Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review of "My Mother Was Nuts" by Penny Marshall



I listened to the audio version of this book, narrated by the author in her unmistakable deep voice and New York accent.

Penny Marshall was born to Marjorie and Tony Marshall in 1943. Her show business career started in Marjorie's dancing school in the basement of their Bronx, New York apartment building. Young Penny, who wanted to run around the neighborhood and do her own thing, grumbled mightily about the mandatory dance lessons. However the numerous performances staged by Marjorie gave Penny confidence and stage experience.

Though Marjorie Marshall loved doing shows Penny didn't become a child actress. She drifted through school and graduated with less than stellar grades. After searching for a suitable college Penny chose the University of New Mexico, which had a very lenient acceptance policy. Penny was surprised by her mom's acquiescence to this distant school....but came to realize that her mother thought all the "New" states (New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New Mexico) were clustered together. Ha ha ha. In any case, Penny headed west.

Penny liked college, especially partying and hanging out with the football team. Before long Penny - who was a little naive about sex - was pregnant. Soon afterward she was married and living in a cramped apartment with her husband Mickey and baby girl Tracy. The marriage soon foundered and twenty-year-old Penny lit out for Los Angeles, where her brother Garry Marshall was becoming a successfull writer/producer/director and her sister Ronny was a producer and actress. Penny was an indifferent mother and left little Tracy with Micky and his parents in Albuquerque. I was put off by Penny's casual attitude about her child.....but mother and daughter grew closer when Tracy grew up.

In Los Angeles Penny, helped by her brother Garry, got small parts in various movies and TV sitcoms. Penny married Rob Reiner (star of "All in the Family") in 1971 and they bought a nice home where they entertained family and friends - including many Hollywood bigwigs and celebrities. Over the course of her career Penny seems to have met almost everyone in show business (she names names.....lots and lots of names), and many of these folks became her close friends. People were always welcome to drop by Penny's house to eat, drink, do drugs, and sleep over....and some guests stayed for months (or even years). I thought this was very generous.

In 1976 Penny landed a role in "Laverne and Shirley" - she played "Laverne" and Cindy Williams played "Shirley." The program became a runaway success and Penny talks about the scripts, cast, crew, filming, locations, etc. She also mentions how pleased she was to be able to hire friends who needed a job. Cindy Williams left the show in Season 8, after which the two women didn't speak for 15 years. Penny was bewildered by Cindy's actions and suggests that Cindy's husband, Bill Hudson (Goldie Hawn's ex), wanted her to quit. It's not clear exactly what happened but Penny never badmouths her co-star. In fact this isn't a 'tell-all' book at all and Penny doesn't 'dish the dirt' on anyone.

Penny and Rob divorced in 1980, a few years before "Laverne and Shirley" ended. This was a difficult period in Penny's life. Afterwards she turned to directing movies. Penny goes into great detail about each movie she helmed, including who auditioned for the leading roles, how the stars were chosen, the film crews she selected, and all the nitty gritty of movie making. I found all this very absorbing and these were my favorite parts of the book.

Penny generously acknowledges the professionals (including Steven Spielberg) who helped her learn the craft and expresses no bitterness about being overlooked - again and again - for (well deserved) Oscar nominations. Penny says she's satisfied doing the work she loves and entertaining people.The movies Penny directed are: "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (I love that movie); "Big"; "Awakenings"; A League of Their Own"; "Renaissance Man";"The Preacher's Wife"; and "Riding in Cars With Boys." Penny also made a documentary about basketball player Dennis Rodman, called "Rodman Rebound."

Penny's personal life was eclectic and intriguing. She talks about flings with various beaus and a long romance with singer/songwriter Art Garfunkel. Penny also traveled all over the world; threw numerous joint birthday parties with Carrie Fisher (featuring fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and a roster of A-list guests); mourned the deaths of friends; welcomed the birth of grandchildren; took care of her aging parents; repeatedly went to the Pritikin Spa to get healthy and stop smoking (the smoking part didn't work); obtained season tickets to the Lakers and the Clippers; and much more. Penny also speaks about her 2010 diagnosis of lung cancer - which spread to her brain. Penny reports that - right after she heard the news - she asked someone to go out and buy her White Castle hamburgers. The actress glosses over the illness but mentions that she went into remission after treatment.

I enjoyed Penny's book and think it would be fun to join her for pizza (or hamburgers) and beer and hear more stories about television, movies, and Hollywood personalities. This is a fun light book that I'd recommend to fans of celebrity memoirs.


Rating: 3.5 stars

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