UNDISCOVERED, by Debra Winger, Simon and Schuster, 187 pages, $23

Debra Winger catapulted to fame as a Hollywood actress at the age of 24. She portrayed John Travolta's wife in "Urban Cowboy" and hit it big.

"Cannery Row," which came out two years later, was classified as a flop, slowing her down. When her throaty voice was used for "E.T.: The Extraterrestial" in 1982, her stock rose again. And in "An Officer and a Gentleman," her love scenes with Richard Gere became as legendary as fights with her co-star off-camera.

Soon, she was known as "a difficult actress," a designation that was strengthened by her next film, "Terms of Endearment," which gave her a chance to spar with Shirley MacLaine as well as brought an Academy Award nomination as best actress. She also detested Ivan Reitman, the director of "Legal Eagles," in which she starred with Robert Redford.

Over the next few years, Winger became as famous for the roles she took as for the great roles she turned down — Kathleen Turner's role in "Peggy Sue Got Married," Susan Sarandon's role in "Bull Durham," Michelle Pfeiffer's role in "The Fabulous Baker Boys" and Geena Davis' role in "A League of Their Own."

By the mid-1990s, Winger decided it was time to give up acting.

Over the years, she married actors Timothy Hutton and later Arliss Howard, to whom she remains married. While filming "Terms of Endearment," she fell "head over heels" in love with Bob Kerrey, the young Democratic governor of Nebraska who was also a Vietnam War hero. She lived in the governor's mansion for awhile but could never get her mind around the idea of a film star being married to a politician.

Kerrey has since served as a U.S. senator, was an unsuccessful candidate for president and currently is the president of the New School in New York City.

Finally, this year, Winger has written her memoir, "Undiscovered," which reveals that she is as good at writing as she is at acting. The book is a unique piece of writing, relatively short and contains her poetry as well as her philosophical take on life.

She refers to her career's high and low points only in passing and reveals nothing about her relationships with men, even her present husband. If the publisher expected an angry tell-all from this flamboyant actress, he must have been very surprised.

As a teenager working at an amusement park, she was thrown from a truck and suffered serious injuries, including blindness. Her sight returned, but in the book she writes very little about it. She does make it clear that she "loves the work" but "not the business" of making movies.

The book gives the impression of having been written by an artist, with its reminiscences, stories, poems and observations. The writing is beautifully crafted, suggesting that she has many more books in her future. After all, she is only 53, and her brain seems sophisticated and bursting with energy.

And whatever happened to the anger she displayed during much of her filmmaking? Not a trace of it here. She seems a person who has found herself and knows how to develop her other talents.


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