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My Mother Was Nuts

My Mother Was Nuts

4.2 10
by Penny Marshall

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Most people know Penny Marshall as the director of Big and A League of Their Own. What they don’t know is her trailblazing career was a happy accident. In this funny and intimate memoir, Penny takes us from the stage of The Jackie Gleason Show in 1955 to Hollywood’s star-studded sets, offering up some hilarious detours along the


Most people know Penny Marshall as the director of Big and A League of Their Own. What they don’t know is her trailblazing career was a happy accident. In this funny and intimate memoir, Penny takes us from the stage of The Jackie Gleason Show in 1955 to Hollywood’s star-studded sets, offering up some hilarious detours along the way.

My Mother Was Nuts is an intimate backstage pass to Penny’s personal life, her breakout role on The Odd Couple, her exploits with Cindy Williams and John Belushi, and her travels across Europe with Art Garfunkel on the back of a motorcycle. We see Penny get married. And divorced. And married again (the second time to Rob Reiner). We meet a young Carrie Fisher, whose close friendship with Penny has spanned decades. And we see Penny at work with Tom Hanks, Mark Wahlberg, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert De Niro, and Whitney Houston.

Throughout it all, from her childhood spent tap dancing in the Bronx, to her rise as the star of Laverne & Shirley, Penny lived by simple rules: “try hard, help your friends, don’t get too crazy, and have fun.” With humor and heart, My Mother Was Nuts reveals there’s no one else quite like Penny Marshall.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
From tap-dancing under her mother's tutelage in the Bronx, to Laverne and Shirley's blockbuster TV run, and on to the big screen—both in front of and behind the cameras— Marshall guides readers through it all in this down-to-earth memoir. Featuring a vibrant cast of characters and myriad candid anecdotes, Marshall credits her mother with giving her the confidence she needed to make it big: "She rehearsed us on subway platforms. People stared. She didn't care." It paid off—Marshall has had an illustrious career and exciting life, having worked with the likes of Robert DeNiro and Whitney Houston, motorcycled across Europe with Art Garfunkel, and enjoyed close friendships with Carrie Fisher and John Belushi; of her disbelief regarding the latter's tragic death by overdose at the age of 33 she writes, "John always said he was indestructible, and we believed him. He was John." There's as much practical, hard-won advice here as there is Hollywood gossip, and Marshall's boundless energy and no-nonsense attitude make for a fun read. Photos. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

“There’s as much practical, hard-won advice here as there is Hollywood gossip, and Marshall's boundless energy and no-nonsense attitude make for a fun read.” – Publishers Weekly

“Bold and irrepressibly sassy.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Marshall’s matter-of-fact memoir is a must-read for one reason – it’s hilarious.” – Marie Claire

“According to her revealing new memoir, budding actress Penny Marshall braved the cruelties of a business obsessed with perky, girl-next-door pretty. Of course, that was before Marshall starred in the juggernaut sitcom Laverne & Shirley, then directed movies like A League of Their Own and Big – the first Hollywood film with a woman at the helm to gross over $100 million, vaulting her into the elite ranks of Hollywood power players. Beautiful.” – O Magazine

“Penny Marshall charmed America in Laverne & Shirley and gave her comedic and director’s touch to films such as Big and A League of Their Own. Now she tells all with memoir My Mother Was Nuts. The brutally honest, heartbreaking tale includes her recent struggle with (and victory over) cancer. Above all, the book is funny.” – USA Weekend

“This breezy and charming memoir also has many serious things to say about motherhood, the Hollywood pecking order, taking advantage when luck comes one’s way, growing up with distant and weird parents, and marrying too young.” – Publishers Marketplace

“Penny Marshall’s My Mother Was Nuts is absolutely hilarious and dead serious… it’s Penny’s raspy, punchline packed voice all the way through. You cannot put My Mother Was Nuts down. Just try.” –ShowBiz411.com

“Hollywood aficionados will get a kick out of Marshall’s anecdotes about her circle of friends, including Albert Brooks, John Belushi, and Carrie Fisher, all told in a funny, down-to-earth manner.” – Booklist

