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Laverne’s Memoir, Reviewed
This review was originally published via The Classical Mess, a Substack I was doing a few years ago before I found out they gave money to bigots.
If you put a gun to my head and asked me to describe Penny Marshall in three words I might go with humor, humanity, and honesty. If you disagree, try watching “Laverne & Shirley” for two seconds. Or, pick up a copy of Marshall’s 2012 memoir My Mother Was Nuts, one of the more satisfying entries in the celebrity book canon.
Marshall was a skilled storyteller and that naturally translates to these pages as she recounts her journey from the Bronx to Hollywood. Her gift is especially evident when she gets into her romance with Art Garfunkel circa the late ‘70s or early ‘80s (Marshall isn’t meticulous about exact dates). It’s a beautiful story about two lonely people falling in love one magical night, a tale for the ages that develops an amusing angle. Marshall admits she was clueless about the rancor that existed between Garfunkel and his songwriting partner Paul Simon.
There was an evening when Marshall was running late to meet up with Garfunkel; she was hanging out with her pal Carrie Fisher, who was with Simon at the time. Marshall called Garfunkel from Simon’s house and asked him to come over (in part because she was on LSD and didn’t want to venture out by herself). Garfunkel refused.
“I can’t just come over to Paul’s.”
“I didn’t know they would sometimes go years without speaking to each other,” she writes. “Eventually, Artie explained why he couldn’t just come over to Paul’s. He had to be invited. Invited schmited, I said. I didn’t care.” Garfunkel relented. The two men were later cajoled into singing for their partners, though not before the suggestion hung in the air like an unwelcome stench.
Marshall doesn’t draw any parallels between Simon and Garfunkel and her own show business partner, Cindy Williams, maybe because no exact parallels exist. Students of sitcom history know that Marshall and Williams split up seven seasons into “Laverne & Shirley” after Williams married Kate Hudson’s father, Bill. Hudson convinced his bride that no one at the show liked her; Williams quit, and for years Hudson prevented her from having any direct contact with Marshall. The true Laverne & Shirley reunion finally arrived after Hudson and Williams divorced in the 21st Century.
Though they continued their friendship, Marshall writes that Williams “remained unapologetic for leaving the show” at that juncture and “was steadfast in her belief that we didn’t want her. Of course, I reiterated how wrong she was, but in the end what could I do? We agreed to disagree.”
The extensive career Marshall enjoyed behind the camera directing such hits as Big and A League of Their Own affords her memoir a wonderful selection of behind-the-scenes tidbits and asides. Gary Busey auditioned for the lead in Big; Marshall loved his interpretation of a kid trapped in an adult body but she didn’t believe he could play an actual adult with much accuracy. On the set of Renaissance Man, Danny DeVito’s chef served up garlic cloves “every morning as if they were vitamins.” Whitney Houston? Nothing but professional when they made The Preacher’s Wife.
Anyone looking for insight as to why Marshall agreed to play her brother Garry’s wife in Hocus Pocus will be disappointed — that movie doesn’t warrant a mention. You will learn, however, that Marshall and Rosie O’Donnell made an ungodly amount of money making those Kmart commercials in the ‘90s and they were allowed to take whatever they wanted from the store.
Fame has its perks!