Dustin Diamond passed away in April of 2021 and Diamond did not come across particularly well in the book.  At the time, I know that a lot of culture bloggers, myself included, felt a bit conflicted when Diamond died.  Several years ago, I was one of the contributors to a blog about Saved By The Bell: The College Years, in which we spent nearly every review trashing the character of Screech Powers and the performance of the actor who played him.  To be honest, if I had to do it again, I probably wouldn’t change a thing that I wrote because Screech was a terribly-written character on a show that was full of them and Dustin Diamond’s increasingly cartoonish performance in the role didn’t do anything to help matters.  But still, after he died, I did find myself thinking about all the crap that Diamond took over the years for playing the character and I realized that it wasn’t entirely fair.  With the scripts that were being written, I doubt any actor could have made Screech any less annoying of a character.

That said, it also doesn’t diminish the tragedy of a non-smoker dying of lung cancer at the age of 44 to admit that Dustin Diamond did some fairly shady things after his time on Saved By The Bell.  There was the sex tape.  There was the controversial fundraiser to save his house.  There was the stabbing incident in a Wisconsin bar and his subsequent arrest for violating the conditions of his parole.  But again, you have to ask yourself if any of that would have happened if Diamond hadn’t, at the age of 11, been cast on the television show that would both make him famous and also pretty much typecast him as everyone’s least favorite student at Bayside.

Yes, Dustin Diamond was only 11 years old when he was cast as an 8th grader in Good Morning, Miss Bliss, the show that would eventually become Saved By The Bell.  He was considerably younger than the rest of his castmates, which undoubtedly led to him becoming the show’s outsider.  Along with Dennis Haskins, he stuck with the franchise all way to the end, for ten years.  He was 21 when Saved By The Bell: The New Class ended.  At a time when most people were having their first legal drink, Diamond was trying to figure out what to do with his life now that his acting career was pretty much over.  One would have to be heartless to not have some sympathy for the kid.

Behind the Bell deals with Diamond’s time on Saved By The Bell and his attempts to figure out what to do with his life after the show ended.  Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, Diamond doesn’t come across particularly well in Behind the Bell.  If anything, it’s perhaps one of the most bitter showbiz memoirs ever written.

Of course, before I write anything else, I should point that Diamond himself claimed that he didn’t actually write the book.  In 2013, during an interview for Oprah: Where Are They Now?, Diamond said that the book was ghost written by a guy who interviewed him and who either exaggerated his answers or took things out of context.  That may be true.  There are a few obvious factual errors in the book, a big one being the claim that Elizabeth Berkley starred in Showgirls while also appearing in Saved By The Bell.  Everyone knows that the original Saved By The Bell had already ended its run before Showgirls even went into production.  At the same time, the book’s bitterness is so obsessive, so detailed, and so personal that it’s hard to believe that it could all just be the product of a ghost writer’s imagination.  Diamond may have told the truth about having a ghost writer but it’s hard to buy his claim that the entire book was just based on a few vague and general answers that Diamond provided in an interview.

The majority of the book’s bitterness is directed at his fellow castmates.  Mario Lopez is described as being a bully.  Tiffani-Amber Thiessen is portrayed as being a bitch.  (And yet, at one point, Diamond mentions that he briefly lived with Tiffani-Amber and her family while he was being stalked by a fan.)  Elizabeth Berkley and Lark Voorhies are both described as being vapid while Dennis Haskins is apparently difficult to work with.  Diamond insinuates that Ed Alonzo seduced Neil Patrick Harris while Harris was still underage.  Still, the book reserves most of its ire for Mark-Paul Gosselaar.  Interestingly enough, Gosselaar is never described as doing anything that bad and, if anything, he comes across as being rather level-headed for a teen idol.  And yet, Diamond insists on telling out that Mark-Paul was actually a “douchebag” who got all of the attention and didn’t want to hang out with “the Dust.”  Throughout the book, Mark-Paul is frequently referred to as being “the golden child,” as if Mark-Paul owed Diamond an apology for being the best-looking actor on a show that was all about appearance.

When Diamond (or his ghost writer) isn’t trashing the rest of the cast, he’s telling us about the 2.000 women that he claims to have had sex with while playing Screech.  Diamond even claims to have had an affair with one of the show’s executive producers, who was in her 30s at the time.  (Diamond would have been 14.)  The woman later died of cancer and, as such, was not available to respond to Diamond’s claims.  An entire chapter is devoted to getting laid at Disneyland or “the Dizz” as Diamond (or his ghost writer) calls it.  Diamond really should have insisted on a better ghost writer.

(He also should have insisted on better copyeditor and fact checker.  The book is full of formatting errors and, at one point, a paragraph appears twice.  Hopefully, a fact checker would have noticed that Elizabeth Berkley was no longer on Saved By The Bell when Showgirls went into production.)

And yet, there are moments in the book that are actually kind of sweet.  The middle section of the book described a typical week in the production of Saved By The Bell and, for once, Diamond stops bitching about his castmates and trying to impress the readers and instead, he just talks about a unique experience that only he and a few other people experienced.  For a few brief chapters, the book actually becomes an interesting read and you can briefly see who Diamond was when he wasn’t busy being bitter.  There’s a wistful nostalgia to this section of the book.  Unfortunately, it only last for a few chapters and then we’re back to accusations of drug abuse and a nauseating “open letter” to all the women who Diamond claimed to have had sex with over the years.

In the end, I guess the main lesson of not just Behind the Bell but also of Dustin Diamond’s life in general is that child actors need a strong support system around them.  Too many people will try to take advantage of them and the pressure to often be the sole provider for the family is too much weight to be put on any 11 year-old’s shoulders.  Diamond needed someone to look out for him and sadly, it appears that very few people were willing to do that.

3 responses to “Book Review: Behind the Bell by Dustin Diamond

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 12/6/21 — 12/12/21 | Through the Shattered Lens

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  3. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 12/27/21 — 1/2/22 | Through the Shattered Lens

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