“Penny Marshall is a fascinating woman who has lived a life few of us could survive. Did you know she gave me two of the best jobs I’ve ever had? Of course not, because when she talks she is barely comprehensible. Read her memoir and you’ll come to love her as much as I do.”  – Tom Hanks
“If I hadn’t known Penny for the past 35 years, reading this book would make me want to.  Also, I'm so glad she wrote it because it helps me remember things I forgot, which is a lot.” – Carrie Fisher
“My sister Penny is one of the funniest people I know.  I’m not saying that because she’s my sister, although I am partial to nepotism.  She made everyone laugh at our family dinner table, and she made everyone laugh on the set of Laverne and Shirley.  The fact that she went on to become the first woman director in the history of film, to make not one, but two movies that made over $100 million is no surprise to me.  Read this book and you will know why.” – Garry Marshall
“A very funny book by a very funny lady. I wouldn't have a career without her!” – Mark Wahlberg

Library Journal
Yes, she’s Laverne, but Marshall is also the first woman to direct a movie that grossed more than $100 million (Big), a skilled dancer, and something of an expert when it comes to summer camps. In this fast-paced survey of her life, Marshall details her dysfunctional Bronx, NY, upbringing that led—via her mother’s dance school—to appearances on The Jackie Gleason Show and ultimately to Hollywood and stardom. Along the way, she talks Jack Klugman into doing her brother Gerry’s television version of The Odd Couple, parties with John Belushi and Carrie Fisher, motorcycles across Europe with Art Garfunkel, and shrugs off a robbery by ninjas. And, as the title promises, her mother is nuts: how else to describe a woman who skimmed pills from family members’ prescriptions for her “suicide jar.” Verdict Marshall offers everything readers want in a celebrity memoir: an honest account of a life, filled with hilarious anecdotes and poignant reflections. She has the remarkable skill of being able to drop names like Calvin Klein in a down-to-earth way, reflecting their friendship’s origins in junior high school. Recommended.—Terry Bosky, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., FL

(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted

Kirkus Reviews
Actress, producer and director Marshall's frank and funny memoir about the path that led her from an ordinary childhood in New York City to Hollywood stardom. Marshall never planned to get into acting. But her mother, who ran a neighborhood dance and acrobatics school for children in the Bronx, always believed that "every child should know what it feels like to entertain." So she began teaching her daughter the rudiments of physical movement before she was 1 year old. By the time Marshall was a teenager, she and the other girls her mother taught had performed at churches, charity events and telethons; they had even appeared on the Jackie Gleason Show. Dancing, however, was not Marshall's passion. A mediocre student with no idea what she would do with her life, she went to the University of New Mexico, a college that "accepted anyone from out of state." A few years later, Marshall was a divorced UNM dropout who had lost custody of her child, but she had also started to find her niche as an actress through involvement in community theater. She went to Hollywood to join her brother Garry, who was building a career as a comedy writer for TV and got bit parts in such classic TV shows as That Girl and The Odd Couple. She finally came into her own in the mid-1970s as the star of the hit sitcom Laverne & Shirley, and then in the '80s and early-'90s as the director of the hit films Big and A League of Their Own. Marshall is as candid about her failures (which include a painful second divorce from writer/comedian Rob Reiner) and her weaknesses (like the one she developed for drugs) as she is about her successes. With gratitude for a life lived on her own terms, she writes, "I've been given my five minutes…and then some." Bold and irrepressibly sassy.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

