Comedian and director Penny Marshall, 68, has been both in front of the camera and behind it. Now she’s sharing what the view was like in a memoir, “My Mother Was Nuts” (New Harvest, $26). She chats about her days on “Laverne & Shirley,” her career as a director bringing to life such hits as “Big” and “A League of Their Own,” and the fight of her life following dual diagnoses of lung cancer and a brain tumor three years ago.
Q. After reading this memoir, I think the title should be “I Was Nuts,” by Penny Marshall. Agree?
A. Yeah, I’m nuts, too, but it came from Mother. She ran through life. She was, like, on speed. She was crazy, but she was funny.
Q. I mean, you kept getting pregnant and never quite knew who the father was. Abortions. Miscarriages.
A. I thought it was an immaculate conception. It’s not like you had dates back then.
Q. And the drugs! God-knows-what in New York, cocaine in L.A., ecstasy in St. Barts. How do you even remember as much as you do?
A. Those were the druggie years. I don’t do them now, but I did it back in the day. I’ll try anything once. But where am I speeding to now?
Q. And then there were your two marriages, one to college boyfriend Mickey Henry and the other to comedian Rob Reiner. Two divorces. Any advice?
A. Marital advice? No. But Rob and I had a great time. We laughed a lot.
Q. At one point in your marriage to Reiner, your home became a hangout for comedy’s elite who smoked pot. Was it all laughs?
A. Yes, they were very much fun times.
Q. About that party in 1980 where you freebased cocaine for the first time and Hunter Thompson kicked you while he was smoking opium. As you said, at least he didn’t shoot you. Yet another fun night?
A. There was an innocence I had back then, or maybe it was an ignorance. I just walked in on them (Hunter and an unnamed British rocker). But no one killed anyone that night, which was good. When pot was in, I had to buy more food. When coke was in, not so much. I was always in the kitchen. Someone had to run the party!
Q. You don’t rattle easily. Even stood up to robbers once in your home. Why is that?
A. What are you going to do? I was scared, but it worked. I just talked to them and asked what they were doing in my living room.
Q. Your brother, Hollywood legend Garry Marshall, said that he’d open doors for you but that it was up to you to get through them. Not bad advice.
A. Yes. He wasn’t going to risk his career for mine, and that’s correct. He shouldn’t have. I’m a loyal person, as is my brother.
Q. Why did Farrah Fawcett and her glorious hair upset you so during the shoot for a Head & Shoulders commercial you were both in? Why didn’t you just laugh it off?
A. No, she was a doll! It bothered her that I was the one with dandruff. You can imagine her hair against mine.
Q. You and best friend Carrie Fisher click, and your joint birthday parties in Hollywood were legend. But you ended them after 25 years. You said they became too much.
A. They became way too expensive. OK, I invited everyone, from my movies, from “Laverne & Shirley.” Everyone. You just do that. It was like the pre-Oscar parties. They loved it, but it got to be too much.
Q. You call the night in the early ’80s when Paul Simon and “Artie” Garfunkel reunited and sang once again in Simon’s apartment “the most thrilling night of my life.” Was it that magical?
A. I didn’t even know they didn’t get along! I had my own problems. I dated Artie, and Carrie dated Paul. We came back from dinner. I didn’t know their problems and that they didn’t speak. I was totally innocent. I asked them to play, and they did. And it was magical.
Q. And then you fell in love with Garfunkel, taking a bike trip around Europe with him shortly after. But it didn’t work out. You seemed to go in and out of that relationship, and other relationships, for that matter.
A. It ran its course. Artie liked to go for walks. He went out for the paper and ended up in New Jersey. Then he’d come back and pick up where he left off. He did show me the world.
Q. You drop names like marbles. Liz Taylor. Jack Nicholson. Tom Hanks and Sean Penn. I think everyone in Hollywood is here. Is there anyone you’re still impressed by?
A. I’m still impressed by Marty Scorsese. But since I wrote the book, three people are dead! Marvin Hamlisch. Gore Vidal. Tony Scott. I’m afraid to open a paper now.
Q. Speaking of Nicholson, the two of you smoked in a no-smoking theater? Because?
A.That no-smoking thing had just started.
Q. Do you still have your depressed moods?
A. I’m not so depressed now. I’m jet-lagged. I fall asleep. I have to be woken up for dinner. I’m still not a morning person. But I don’t take any anti-depressants anymore. Not that I’m a perky person, but I’m still alive.
Q. You’re the first female director to make a movie — “Big” — that made $100 million. Big deal?
A. My brother thinks it’s a big deal. He likes to say it. The movie had legs.
Q. Of all your movies, do you have a favorite?
A. Well, I liked “Awakenings.” I liked that story. With “League [of Their Own],” I thought I’d have a miserable time working with all women, but they were great.
Q. Did you ever really have big problems with Whitney Houston while filming “The Preacher’s Wife”?
A. Not at all. I had no problems with her. She always knew her lines. There were days she came late, but she’d call. I had a lot of fun with her. It’s so sad what happened.
Q. You were diagnosed with lung cancer and a brain tumor three years ago. How are you doing?
A. I’m fine. I dodged a big bullet. I go once a year now for checkups. But it’s all fine. My lungs are clean as a whistle.
Q. But you still smoke!
A. Oh, yeah. I stopped for eight months, but I do. I’ll have one, but I can’t have just one. I’ve gone to a hypnotist, and I’ve done acpuncture. I’ll try again.
Q. On an unhappy note, you say you’re still sad about the way “Laverne & Shirley” ended without Shirley, and that your co-star Cindy Williams still insists you wanted her out so you could have the whole stage. You say that’s not true. You blame her husband for turning her against you.
A. It’s sad. It was her husband. It was all his doing. I wanted her to be happy.
Gannett News Service