1. You are currently at Bucks County Playhouse performing your show The Marilu Henner Show, a retrospective of your life and career through stories and songs. In putting this show together, what did you learn about yourself that you didn't already know? It's so funny because over the years people have asked me, What is your favorite medium?” I always say, “It's the one that I'm doing,” but I think after this show at Bucks County Playhouse, I'm totally convinced it's just being on stage. Theatre is really my first love. I never thought I'd really do anything else because I always thought my movements and personality were too big for film. I really had to learn how to adjust to film.
I might feel differently when I’m in front of a camera, but I am more convinced than ever that theatre is my favorite medium. I do a lot of speaking engagements, so I go all over the country because of the books that I've written. I'm just so comfortable being in front of a group of people and being in the moment. It's such a unique experience. You are there in the moment with the people that are in the room.
2. Which part of the show or which song was the most challenging for you to learn? The most challenging song to learn was a specialty number I do about being a body parts model.
3. For the Bucks County run, you expanded the show to include a whole act about Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory. When did you first realize you could recall everyday of your life? When I was six years old, I used to put myself to sleep by saying, “What did I do a week ago? What did I do when I was my brother's age?” I would relive days in my head to fall asleep at night because I was never much of a sleeper. It just became a kind of meditation for me.
Everybody would say to my mother, “What is with that kid and her memory? She remembers what I was wearing last time I was here.” I was a middle child of six and when you're one of six kids, you're part of a litter and you look for anything that differentiates you from your brothers and sisters. So, I became known as “Memory Girl. Memory Kid. UNIVAC” Those were my nicknames because I was just retaining everything and could recall everything. I think it was a definite nurture/nature thing. I mean, there's definitely something structurally different about my brain. They've proven that, but I also think it was something I loved that was kind of uniquely mine that I could develop.
I was 18 before somebody said, “When are you going to realize nobody else has this memory?” When the 60 Minutes thing came about, people who knew me knew I had an unusual memory. Lesley Stahl [from 60 Minutes] was a friend of mine. She was offered a story about Jill Price, the first person to come forward with HSAM. (Then called Hyperthymesia. Now called HSAM, Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory). So, Lesley was offered the story and she said, “I hate to burst your bubble, but my friend Marilu Henner has the exact same memory.”
Lesley took me to lunch with her producer Shari Finkelstein in 2006, September 20, 2006. We were talking about getting married and Shari said she got married on June 15, 1998. I said, “Oh, really? Why did you get married on a Monday?” And she said [very enthusiastically], “Oh, my God, she has that memory.” So Lesley passed on the story and they put it on Primetime Live with Diane Sawyer. Three years later, Lesley called me and said “It turns out it’s very unusual. They’ve only found a few more people with HSAM. So we want to do a whole two-part story on it and we want you to go through the testing on camera.” So, that's what happened.
4. With your superhero memory, have you ever forgotten your lines or lyrics to a song? No. Sometimes I fumble over a line because I'm thinking of changing it or whatever, but, the question people always ask my kids is, “Does your mom ever forget her keys?” And they say, “Oh, God, all the time.” She’ll be like, “Where are my keys? Where are my keys?” And then all of a sudden, she'll freeze and you could see, she goes back in the movie of her mind. She’ll say something like, “Oh, right. I came in yesterday. I had to go to the bathroom right away, so they’re in the bathroom, because I left them there, because I just threw them on the floor.” It's like I rewind the tape in my mind.
5. Since you remember every single day of your life, is there a memory you actually wish you could forget? No, not at all. Not even the deaths of my parents, which were so tragic. I feel even if I revisit something with them in some painful way, I'd rather have that memory than to lose them even for a day.
I love having this memory. I've always had it. It's something I've completely embraced and the thing is, memory is tied to adrenaline, so everyone remembers the highs and the lows anyway. I'm lucky that I get to bring back all those little middle of the road, Our Town kind of moments.
Everybody's going to remember the highs and lows. The crazy thing to me is that in studying memory, as much as I have, they say that most people remember 8 to 11 events within any given year. 8 to 11! [said shockingly] I remember 365 or 366, everyday of the year. My first thought was we’ve got to work on people's memories, if that’s true.
6. Let's have some fun with this. I'm going to list some dates that are important to me and I want you to tell me what you were doing on these dates.
- August 19, 1975 (My Birthday): That was a Tuesday. I just started dating a new boyfriend the week before. I was doing Grease on Broadway at the time and it was the first time we went public with our relationship. We went to Charlie's after the show that night.
- February 3, 1983 (My boyfriend’s birthday): That was a Thursday.I was just finishing up Taxi. It was one of our last episodes.
- October 14, 1993 (My first Madonna Concert): This was a Thursday. I had just gotten pregnant. I was doing Evening Shade at the time. My second husband and I went to dinner with Paula Abdul and Emilio Estevez.