Introduction: Night of the Ninjas
I’m not someone who’s had to deal with much personal drama outside of the usual: growing up with parents who hated each other, two marriages and divorces, the ups and downs of various relationships, raising a daughter, and watching friends crack up and overdose. There was the cancer thing, too. As you can see, though, there’s nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that most people don’t go through, nothing that says, “Penny, you were lucky to get through that one.”
   Oh, except for when I was robbed by the knife-wielding ninjas.
   Let me explain: I had come home one night after watching dailies of myself, something I never do because I think I look terrible. I pulled on my favorite flannel nightgown, the one with a New York Times crossword puzzle pattern on it, and applied a facial mask, one of those thick pastes. As it began to harden, I heard a strange, unsettling noise inside one of the other rooms. I thought it was my daughter, Tracy, and her boyfriend, Gio Coppola, who were supposed to be there, or my niece, Penny Lee, who was living downstairs in an outside apartment.
   “Tray,” I called.
   “P-Lee,” I said, trying my niece.
   No answer.
   I walked out of my bedroom and looked in the living room. It was long and narrow, with sliding glass doors that provided a 180-degree view of Los Angeles, spanning the high-rise buildings downtown to the Pacific Ocean. At night, though, it was a black carpet of shimmering lights. As I stared across the room, I saw someone run into the den and try a terrace door, which didn’t open. I don’t startle easily. I’ve directed seven movies and know a thing or two about dealing with unexpected crises. In an emergency, I’m as calm as a heart surgeon.
   Moving methodically, I found the clicker for my alarm system on top of the bookcase, and just as I did, a guy emerged from the den. He had a stocking over his head and a knife in his hand. From his stance, I sensed he was nervous.
   “Who’d you let out?” he asked, thinking I’d opened the front gate.
   I took a breath.
   “My assistant,” I said, lying.
   Another guy then appeared, this one dressed like a ninja and holding a large sword. That was a nice touch, I thought. I assumed they must have watched Tracy, Gio, and my niece leave and then come up the hill, thinking the house was empty. They told me that we had to go to the bedroom, but we were interrupted by the phone. The first ring caused all of us to freeze and stare at the blinking light. It was the third line, I noticed — the alarm company.
   I guessed the clicker had worked.
   I picked up the phone and immediately hung it up again. They glanced at me, then at each other, then back at me.
   “Otherwise it’ll keep ringing,” I said.
   I knew they wanted to steal something and unfortunately for them I didn’t have much in the house to steal. I had only lived there a little more than a year after renting a couple of different homes over the years. I had some old couches downstairs, a piano in the living room, and knickknacks from movies. None of it was expensive or valuable. I noticed them checking me out for jewelry. I had on a necklace and a ring that had been my grandmother’s.
   The bad robber — the one with the stocking over his head and the knife in his hand — told me to hand over my jewelry. “I can’t,” I said. “I’m doing a movie. I wore them on camera. I have to match in the shots.”
   They exchanged looks, and I suppose this being Hollywood, they understood. They grabbed some cameras on a shelf instead.
   By now, my facial mask had hardened, making it difficult to talk. As the bad robber went to look around the house again, he instructed his ninja partner, aka the good robber, to watch me. He said something along the lines of “If she moves, kill her.” He had watched too many movies. Still, I wondered how that would work. Would he impale me with his ninja sword? Cut off my head? Would his blade go through my facemask?
   When the bad robber was gone, I turned to his partner and said, “I’m going to wash this mask off my face.” I didn’t ask. I told him. Then, without waiting for an answer, I went into the bathroom, scrubbed my face, and returned. My robber was surprised when he saw my face.
   “Oh, my God,” he said. “If we’d known it was you, we never would’ve come up.”
   “Well, you can leave anytime,” I said.
   He didn’t move. Neither did I. We stared at each other, unsure what to say next. It was like being in a bad improv class.
   “Is this going to be your career?” I asked.
   “No, I’m going to college,” he said.
   “All right,” I said. “So this is just a part-time job?”
   Then the bad robber returned. He was frustrated by how little I had in the way of loot. He looked at me as if that was my fault. I started to explain that had I known I was going to be robbed . . . But I did have traveler’s checks, which I got out. In the meantime, the phone had continued to ring, and this time I picked it up. It was my friend Susan Forristal from New York checking in. I told her that I couldn’t talk. Later, she told me that because I had hung up so quickly she thought I was with someone having sex.
   Not quite. And when the phone rang again, the bad robber, now annoyed, took the ninja’s sword and destroyed it, reminding me of my old friend John Belushi’s Samurai Warrior character. Of course, this being my life, as soon as the phone was in pieces, another extension began to ring.
   “What can I do?” I said, shrugging.
   “Just sign the Traveler’s checks,” he said.
   “You know, I think I have to be there in person when you cash these,” I said.
   “Just sign,” he said.
   “I’m sorry I don’t have more for you,” I said. “I have a Roy Rogers plate in the kitchen. I think it might be a collector’s item.”
   The phone rang again and I answered it. This time it was the police, a lieutenant so-and-so.
   “Are you okay?” he asked.
   “So far,” I said.
   “Do you know these people?”
   He asked a number of additional questions. Since we had already established the basics, they struck me as superfluous. Actually, they struck me as stupid and pointless. I was being robbed. The robbery was in progress. The robbers were in my home. I did not know them. They were robbers. What more mattered? Annoyed and frustrated, I turned to the bad robber and held out the receiver.
   “It’s for you,” I said.
   I just couldn’t deal with the cop anymore.
   “It’s okay, we know her,” I heard the robber say. “She owes us money.”
   Then he handed the phone back to me. He looked just as irritated with the cop as I was. Neither of us wanted to talk to him.
   “Hello?” I said.
   “Do you know him?” the cop asked.
   “Do you owe him money?”
   “Are there weapons?”
   All of a sudden we heard a helicopter hovering overhead and suddenly the house filled with bright light from its spotlight. I have a lot of glass doors and windows, and all I could think was that the police were going to shoot through the glass and I was going to have to pay for it — in more ways than one. I told the cop on the phone that I had to go. Then I turned to the robbers. It was time to talk common sense, not dollars and cents.
   “Listen, you see the helicopter up there,” I said. “Now the three of us are in the same situation. They’re going to come through here and probably shoot you — and maybe me, too. I don’t know. But there is a way out of here, out the back and down the hill.”
   So they took off one way and I went upstairs. There were cops everywhere. I told them the robbers had scrambled down the hill, adding that they didn’t have guns. I didn’t want them shooting anyone — especially the ninja going to college. He seemed like a nice kid. I didn’t have to wait long for a resolution. Within a few minutes, cops down the hill radioed that they had caught the bad robber. He was hiding in the neighbor’s bushes down the street.
   They wanted me to identify him. But they wouldn’t bring him back to my place because he wasn’t on my property. Instead, I had to go outside in my pajamas, in front of all the press that had gathered, get in a cop car, and let them drive me to the bottom of the street where they were holding him. His mask was off, but I nodded in acknowledgment; that was the same guy.
   Like a bad ninja, he scowled at me.
   “I should’ve killed you when I had a chance,” he said.
   “That’s pleasant,” I said.
   The next morning the press knew of the story and media outlets around the world reported that LAVERNE FOILS NINJAS. Around six a.m. my phone started to ring. Randy Newman called. “Are you okay?” Paul Schrader called from Guam. “You defended yourself against ninjas?” Jack Nicholson called. “You okay, Pendal? You want to stay here? Only you would wash your face in front of robbers.” Others checked in, too. It was nice.
   Later that morning I went to work. That’s just the way I am. One night I’m at a basketball game, the next I’m being held up by armed ninjas. Shit happens. So even though my life had been in danger, time didn’t stop for me. I didn’t reevaluate my priorities. They were already in a pretty decent place. I stayed calm and did what I had to do.
   As you’re going to discover on the following pages, this is the real me. I don’t rattle easily. I’m wonderfully, oddly, almost irrationally calm and together in a crisis. It’s when everything is calm that I get a little nutty. I’ve been this way since I was a kid growing up in the Bronx. I’ve come pretty far since those days, yet in some ways — no, make that in many ways — I’m still the same girl stuck in an aging body. I may not suck my thumb, wear braces, run after boys, or hang out on the Parkway rail anymore, but I rely on the lessons that I learned back then. They’ve gotten me this far. There must be something to ’em.

