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Penny Marshall has cultivated a kind of loveably irascible, slightly depressed persona. It's not totally a "persona." But the other night, at the Monkey Bar, the only aspect of Penny on display was loveable. The actress/director/producer was there to drumbeat her funny, touching, new memoir, "My Mother Was Nuts."
Penny worked the room nonstop, and when asked, as she frequently was, "How are you?" Her reply was, "Well, if the damn tabloids would stop saying I'm dying, I'd be just great." (Penny had a tremendous bout with cancer a few years ago - brain tumor and lung cancer. But she recovered and now looks like she has never even suffered a cold in her entire life.)
All earthlings available to the siren song of PR queen Peggy Siegal - and a few aliens, too - descended in full force on the Monkey Bar. I do mean such as David Geffen, in jeans and sneakers, Calvin Klein, beautifully suited up, Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, Art Garfunkel (Penny's old flame), Lorne Michaels, Graydon Carter, Fran Lebowitz, who is determined not to smile too much as she moves around the room - this keeps unwanted admirers at bay, Roger Friedman, reporter extraordinaire, Carol Kane, Gayle King, Andy Cohen, Mort Zuckerman, Jacob Bernstein, Tom Brokaw and Barbara Walters, regal in a gorgeous red coat. You get it. It was one of those, "if a bomb dropped" evenings.
Joy and Regis Philbin were there, still talking about the Marvin Hamlisch memorial. "Now, THAT was a memorial," said Joy. Turning to Regis, she continued, "That's what I'll try to do for you." Regis feigned horror, "What? What? We don't talk about death here."
Overhearing this exchange somebody piped in and said, "Joy, maybe you'll go first." She laughed, "Yeah, that's exactly what he's waiting for!"
It was also one of those parties where you kept hearing snippets of conversations - "Baby, let's face it. If I wrote my memoirs, nobody could accept the brutal truth." "Oh, I heard that about her. Look, if there's smoke there's a blazing fire." There was also a lot of chat about William J. Mann's new and supposedly sizzling bio, "Hello Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand." (It's from Houghton Mifflin - and more on that anon!)
But the entrance of the night had to go to Mariah Carey. She arrived, practically to the sound of trumpets. She wore black, there was cleavage, some ruffles, too, heels (of course!) that tawny mane, tossed girlishly. She was adorable. She is adorable. One of the sweetest superstars ever!
As she came in, she spotted a fellow wearing a T-shirt with a blond lady's face on it, under his dressy blazer. Mariah said, "Ooohhhh, Marilyn!" (her idol) and opened the guys coat. Alas, it was, Madonna. Mariah grinned. "Oh, well, that's OK. But Marilyn's the one." And then she added, "I bought her white piano, you know."
Penny's book? One of the most amusing, straightforward and poignant (without self-pity) memoirs I've read yet. I learned lots of stuff about Penny, as a woman and a superb professional in a male-dominated industry. She is super-candid on all matters, and fair. (Yes, of course, she tells the saga of Cindy Williams and "Laverne and Shirley" and she's fair on that, too.) She didn't have trouble with Whitney Houston on "The Preacher's Wife" (no signs of drug use), her only problem with Madonna in "A League of Their Own" was her arms - she told Madonna to stop already with the upper-body workouts, and Bobby De Niro and Robin Williams did not come to blows during "Awakenings."
There is so much wry humanity, so many great stories, and one of my favorites opens the book. Penny is being robbed in her L.A. home by two men dressed as ninjas. One of them demands the jewelry she's wearing. Penny says, "I can't. I'm doing a movie. I wore them on camera. I have to match the shots." She adds: "They exchanged looks, and, I suppose, this being Hollywood, they understood."
Loved this book. Love Penny Marshall.

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