- December 6, 2008 (launching of Call Me Adam): That was a Saturday. My son Nick was in a play and I was helping with hair and makeup. I did all the hair and makeup for my kids’ schools. My son Nick, is a director now, (he directs most of Ben Platt’s videos).
Julius Williams & Marilu Henner in The Marilu Henner Show
at Bucks County Playhouse, Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
7. What’s the best advice you would give someone who wanted to be an actress? I auditioned for 40 commercials before I got one. Once I figured out what to do, I landed 72 commercials in 2 1/2 years. Hopefully that is encouraging to people.
My 39th audition was for a friend who called me in and I wasn't even right for the part and I knew it. So, I just went in and had a great time. I just had fun at the audition. He called me that night and said, “Are you this way at every audition?” I said, “Oh my God, no. I'm always trying to figure out what they want?” He said, “Don't do that. Stop doing that. We almost changed the concept because you were so outrageous and you were so you. We didn’t change it, but I’m telling you, if you go in there and just let the best parts of you shine through you’re going to get the commercial, but if you go in there in some kind of cookie cutter, unimaginative way, you're never going to get a commercial. You have to go in there and do something special.”
That's the best advice I can give young people, “Stop looking at other people's careers. I mean, you can look at their careers, but don't think you have to imitate them. What is it that makes you unique? What are you bringing to the party? Always look at a script and ask yourself, “What little thing could I add to this that maybe no one else will think of?” Then you'll start working.
8. X amount of years from now when someone mentions Marilu Henner, what do you hope people will say or remember about you? Well, it's funny. One of the editors at 60 Minutes, who didn't know anything about my memory, called me and said, “I've got to tell you. I'm editing this piece…Forget being remembered for anything but this memory.”
It's so funny because people used to stop me or recognize me at the airport and they'd ask me questions like, “Was Burt Reynolds a good kisser? or What’s Danny DeVito like?” or “Is that really Donald Trump's hair?” (Because I was on Celebrity Apprentice). Now, all I get is, somebody gives me a date and they'll have me give them the day of the week and what I was doing. I'm sure that people will talk about my memory.
I've already signed papers to donate my brain to science afterwards, hoping it can be helpful for dementia or Alzheimer's research.
I want to be remembered mostly as a good mom because there's nothing more Important to me than that. There really isn't. I just love my boys. It's very obvious, especially after you see the show.
9. What is a mistake you made early in your career that has become a life lesson you take with you to this day? It's like the Michael Jordan line, you miss one hundred percent of the shots you don't take. Sometimes I would hold myself back because I felt like I wasn’t thin enough, I wasn't pretty enough. I wasn't young enough. I wasn't old enough. I wasn't this or that. So sometimes early in my career, I was self-conscious about something. Now I don't feel that way at all. If I see somebody or have to present myself in some way, I've become fearless in approaching people or talking to people. I was never shy. It's just that sometimes I would take my attention units and put them on myself and think, “Oh, I'm not good enough to go up to that person,” but now I don't feel that way. I’ll approach anyone.
Adam Vanek, Marilu Henner and Julius Williams in The Marilu Henner Show
at Bucks County Playhouse, Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
10. You have been in the entertainment business for over five decades. What do you feel has been your secret to a long and successful career? I'm a student of life. I love being a student. I'm always trying to learn and grow and change. I ask people for feedback all the time. If somebody doesn't like something, I'm always analyzing a criticism or whatever. My ego doesn't get bruised. My brother says, “I can't believe that you ask people their opinion and then you really listen and everything.” I told him, “That’s how I learn. That's how I grow.” I love being a student. So I always like doing research or trying to figure out what the next trend is. I'm always trying to collect pieces of information or cross connect pieces of information, because then I'll process it somehow. I don't get injured easily. I think that's been helpful because I've heard everything. I’m not afraid to hear you’re too this or too that. I've heard those things. I've been through it all. So it doesn't matter. I just want to keep growing and getting better.
My ex-husband used to say, “She wants everybody's opinion, but she always makes her own.” And I say, “I'll take everyone’s feedback and then figure out what works for me.”
I would say, of every human being I know, there's none more brilliant than Jim Brooks. You know James L. Brooks? He did The Simpsons and Taxi. Some shows have a closed set. You have to get written permission to bring a relative to the set, but not at Taxi. The rehearsals at Taxi were open. We had all kinds of people there. Jim would ask the crowd, “What do you think of this?” He was so open to hearing their opinions and then of course, it would go through the Jim Brooks’ filter and be so much better. He would take their opinions and process them. I learned so much from him about that.
If you don't take in other people's opinions, you never change, you never grow. You can put it through your own filter afterwards, but hear what they have to say.
11. You worked with John Travolta in the late 70s and then again in the mid-80s. You also worked with Mr. Burt Reynolds in the early 80s and then again in the 90s on Evening Shade. I never lost contact with them even though we didn't work together in between projects. I was with Johnny not only in the first national company of Grease and then Over Here and then later did Chains of Gold, but we dated on and off during that time. I never lost contact with him.