Meet the Author

Penny Marshall is an actress, producer, and director. From 1976 until 1983, she starred as Laverne DeFazio in the classic TV sitcom Laverne and Shirley. She went on to direct films such as Big (1988), the first movie directed by a woman to gross in excess of $100 million at the U.S. box office, Awakenings (1990), which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, and A League of Their Own (1992), which also made over $100 million in the U.S. More recently, she has directed episodes of United States of Tara (2009) and guest-starred on Portlandia (2011).

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My Mother Was Nuts 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. It really gets into the life of Penny Marshal - let's you know what makes her tick. The Hollywood accounts are very witty and entertaining. Overall a great book.
David_Bremmerton More than 1 year ago
A wonderfully entertaining little book about Penny Marshal's accidental career in the entertainment industry. She is hilarious and it comes across well in the book. There are many laugh out loud moments.
superbookworm_glo_ More than 1 year ago
I read this book in no time i didn't put it down,Her mom was a no nonsence lady!Penny Marshall is not only a great director/Actress,she is a great writer,She deserve's all her wealth/happiness/and i would see and buy another book, By her,I ordered the hardback im glad because this is going on my shelf,not my nook hd+ buy it, it's also funny....she had a great family kinda cookie but they loved each other.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
From the time I started reading it I couldnt stop and im an adult with very serious adhd
amia More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! Laughed right out loud many times.  It's refreshing to hear her stories in her own words, she's hilarious!  
LMZ More than 1 year ago
Penny Marshall is hilarious! Of course, with the audiobook, her voice makes it even better. Lots of lol moments. Love how honest she is. The only complaint I have is that I would have liked her to go into more detail about a lot of the situations she talks about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Penny Marshall is as funny writing (this book) as she is in person. Very personable and very relateable. Wonderful insight into her life.
kadydid More than 1 year ago
Great Read! She was just as funny as an author as she is a comedienne. Her mother and mine must of been related. Or maybe it was just the era. Loved this book. My mother was nuts too.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I did not expect Penny Marshall to be one of the Hollywood people who induldged in drugs. She lived life her way and has no regrets.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago