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Penny Marshall.

the vulture transcript

Penny Marshall on My Mother Was Nuts, Directing ‘Bobby D,’ and Her Tense ET Appearance

Sclemeel! Schlemazel! Penny Marshall’s memoir, My Mother Was Nuts, dropped this week. In it, she talks dropping acid with Princess Leia, getting Simon and Garfunkel back together, co-hosting the third episode ever of Saturday Night Live (along with her then-husband Rob Reiner), switching out Robert De Niro for Tom Hanks as the lead in Big, and riding on Dennis Rodman’s motorcycle after the Bulls three-peated. Do you guys remember Laverne being this cool? Vulture spoke to Marshall yesterday afternoon and, mesmerized by her Bronx accent, found out what she was thinking when she defended Britney Spears on Entertainment Tonight, how to laugh at Albert Brooks, and why she goes to so many basketball games.

There’s that scene in the book, back in the Laverne and Shirley days, where you called up Barry Diller when he was the president of Paramount to ask him to open up the Gower gate on the lot because it was taking you too long to cross the parking lot.
Yeah, well I didn’t know who he was! He was there last night [at my book party]. I said, “I’m sorry they called you!” I didn’t call him. I don’t want to impose on people. And he says, “I love doing it for you.” Because Barry was always very honest with me. But I didn’t know he was when I called him. That’s where I’m fearless.

But he’s the most powerful guy on the lot. C’mon. You know who the boss is.
But I didn’t know that! He wasn’t on the TV side! We were keeping the studio alive. They were in a little trouble there. I found out who he was and he was great. I love him.

There’s also that great story where you’re rafting down the Grand Canyon with Jeffrey Katzenberg and Tony Scott and Don Simpson.
And Tony Danza.

At the end of that story you wrote, “Since junior high, I always liked being one of the guys.” You’re comparing some of the most powerful men in showbusiness to your buddies in junior high.
Jeffrey used me to go over to another campsite and ask if we could share their campsite, because I was known. I can talk to regular people. This is the way I talk. I’m not intimidating in that way. I can get cranky. I have no tolerance for stupidity.

The book is full of stories where you’re dead honest with powerful men, and it always seems to go great. But did you ever piss one of these guys off?
No. Not really. I curse at Ronald Perelman all the time. We’re friends. He’s saved my life more than once, y’know? And he’s my friend. I don’t date him. God forbid I go out with someone who makes a dollar. That’s where I’m stupid. I’m around all these rich people and Oh, let me date the fireman. But I’m not dating anybody right now. There’s no room on my bed for anybody. I got too much crap on it. And they keep sending me schedules every day, by the way. I’m going to kill them soon.

How is this book tour going?
I’ve done promotion before. But usually it’s a movie so the cast can take some of the things. And I’m not really … I did the book. I figured, why not? And to say, “Hey, I’m not sick! I’m alive!” Because rags keep writing that crap: Pray for her. Thank God the NBA loves me. The visiting team came up to hug me because I was late getting back for the start of the season. And last season almost killed me because I have Clipper and Laker tickets and there was a game every night. And that was too much. They entertain me. I guess I entertain them. So now I like to be entertained and that’s what entertains me is sports. I don’t like talking about myself even though I wrote a book about myself. I did it! That’s it! That’s good to know.

You didn’t seem to be entertained on the set of Entertainment Tonight recently.
I did get a little pissed at ET. I won’t do any more of those shows. They just go for the sensationalism. And I just went berserk. (A) I was tired. (B) It was a child that was interviewing me. And the person who was supposed to do it wasn’t there. I defended Britney Spears. I don’t even know the girl. I mean, I know who she is. But I said, “For Christ’s sake, if somebody’s got a problem, just digging in on her and doing that shit every day … do you think that helps?”

They only wanted to talk about the juicy stuff.
Well, that’s what they do. So I said that’s it, I’m not doing any more of those. They’re worse than the rags, I’m sorry.

I expected them to interrogate you about your milk-with-Pepsi addiction.
God forbid, not that it hasn’t been asked a million times. The audience would ask it every night, y’know. “And why do you wear an ‘L’?” The stupidest.

