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Sunday, June 23, 2013

My Mother Was Nuts: A Memoir (audiobook) by Penny Marshall

Published by Brilliance Audio in September of 2012.
Read by the author, Penny Marshall
Duration: 8 hours, 30 minutes.

Penny Marshall, best known as Laverne DeFazio on the TV show Laverne and Shirley, tells all (or at least a lot) in this name-dropping memoir. If you are offended by frequent use of curse words and references to drug use, this is not your book.

A still from the opening credits of Laverne and Shirley
Let me begin with an important point in my review: I listened to it as an audiobook that was read by Penny Marshall. This is important because I think it added immensely to the experience despite Marshall's relatively poor reading style. She mumbles, slurs words throughout and pauses at weird moments to take a breath but that is part of Penny Marshall's style. On top of that, at emotional moments, such as the death of her mother and discussing the 9/11 attacks the listener can hear the  emotion in her voice. Add to that her famed New York accent, her great impersonation of her brother Garry (creator of Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley among other shows) Lorne Michaels (creator of Saturday Night Live) and Robert DeNiro and you have an enjoyable experience.

The title of her memoir comes from the difficult relationship Penny Marshall had with her mother, who was also the director of a dance studio in the Bronx and the person who taught Penny how to dance, sing (sort of) and, most importantly, entertain. Penny's father seems to have been mostly an enigma in her life - a colorless personality who worked in advertising.

Penny's tales of her childhood are both sad and side-splittingly funny. The name-dropping starts early. She knew Calvin Klein from the old neighborhood. She worked with Marvin Hamlisch at a summer camp, etc. Penny's college years started out strong but ended with a forced marriage due to pregnancy. After a divorce, Penny's career in Hollywood starts, thanks to contacts created by her brother Garry (already an established script writer by this time) and the story goes into the stuff most people picked up the book to hear about. Penny Marshall does not disappoint, telling numerous name-dropping anecdotes and her life with up-and-coming celebrities off of the set.

Sometimes the book focuses too much on name-dropping (especially in the NBA section towards the end) and not so much on actual story-telling, but that is when I thought to myself that she is almost seventy years old and this story often reminds me of older folks (like I am some sort of spring chicken!) reminiscing about their younger days. That being said, there are times when the name-dropping is fun, especially if you think about how many of these people worked together on different projects and you get a real feel for how connected Penny Marshall is.

So, is this a great, insightful, soul-searching memoir? No. It's just Penny Marshall telling you about her life. That's it. It's an imperfect life but it she tells it pretty well. It's sometimes funny, sometimes sad and usually interesting. She leaves this advice: "Try hard, help your friends, don't get too crazy, and have fun."

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: My Mother Was Nuts: A Memoir

Reviewed on June 22, 2013

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