Monday, April 22, 2024

Penny Marshall: Debra Winger Dropped out of “League” Because of Madonna


Everyone has a book this fall: Cyndi Lauper, Tony Danza, Alana Stewart, Rod Stewart, and so on. They’re all pretty interesting. But the one that’s got me enthralled right now is Penny Marshall’s “My Mother Was Nuts.” It’s absolutely hilarious and dead serious. Penny– one of the great people you meet who’s been a real Hollywood success–chronicles her journey from the Grand Concourse in the Bronx to life as a hit commercial film director (“Big,” “A League of their Own”) with writer Todd Gold. But it’s Penny’s raspy, punchline packed voice all the way through. You cannot put “My Mother Was Nuts” down. Just try.

Some tidbits: you know, she has recently survived a brain tumor and lung cancer. It’s a miracle. Her pal, Revlon’s Ronald Perelman, pulled out all the stops to help her. So did best buddies Carrie Fisher and Lorraine Bracco. One doctor told Penny she should be ready to “die with dignity.” She fired him immediately, thank god.

Her marriage to Rob Reiner almost didn’t happen, she said, because soon after they started dating, he had a nervous breakdown. They finally did tie the knot and had a successful union. She was on “Laverne and Shirley” and he was on “All in the Family.” But when the left his show, Reiner, she says, became unhappy about her success. It’s a typical Hollywood story. They didn’t divorce for six months after making the decision. Why? Richard Dreyfuss, who lived in their guest house, kept crying every time it was discussed.

There’s lots of good stuff about Penny’s films. Debra Winger, she says, dropped out of playing the lead in “A League of their Own” because Marshall cast Madonna in the film. “You’re making an Elvis film!” Debra told her. Geena Davis took over the role and won the audience over. The ending of the film–in which Penny showed the real women baseball players–inspired Steven Spielberg to use Holocaust survivors at the end of “Schindler’s List.” He asked Penny’s permission. She was happy to give it since he was the one who turned her on to directing.

Don’t miss this book! There’s so much about 70s and 80s TV, about the Marshalls and Reiners growing up in the Bronx and moving to L.A., and about Penny’s long friendship with Cindy Williams, who played Shirley to her Laverne. And there’s a funny scene of Penny meeting Hunter S. Thompson at a party. Plus lots about the original “Saturday Night Live.”

Nicely done. Bravo!

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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