I don’t want to talk about your dating life now.
It’s nonexistent.

In the book you talk about going home with an SNL writer in New Orleans that everybody was warning you about.
No. The guy was saying that he was so old, he wanted me to go home with him. He was a good guy, Herb.

You also wrote about having a miscarriage and having no idea who the father was.
I didn’t know! Who knew! When you’re directing you have time to make a phone call, eat, or take a bath. You can’t do all three. There’s no time. That’s why I was shocked.

But it sounds like your sex life was insane.
Back in the seventies, early eighties, yes.

You barely scratched the surface in the book. But you hinted at it. Were you trying to protect people’s feelings?
Well, I got into who I went with. The others? Lost weekends, y’know?

That’s fair. So you chalk all the sex and the drugs up to the seventies.
I was married during most of the seventies. And Rob [Reiner] didn’t take drugs. He had done it all in the sixties in Haight-Ashbury. I was late.

You were hanging out with all these comic geniuses, like Rob Reiner and his writing partner Albert Brooks.
Well, Rob was my husband and we were all hanging at our house.

You seemed cooler than all these guys.
I’m neurotic, but I’m not quite as neurotic as these guys.

They must have loved being around the cool girl.
No, I wasn’t considered the cool girl. They just liked an audience. And I was allowed to be there because I didn’t say, You know what I did today? That they didn’t give a shit about, y’know? They’re practicing their material. And I knew these guys. I knew 'em from my brother, some of 'em. The great writers like Jerry Belson. And Belson would listen. He loved me. He was the one who would ask, “How are you?” Where most of the others didn’t say anything. [Laughs] That’s why Spielberg would say, “You talk to all these neurotic guys, that’s directing! You gotta talk to the actors.”

You ran into the occasional asshole. Like when you asked Warren Beatty if he would listen to your direction and he said, “No.”
But he was being honest. I don’t mind if somebody is being honest. So I said, “What’s the point.”

So you know comedy, but you also know guys in comedy. You know how to be an audience.
Yes. And I like being an audience. I don’t need that much attention. I’m very happy at home watching TiVO. I’m very good at that.

I loved the part where Cindy Williams brings Andy Kaufman over to the house. And you realize that Andy didn’t run in the same circle with the same comedy mafia that you did.
No, but he was on the same lot. Taxi was on the Paramount lot. All these shows were there.

But it must’ve been a little like high school. And it sounds like Andy gravitated towards the eccentric theater kids.
Cindy went out with Andy. And I don’t care. Fine. She went out with some other guys that were fine too. But I wasn’t gonna wrestle! That was one of Andy’s weirdnesses. And he had that other character that he’d do. Y’know? It was like, “What?” So that was a little different. That wasn’t my style of humor, let’s put it that way. Danny DeVito makes me laugh. And everyone turned into a director from that period of time. From Ron Howard, to Danny, to Rob, to myself, even Anson Williams.

So you’re the only woman in that director’s guild.
Well, I guess.

How did you make the transition to the girl laughing at the jokes to the girl directing the jokers?
Well, I listen! And I can tell what’s funny. And my brother was funny. And my mother was funny.

You write that you couldn’t get a bigger compliment than making your brother laugh.
Yeah, you want to make your brother laugh cause he was funny. And my mother was funny, but you laughed if the thing wasn’t pointed at you.

And they were powerful people: They both created their own showbusiness enterprises.
Yes. Mother because she didn’t like my father. So it kept her alive and in her own world. I was at a book signing somewhere — I have no idea where I’ve been, they just throw me in a car — and someone who I went to junior high school was there, somebody who was in my building. And she took dance classes with my mother. And she had a picture of us. I was probably 6 or 7 and she was younger.

So your mom was your boss for the first third of your life and your brother was your boss for the second third.
Well I had a period where I was my own boss and I got a child out of it! And then my brother was my boss for a long time.

Did you see your brother on Louie?
Yes! He had a lot of lines! I said, “Garr, you had a lot of words!”

