Smashing Interviews Magazine

Compelling People — Interesting Lives



June 2016



Marilu Henner Interview: Beloved Actress Stars in Hallmark's "Three Bedrooms, One Corpse: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery”

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Marilu Henner

Five-time Golden Globe nominee, Marilu Henner, is returning to Hallmark Movies & Mysteries in the original movie, Three Bedrooms, One Corpse: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery, alongside Candace Cameron Bure. This is the third movie in the “Aurora Teagarden” franchise, which is based on the books by #1 New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris. Three Bedrooms, One Corpse premieres Sunday, June 12, 2016.

A Chicago native, Henner is a beloved actress who has appeared in more than 30 films, 6 Broadway shows and two hit classic sitcoms, Taxi and Evening Shade. She is also a New York Times bestselling author of nine books on health, parenting, memory and lifestyle improvement. Her latest book, Changing Normal, chronicles her husband’s unique path from cancer to health.

“I think Hallmark is very good at picking a brand and a certain quality product that they can explore. You get to know the characters, and it does become kind of a little repertoire company for the actors. With the other Hallmark movies, there’s always something a little quirky and interesting about them. But you know there’s going to be a happy ending because it’s Hallmark, of course.”

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Three Bedrooms, One Corpse, is the third installment in the “Aurora Teagarden” series?

Marilu Henner: This is the third installment, right. I hope we just keep doing them and doing them. We did number 4, so I guess that’ll be out in September. But this one was such a blast! It was a lot of fun even though the weather was bad. It’s interesting to see a movie with so much rain, but it sort of goes with the mood.

I think it’s really a well-written movie. It’s always great to be with the same people. We’re like a little repertoire company now. I just adore Candace Cameron Bure. I call her my little birthday present because she and I have the same birthday.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Candace plays Aurora, and you play Aida, Aurora’s mom. How would you describe the relationship between the two of you?

Marilu Henner: We live in a small town, and I am kind of like the real estate maven, so I know everything that goes on. I’ve been there for a long time, and everybody sort of looks up to me. I have this daughter who is described in the book as kind of a mousy librarian, but Candace is anything but mousy. She’s very studious, very into mysteries and crime-solving and belongs to a club called the Real Murders club.

One of the other members is a man that I’m dating, and I can’t stand that the two of them are constantly involved in these crime-solving puzzles. When they’re having meetings, it always seems like there’s a murder in town (laughs). My husband says, “There’s a lot of murder in that small town. Must be hard to sell property.” (laughs) I don’t like that my daughter’s involved in it, and I’m always trying to fix her up with people or get her married. I feel very protective of her.

With this particular movie, a fellow real estate agent is killed, and then a second one is killed, so it’s very close to home. Some of my people may be the guilty ones, or they might be targeted as the next victims. She’s worried that I might be targeted. I can’t stand that she’s involved in these crimes. It’s kind of a mother/daughter struggle. This is a really good one for the two of us and our relationship, so I’m excited for people to see it. I think it furthers our relationship and explains it a little more.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve done other Hallmark movies as well as these mysteries. What do you like about them?

Marilu Henner: I’ve done the mysteries and some of the Hallmark Christmas movies, which aren’t mysteries. With the mysteries, I’m always surprised at who the killer is when I’m reading it as an actor, and I think there’s a good yarn to it. I like the way Charlaine Harris writes. The characters are very colorful, and they have complicated relationships, which I really like. There’s that.

I think Hallmark is very good at picking a brand and a certain quality product that they can explore. You get to know the characters, and it does become kind of a little repertoire company for the actors. With the other Hallmark movies, there’s always something a little quirky and interesting about them. But you know there’s going to be a happy ending because it’s Hallmark, of course.

They’re an incredible company to work with. Michelle Vicary is just a genius, and she’s so wonderful. She’s just one of these people who picks good material, and she’s become a personal friend of mine because she’s so accessible and just has a great style and focus about her work. It’s a wonderful company to work for, first of all. Then the stories are always interesting, and I think that’s because they’re female centric.

