Book Review: My Mother Was Nuts by Penny Marshall

I think I got this book on offer. It’s the only reason I can think of why I downloaded it, because while I’m vaguely familiar with Penny Marshall’s work and love a couple of her movies (Big and A League of Their Own), I’d not given much thought to what her personal life was like. Well, thanks for that offer.


Like her friend Carrie Fisher, Marshall has been in and around Hollywood for most of her life. She moved out to LA in her twenties at the end of the sixties to join her successful writer brother Garry, and soon started picking up acting gigs, becoming a star thanks to the Happy Days spin off Laverne and Shirley, which I’ve never seen. While Happy Days and it’s other spin off Mork and Mindy were shows I watched as a kid, Laverne and Shirley didn’t seem to get repeated here.

Married to actor, writer and director Rob Reiner she became part of a group of Hollywood friends. Later she would move into directing, and with Big become the first woman to direct a film that made over $100m.

And also, like Fisher, she tells her stories with energy and humour, albeit in a slightly less scatterbrained and meandering fashion. She talks about on set difficulties, of her past excesses and indiscretions, her loves and losses.

It’s a wonderfully entertaining read, the supporting players a cast of big names like Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson, Madonna, Drew Barrymore and Whitney Houston. But she’s also at home with the crews of her film, the firemen she meets after 9/11 and the old friends from her neighbourhood in the Bronx who she remains close to.

Marshall writes in an easy, unpolished manner which draws you in and gives you a sense of her personality and humour. She’s funny and warm, honest and introspective. She admits to her failings but fights her corner too.

There are moving passages as she details the loved ones lost along the way. Yet her own battle with cancer is handled with humour and a lack of moping. Marshall is a force to be reckoned with, full of life and spirit. She says early on that she always liked to play, but while there is playfulness there’s something else at work, a constant driving energy that leads her to throw herself into what comes her way. An energy that helps her succeed and opens new doors for her. It’s a life well lived, and a life well written about.

I dipped in and out of this book, but whenever I did it left me warmed and amused.

Verdict: A life story told in a warm and unpretentious manner, Marshall’s energy and charm infuses the entire book. It made me smile numerous times, but also tugs the heartstrings. There’s some interesting showbiz gossip, a look into the private lives of big name stars, but at it’s heart it’s Marshall’s story. The story of a woman of humour and boundless energy, who throws herself into the opportunities and challenges that appear in her path, and succeeds. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


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