He was believable as the head of the studio, wasn’t he?
Yes, he can play that. He can play the boss. I played it on I think Murphy Brown. He liked that. He’s good.

You wrote about the anticlimactic wrap of Jumpin Jack Flash and you write, “I’m really good at anticlimactic wraps.”
Laverne and Shirley wrapped in an anticlimactic way.

It also made me think about the end of your marriage to Rob.
We stayed together longer because of pride. We always thought we would get back together when we were much older. But he’s got a wife and family now. His grandkids went to school with my kids. We still get along. I had to call him, and say, “Rob there’s two pictures of us in the book and I wrote about you.” He says, “Did you write about the time that … ” Y’know. And I said, “Do you remember who took our wedding picture?” He said, “It was 1971, how do I know?”

What about Art Garfunkel?
Yeah, Artie came last night. There was a book party. Artie and [his wife] Kim came. And Artie had come up before. He didn’t like the picture of him [in the book].

Did you have to warn anybody about anything? Anything get taken out?
I called whoever legal told me to call. So I did that. Like I called Jimmy Belushi, “I said we did acid.” He said, “I don’t care. We did.”

The part in the book where John Belushi died …
John and I were good friends. I knew him before SNL.

You credit that incident with scaring you straight. You had some turbulence with booze after that, didn’t you?
Me? No. I never drank. I’d throw up.

Oh. And you credit Artie with keeping you away from heroin.
That was when I once snorted heroin. It made me carsick. I’m allergic to opiates. So is my brother. But I didn’t know. I mean, I knew when I had my wisdom teeth pulled. They gave me Tylenol and codeine and it made me sick and nauseous. But heroin made me carsick. They said, “It’s an acquired taste.” And I said, “It wasn’t a taste I needed to acquire.”

And a taste you couldn’t acquire. It made you sick.
As it turned out, but I didn’t quite know I was allergic to opiates at the time. And luckily Artie, because he was smart, didn’t like it. So I had an ally, y’know? And nobody was doing it all the time. They weren’t junkies! They’d chip when they weren’t working, on the weekends or something. None of us did drugs while we worked. It was the seventies, eighties. That’s what was going on. But it wasn’t while we were working. Nobody worked high. You can’t. No one is funny on cocaine.

There’s that scene when you’re doing acid with Carrie Fisher in Switzerland and you’re in a chalet with the rich dude who owned the real R2-D2, and you’re sitting there looking at the real R2-D2 and the real Princess Leia. You don’t even need drugs!
Right. It’s surreal enough. Now I don’t do them. Pot started making me feel terror somewhere in the eighties, so what’s point? I have friends who smoke it. I don’t mind the smell of it. But I ain’t doing it.

So why haven’t you directed for eleven years?
I decided that I’d done a bunch of movies and I stayed in New York because I wanted to show that New York was safe. And I love basketball and I love the Yankees, so I had everything.

Your brother still cranks ‘em out once a year. What does he think about your decision?
Well, he found a formula where he has the holidays now: Valentines Day, New Year’s Eve, I don’t know, they did Groundhog’s Day already. But you only have to work a couple of days — no one's in front of the picture. And he’s worked with a lot of people. And then there’s some that I’ve introduced him to. Like De Niro was in the last one. I told Garry you have to talk to him quietly. You don’t yell it out like you can with Tom and Robin. “C’MON OVER TO YOUR LEFT MORE.” You have to be quiet with Bobby D.

Does your brother ever tell you to get back behind the camera?
No, he was happy, he sent me flowers. “Hope the book tour goes well.” He calls me daily. [And] my sister: “How you doin?” I don’t have time to call them back because I’m doing this!

And now you have a Dennis Rodman movie coming out?
Eventually. Dennis stopped up the other day, actually. I got home a little early all the sudden the bell rang, it was Dennis. “Hey, P.” He looked good. He’s been doing the Legends Tour. Going to South America, Indonesia, the Phillipines, China.

Why do you love basketball so much?
They wear the least clothes. And I like lookin’ up. At a certain age it’s better to look up than look down.

Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images