It’s really fun to play the female characters that Hallmark seems to gravitate toward. There’s always something a little different and intelligent. There’s always something a little bit special about the Hallmark women, the female characters.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You studied Political Science in college, so what changed your focus to acting?

Marilu Henner: Well, this is what happened. I grew up in a dancing school in Chicago. My family owned a dancing school. My mother always wanted to teach dancing, so my father had a fake garage built in the backyard. It was never used as a garage. It didn’t even have a real door on it or anything. It just looked like a garage. You weren’t supposed to have anything like commercial property, but the Alderman’s kids took dancing, so no one ever turned us in.

Our dance studio was used as a polling place. My mother was the precinct captain, and that’s where they set up the polling booths and stuff. Anyway, we had this dancing school in our backyard. Two hundred students from the neighborhood from the ages of two to 80 came there including the nuns from the Catholic school next door who came over for “stretch” classes. We sort of had backstage passes to Catholicism because we were very close to the Catholic church and went to school at St. John Berchmans, and then the nuns would come over for “stretch” classes.

My mother would also go to the convent and cut their hair. If being a dance teacher wasn’t enough for my mother, she also ran a beauty salon. We had our kitchen set up like a beauty shop. In fact, where the refrigerator was supposed to sit, there was a blue hair drying chair instead, and the refrigerator was on the way to the basement. You had to go downstairs to get food because the blue hair drying chair sat in the kitchen (laughs).

That still wasn’t enough for my family because upstairs from us lived my uncle with 10 cats, two dogs, two birds, a skunk, 150 fish and his boyfriend, Charles. He was the art teacher, and he also did astrology readings for the neighborhood. He ran a cat hospital on the roof. While the dancing school was going on in the backyard and the beauty shop was going on in the kitchen, my uncle also had after-school art classes going on upstairs.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Wow, just a bevy of activity!

Marilu Henner: When people ask me, “How exciting is it to be in show business?” I always say, “Are you kidding? Growing up was a lot more exciting than show business ever was because there was always so much going on in my household!” Growing up, I was a very good student, and I have an unusual memory so I was able to retain a lot of information. Everybody in my family were fabulous students.

Because of the dancing school and because I was so involved in the arts that way, local theaters, local colleges or high schools would call the dancing school and say, “We need 12 kids for The King and I.” I would say, “Pick me! Pick me!” My sister would choreograph because she was one of the dancing teachers, and with 6 kids, as soon as you were 14, you taught a class. All through high school, I had extra money by teaching dancing.

I wanted to be an actress from the time I was two years old, and I sang and danced. I always saw myself as having a career in show business, but I wanted to go to the best school I could possibly go to, plus my father passed away when I was a senior in high school. I knew I was either going to go straight to Broadway, or I was going to go to the best school I could in Chicago. Of course, the University of Chicago is one of the best in the country. I got 4 scholarships to go to school there, so everything was paid for, and I started there, but they didn’t have a theatre major, so I was a political science major.

I left in my third year to become a professional actress because I was literally a college student in the morning and a professional actress in the afternoon. My high school friend and somebody I knew from community theatre wrote this show called Grease, so we performed it. I was in the original company way before Broadway or the movie or anything. I was in the original company of Grease, and when the show went to Broadway, they asked some of us to go with it. I didn’t think it was going to be a hit, plus I was starting at the University of Chicago, so I turned it down. Then, in my third year of college, I ended up auditioning for it and got the job. That’s what started me on my career.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That’s a great story.

Marilu Henner: (laughs) Thank you. Literally, I was on my way to classes one morning, and Jim Jacobs, the writer of Grease, called me and said, “Henner, we’re starting a national company today. You’re going to kick yourself if you don’t come to New York and audition.” I said, “Jim, I have two papers due. I’m on my way to the library right now!” He said, “You’re going to be sorry. We start auditioning tomorrow.” I said, “I’m so sorry!” I hung up the phone, I walked to the library, and my car happened to be parked in front of the library. I thought, “That never happens. Is that a sign?”

