A new memoir by actress and director Penny Marshall hit bookstore last week. Marshall was a big star in the 70s and 80s appearing on multiple TV shows and hanging out with the rest of Hollywood TV royalty. Her stories about Hollywood are hysterical and tragic (she was friends with John Belushi). She is also the first woman to gross $100 million as a director and her life as a director (she was asked if she wanted to direct) seems from another universe than the experiences that people have today.
I sat down with the Hollywood legend last week to talk about her legacy.
Women and Hollywood Talk a little bit about why you chose the title – My Mother Was Nuts.
Penny Marshall: We’re a little nuts. I know a lot of people whose mother’s were nuts.
WaH: Your stories are really funny but they are also a cautionary tale with all the drugs that flowed. How has Hollywood changed since the 70s and 80s.
PM: I’ve gotten older. It was the 70s and 80s that was what was happening. I don’t do anything now because I am allergic to everything. I don’t even know what they do. They drink a lot now. One thing that has changed is the press how the younger actresses who run into problems and the rags do not help them. II they need help, get them help.
WaH: So you mean the tabloidization of hollywood is a problem?
PM: It sucks
WaH: You started as an actress and you segued into directing. Did you like one better?
PM: With directing I didn’t have to wear makeup or get my hair done. But I do not like getting up that early. In TV we did our show in front of an audience so we got up early only one morning. We did camera blocking in the morning and we shot at night which was a much more humane existence. No one is funny at 7am. It’s faster to act but a lot of times you are sitting in a Winnebago waiting. Directing is more fun if you can create stuff. If you can create business for people to do and not just pull lines out of people’s mouths. So if people come prepared then you can add business. I like behavior.
WaH: Is that why you are interesting in comedy?
PM: Awakenings had behavior in it – there’s comedy in drama and drama in comedy.
WaH: I talk to a lot of women directors in my work and you are the first woman director to break the $100 million gross mark as a director. Did you think we would be further down the line by now in regards to women directors?
PM: I don’t have those thoughts. I’ve been thanked for opening the door for women directors. I didn’t knock on any doors they asked me. It’s a dog’s job whether you are a guy or a girl.
WaH: Why do you think they asked you to direct?
PM: They saw I was a responsible person. I show up when I say I will show up. I know a lot of people and they saw me with Whoopi (Goldberg) and said saw we got along. It was by accident. And then Jim Brooks said here and gave me Big. I didn’t know everyone had turned it down. I know nothing. I’m not in that rumor mill so I miss out on those things. I thought it was a universal theme and it was about behavior. In 20 scenes you’re scared. And Tom (Hanks) would ask how scared should I be? It was a bittersweet and I liked it.
WaH: Why do you think Laverne and Shirley became such a big cultural hit?
PM: Because we were lower class not gorgeous women trying to make the rent. Nowadays especially people can relate to that because we are back in that situation.
WaH: Do you have any thoughts on why it is still so hard for women to direct studio films?
PM: Kathryn bigelow won an Academy Award. If you don’t do horror, vampires, car crashes or people in big metal outfits they don’t give you money. Everything else is an indie.
WaH: What was the greatest lesson you learned in Hollywood?
PM: Take Fountain don’t take Sunset. Don’t listen to your GPSs. I stopped driving. My brother (Gary Marshall) will only make right hand turns. He won’t go left because they could come and get you. My sister has no sense of direction and my grandson who turned 20 can’t pass his drivers test.
WaH: So how do you get around?
PM: Someone gets me. I got the basketball tickets so if you want to go to the game…
WaH: What’s the biggest misconception about you?
PM: That I’m dying from cancer. I dodged a big bullet. I’m healthy.
WaH: What TV shows do you watch?
PM: 60 Minutes, The Daily Show, Real Time With Bill Maher, Modern Family, SNL, Jimmy Fallon
WaH: Only comedies?
PM: I also like the CSI’s. I like Burn Notice. I like Jeffrey Donovan.
WaH: What do you wish you had done differently?
PM: I wish I hadn’t started smoking.
WaH: Why did you decide to write a memoir now?
PM: My brother had done two and so they can’t say I’m too sick.
WaH: Your brother was so successful at the beginning as a writer. That was never your thing?
PM: No. I didn’t commit to paper, but I could talk.
WaH: Do you have any advice for women directors?
PM: Everyone has a camera. Do something. Right now the technology is such that you can do it.
WaH: Do you think Hollywood treats women differently?
PM: The world treats women differently. That we don’t get the same pay for whatever job we have is insane. I don’t think I was treated that badly. I had a lot of guy friends. I wasn’t asking for much. All I know is whoever was in charge (of the studio) when I started (making a movie) was not there when I finished.
WaH: Do you want to direct more?
PM: I’m doing the book now then I will go home and deal with life.
Check our Fred Armisen doing Penny in this great promotional video