Friday, January 18, 2013

Penny Marshall's My Mother Was Nuts

My Mother Was Nuts  by Penny Marshall
Published by New Harvest ISBN 9780547892627
Hardcover $26, 352 pages
Penny Marshall is best known as Laverne from TV's popular 70's sitcom "Laverne & Shirley", and she shares some of her memories of that wild time in her memoir. But for my money, the last section of the book is the best. She describes how she became the first female director to have a movie make $100 million. That movie was "Big" with Tom Hanks, and she describes how Robert DeNiro was originally considered for the role. What a different movie it would have been!

Marshall directed one of my favorite movies, "A League of Their Own" about the All-American Women's Baseball League, formed during WWII when most of the men were at war. Hanks also starred in that movie and we get a lot of details about the actors, the auditions, shooting the film on location, and Jon Lovitz's hilarious ad-libs. She takes us through "Awakenings" with DeNiro and Robin Williams, working with Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington on "The Preacher's Wife" and her first gig, directing a difficult Whoopi Goldberg in "Jumpin' Jack Flash".

She also shares her upbringing in the Bronx, with her mother whom she calls "nuts" in the book title, a dance instructor who instilled a love of entertaining in her children, Garry, Ronny and Penny (actual name- Carole), all of whom grew up to be successful in Hollywood. Penny danced on the Jackie Gleason Show as a child, but hated taking lessons with her mother. It was a battle that lasted a lifetime for them.

Her first marriage in college after becoming pregnant produced a daughter Tracy. She later married Rob Reiner, and her memories of their love story were very sweet, and even though the marriage didn't work out, they still remained friends. Speaking of friends, Marshall names many, many of her friends- from the Bronx to Hollywood to New York- at times it seemed a little overwhelming. Carrie Fisher became a very good friend, introducing her to boyfriend Art Garfunkel, and Marshall's description of the classic Simon & Garfunkel reunion concert in Central Park was fascinating.

She covers a lot of ground moving quickly through the book, mostly glossing over Laverne & Shirley days and her costars, although she does try to explain the rift that developed between her and Cindy Williams. Her serious illness of a few years ago is dealt with in detail, with a happy ending thanks to billionaire Ronald Perelman's assistance.

Not many people would have believed that Penny Marshall from the Bronx would have become the star of one of the most successful TV sitcoms of all-time, let alone become one of the most successful film directors of the 1990s, but she did it. Her life story reads like a movie she'd one day direct.

rating 4 of 5

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