Actor-director Penny Marshall, author of a new memoir, My Mother Was Nuts, is a skilled multitasker. She can field questions about her eccentric dance-teacher mom; her classic sitcom, Laverne & Shirley; the beloved movie she directed, A League of Their Own; her ex-husband Rob Reiner; and her pantheon of famous friends—all while conversing with the superintendentof her Manhattan apartment building. When she stage-whispers “His name is Thor” in her honking Bronx accent, it’s like hearing the punch line to the best joke ever.
Q: Besides tap dancing, what did your mother make you do that you ended up appreciating?
A: None of our clocks were set right: They were five minutes fast. Now I’m never late.
Q: “Schlemiel! Schlemazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!” Where did the Laverne & Shirleyhopscotch chant come from?
A: From my neighborhood. I’d like to do a documentary on the lost art of street games. All you needed was a bottle cap, a piece of chalk or a rope. Everyone played together. Who wanted to be in the house? We walked seven blocks to get to school. That’s where “Schlemiel! Schlemazel!” came from—and eight million other ditties.
Q: Describe a typical night at home when you and Rob Reiner were married.
A: Albert Brooks would come over. Billy Crystal. Whoever was in town. Rob would cook. I’d clean up. Albert would try out routines at our house. He never went to a club. He’d just take the floor. He’s still the funniest guy I know.
Q: Sing the praises of BFF Carrie Fisher.
A: She’s smart, funny, and we didn’t like the same drugs or the same guys, so we had no competition. We always had a great time together. We double-dated for five years with [Paul] Simon and [Art] Garfunkel. We talk every day.
Q: You’ve said the key to Madonna’s performance in Leaguewas that you paired her with Rosie O’Donnell. Explain.
A: I said, “Ro, teach Mo how to play ball better” and “Mo, keep Ro from eating and show her how to set her hair.” Tom Hanks also did League. That was his first adult character. Rosie, I made not eat. Him, I made gain weight.
Q: You’ve directed Robert De Niro [in Awakenings], flushed John Belushi’s heroin down the toilet and skied through the Swiss Alps on magic mushrooms. Is there anything you haven’t done?
A: I’ve had a strange life. I’ve had many lives—but not in a Shirley MacLaine way.
Originally published in the October 2012 issue of More