I just finished listening to My Mother Was Nuts, a memoir by actress and director Penny Marshall, read by the author.
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At first, I wasn’t too sure about her reading her own work–because that’s what it sounded like, someone reading, not performing. But as the book went on, the occasional misplaced paused or lack of inflection stopped mattering, and the deadpan delivery of some of the lines increased the comedy tremendously.
She began and ended the book talking about her desire as a kid to have five more minutes of play time. And describes a lot of her life as ways to play a little bit more. But she wasn’t just about play and having fun, she learned from her brother that it was important to give back–through jobs or even just little ways to make people’s lives better, happier, even for a moment.
The stories about her dance-teacher mom’s relentless hunt for the next place to perform was toned down from mania by Marjorie’sÂ belief that everyone should know how it feels to entertain. While she didn’t set out to be an entertainer herself, a series of opportunities and her brother’s Hollywood connections led to her most famous role as Laverne on Laverne and Shirley. She talks about her SNL memories, and the incredibly funny people she and her second husband, Rob Reiner, hung out with in California. About the joint birthday parties she and Carrie Fisher threw for decades, her travels with Art Garfunkel, and the movies she directed–some of them among my all-time favorites, like A League of Their Own.
I read celebrity biographies not because they are celebrities–I dislike the blind hero worship that celebrities inspire–but because these books show their humanity. Plus, I really like the behind the scenes details about the shows and movies I enjoy, it makes the experiences much more rich. After hearing how Lavern and Shirley got started and what episode she really found her comedic legs on (Angels of Mercy) I went and looked up some of those notable episodes (a lot are available on Hulu). I’m a product of the pop-up video generation, I like the inside scoop, and I prefer to hear it from the horse’s mouth, not some sensationalized tabloid version edited to be more salacious than it really was.
While I wasn’t as crazy about the stories of the various drugs they did during the 80s, I appreciated her frank description of her experiences. When she spoke about 9/11 and what it meant to her to be a New Yorker at that time, and how she went to every event, every opportunity, to show that the city was safe and that the terrorists weren’t going to stop them from living their lives, the choke in her voice wasn’t an act, it was touching. I choked up, and I’m a cynical bitch when it comes to things like that.
Not only did I enjoy this book, I put it up there with the Ellen Burstyn memoir, Lessons in Becoming Myself, as a favorite biography and one I’d recommend unconditionally.
One last thing, the quote that stands out to me is one where she accepts an invitation to spend Christmas in Switzerland. She says,
I was amazed at what was possible when I said yes.
Many (many) years ago I made a rule for myself that I would not say no to any reasonable opportunities. It was a challenge to myself, to my habit of wanting to do something but talking myself out of it at the last minute because it was a new experience and I couldn’t predict the outcome. I was tired of sitting at home wondering what I was missing, knowing it was fear that was keeping me from experiencing life.
I didn’t make 100% fabulous choices, and some were downright dangerous but for some serious overtime put in by my guardian angel, but for the most part I’ve had good things come out of say yes, sure, why not?
This stood out to me, and made me love the book and her story even more, because I could definitely relate. Just like the element of each story in the movies she chose to direct or produce, it’s that common element of life that creates a bond, and make us feel invested and involved.
Penny Marshall had a major health hiccup in 2010 but was able to beat it. Here’s to her “five more minutes,” may they be long ones.