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Penny Marshall looks back at her life in breezy new memoir

In 'My Mother Was Nuts,' Marshall chronicles her tap-dancing youth, her marriages, her romance with Art Garfunkel and her tight relationship with brother Gary Marshall.

September 26, 2012|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times
  • Singer Art Garfunkel, left, and actress-director Penny Marshall attend a book party for Marshall's memoir, "My Mother Was Nuts.
Singer Art Garfunkel, left, and actress-director Penny Marshall attend… (Dave Allocca / Associated…)

When actress-director-producer Penny Marshall was a child, she wanted nothing more than to go outside and play with the neighborhood kids. A tomboy, she envisioned becoming an athlete one day. Her mother had something else in mind.

With a dance school in the cellar of her Bronx apartment building, Marjorie Marshall tried to fashion young Penny into a tap dancer. It didn't take.

What did stick was a little of the craziness and humor that filled their household, which included big brother, and now filmmaker, Garry Marshall ("Pretty Woman") and sister Ronny. "She did influence all of us," Penny Marshall says of her mother. "She had a great sense of humor."

Marshall, 68, is in a mood to contemplate her past upon the release of her breezy new memoir, "My Mother Was Nuts," in which she chronicles her two failed marriages (including one to director Rob Reiner), her friendships with Carrie Fisher and John Belushi ("He was brilliantly talented. He would walk down the street and people would hand him [drugs] and he thought he was indestructible."), her romance with Art Garfunkel and her tight relationship with her brother.

"Our parents were crazy, so we had to stick together," she says of her siblings.

That closeness continued into adulthood as Garry Marshall opened doors for her in Hollywood, casting her in TV's "The Odd Couple" and then as tough-talking Laverne De Fazio opposite Cindy Williams from 1976-83 on the ABC sitcom "Laverne & Shirley."

Marshall segued into directing, helming such hits as 1988's "Big," which was the first movie directed by a woman to pass the $100-million mark at the box office, 1990's "Awakenings" and 1992's "A League of Their Own."

She hasn't made a feature since 2001's "Riding in Cars With Boys" The studios, she said, "make horror films, films with car crashes and people in big metal suits. I don't do that. The independents do it, but you get paid a nickel and you are going to work as hard."

She has a documentary on former basketball star Dennis Rodman up next.

Other new and noteworthy film-related books

"The Dangerous Animals Club" by Stephen Tobolowsky

The veteran character actor, best known as Ned Ryerson in 1993's "Groundhog Day" and for his podcast "The Tobolowsky Files," has penned his memoir as a collection of 26 short stories that cover his childhood in Texas, his long relationship with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Beth Henley (he's directed several of her plays) and his work in Los Angeles as an actor, among other topics.

"An Askew View 2: The Films of Kevin Smith," a revised and updated edition by John Kenneth Muir

Ten years ago, Muir wrote the first book examining the films of controversial independent filmmaker Smith. The second edition includes all the material from the first book as well as new chapters on "Jersey Girl," "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," "Cop Out" and "Red State," as well as the short-lived TV series "Clerks."

susan.king@latimes.com

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