With Burt, I didn’t lose touch with him during those years because I worked with him in ‘83 and ‘85 and ‘90. We called each other on Birthdays and things like that. I was always in his life.
Adam Vanek, Marilu Henner and Julius Williams in The Marilu Henner Show
at Bucks County Playhouse, Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
12. When you worked with them, did you have instant chemistry with them or did it build up over time? Johnny is an incredible student of whatever part he has to play and the world that it lives in. He was so curious about the Chicago production of Grease. He was always asking me so many questions. We also bonded because we both had big families of six kids. We each had three sisters and two brothers. His mother taught drama. My mother taught dance. His father sold tires. My father sold cars. We had a lot of similarities and became friends through that and hung out a lot together before we started dating.
With Burt. Oh my God. That first day on the set [The Man Who Loved Women], we just had such chemistry. In fact, our scene meeting each other in The Man Who Loved Women was considered by Siskel and Ebert, one of the best meeting scenes. I just adore him. Burt was something else.
13. We have all gone through an extremely hard time with the global pandemic and continue to go through challenges as the world reopens. What are 3 things you do for yourself to get through the troubling times? I was very lucky because I went to Vancouver four times to shoot six movies. I shot four with Candace Cameron Bure and then I shot two others. During that time, I spent more time with Candace Cameron Bure than I did with my husband [laughs]. They were very strict in Canada. Any food I ordered from a grocery store or restaurant had to put it in front of my door, then the delivery person would knock on the door and I had to give them 30 seconds to get down the hallway, to the elevator, before I could open it.
But, anyway. I love to walk. So for one of the quarantines I did by myself at the hotel, I made a walking path in my room because I thought, I'm going to go crazy if I'm not going to see another human face for two weeks. So I made a path in my hotel room of 70 steps round trip, and I did between 11,000 and 13,000 steps a day.
I'm big on movement, my motto is motion is the lotion. That definitely helps. I think a certain meditation helps. I take care of myself and eat a certain way that works for me (learn to love the food that loves you). I gave up dairy products on August 15, 1979 (it was a Wednesday) and I consider that my first health birthday.
And I stay in contact with people, friend maintenance. Somebody said to me, “You are the queen of friend maintenance” and that’s a real compliment. I have a lot of people that I love and that love me. I'm very lucky to have a big, wonderful family and kids and good friends. So I think that helps.
In summary: Movement, food and people.
14. What is something we didn't get to discuss in this interview that you'd like my readers to know about you? How fabulous YOU are. This has been very collaborative. which I really like. I like interviews like this, so thank you for that.
I think my number one theory of life is “The key to your life is how well you deal with Plan B.” Plan A is what you hope for and dream about and try to structure your life around. Then plan B happens and you can either be dragged kicking and screaming to it, or maybe plan B is better than what you mocked up to begin with.
And because you, Adam, were so gracious about making adjustments to our schedule, I feel like we were really able to work well together. Our collaboration is a living embodiment of how everyone should collaborate with one another, because everything is a team effort.
Marilu Henner in The Marilu Henner Show at Bucks County Playhouse
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
More on Marilu Henner:
With the energy of a teenager, the wisdom of a sage, and the memory of a superhero, Marilu Henner has done it all! Along with starring in over fifty films, seven Broadway shows, and two hit classic sitcoms, Taxi and Evening Shade, this five-time Golden Globe Nominee is also a New York Times Best Selling author of ten books on health, parenting, memory, and lifestyle improvement.
Marilu has hosted and executive produced her own nationally syndicated talk shows (Marilu and Shape Up Your Life) and her own radio show, The Marilu Henner Show. As a two-time competitor on Celebrity Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice All-Stars, Marilu made it to the Final Five and played for The Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and the Alzheimer’s Association. She also competed on the 23rd season of Dancing with the Stars on ABC reaching the quarterfinals. Marilu currently co-stars with Candace Cameron Bure in the ongoing Hallmark Murders and Mysteries series Aurora Teagarden written by Charlaine Harris.
As one of only twelve people documented with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, Marilu was the subject of a three-part special on 60 Minutes and on 60 Minutes Australia, as well as news programs and newspaper articles around the globe. She also served as the consultant on the CBS series Unforgettable for all four seasons. Marilu has spoken before Congress on eight occasions on everything from dietary supplements, to women’s cardiovascular disease, to The Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, to deadbeat parents, to funding for Alzheimer’s. Marilu is a keynote speaker throughout the country on topics including memory, diet and fitness, women’s health issues, cardiovascular disease, cancer survival, and child rearing, as well as lifestyle, entertainment, and business organization strategies.
Marilu is thrilled to be back at Bucks County Playhouse where she first co-starred with Marsha Mason in The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife and with Christopher Durang in his Tony Award winning play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. She serves on the board of Playhouse Artists.