I looked at my car. I looked at the library. I looked at my car. I looked at the library, threw my books in the car, went to the airport, got a student standby ticket, went to New York, auditioned and got the job. Jim said, “You’ve got to be here for the first rehearsal tomorrow.” I called my mother and said, “Mom, I’m not at school. I’m in New York. I just auditioned for the national company of Grease, and I’m going to do it.” She’s like, “Oh, Mary, I’m so happy!” She really wanted me to be an actress. They gave me 15 hours to go home, pack up my life, and that was it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): We do have to talk about Taxi!

Marilu Henner: Oh, gosh, yes!

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You starred in a hit series so early in your career. How did you handle the fame at the time?

Marilu Henner: It’s so funny that you are saying that because I’ve been thinking a lot about the beginning of Taxi. Basically, what happened is I was living in New York because I was on Broadway doing shows. Then I started getting a television contract, and I auditioned for a movie, which brought me out to Los Angeles. There was a casting director who really liked me, and he kept bringing me into things. His name was Joel Thurm.

What they wanted for Taxi was a 35-year-old Italian New Yorker. I was 25 and a Polish/Greek girl from Chicago. My character, Elaine, was supposed to have a 16-year-old daughter, and I was biologically too young to have a 16-year-old daughter. But he kept bringing me in for Elaine because he thought I was somebody that seemed she could hold her own with the guys, could drive a cab at night and was interested in the art world. They liked me and liked the kind of sparkiness I had with the different guys they brought in to audition with me.

They finally said, “Okay. We’re going to hire Marilu, but we’ll give her two little kids.” They gave me two little kids who were still too old for me, but it didn’t matter. I never had a thing about playing my age or older or whatever. The interesting thing about Taxi is that my father died when I was a senior in high school, and within months of his dying, I got into the University of Chicago, which was so important to him for me to have that kind of education.

I got Taxi two weeks after my mother passed away, so I always felt like that was her dream for me to be on television and to be an actress. Anyway, so I got Taxi. People always ask me, “When did you know that Taxi was going to be a hit? When did you feel your life was going to change?” Well, we were off for two weeks. We had done 7 episodes, then we were off for two weeks so the writers could catch up.

Long story short, I was with John Travolta. We were in Europe opening the movie Grease. We came back through New Orleans to go to the Ali/Spinks fight. The Ali/Spinks fight was on September 15, 1978, Friday, and my Taxi guys were there as well because they all were going to go to the fight. The group of us were walking down the street. John wasn’t with us. I was hanging out with the Taxi guys. We were walking down the street, all the Taxi guys and I, and the show had just premiered three days before on September 12, on Tuesday night.

We were walking down the street, and all of a sudden, people started honking and honking and honking their horns at us. We all looked at each other going, “Oh, my, our lives are about to change!” It’s funny because Muhammad Ali just passed away, so I’ve been thinking about that story this week, and now you’re asking me this question.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you meet Ali?

Marilu Henner: The night after the fight, we all had dinner in a private dining room, not the Taxi guys, but John Travolta and me, my brother and his girlfriend and a few of the people who were working with John, Muhammad Ali and his wife at the time, Veronica. It was just a small group, like 12 of us at dinner the night after that fight. I did get to meet him, and I did get to dance with him. It is such a sweet memory.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How do you feel about having highly superior autobiographical memory?

Marilu Henner: Do you have blue or brown eyes?

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Blue.

Marilu Henner: Okay. That’s like saying, “What is it like to have blue eyes?” It’s like, I don’t know anything different. I only know my memory because I was born with this kind of memory. It’s unusual. My family knew it was unusual when I was a little child. People would come to the house and say, “What’s with that kid and her memory? She knows the date of when I was here last time, what I was wearing and everything else.” (laughs)

I knew at 6 years old. I would put myself to sleep at night saying, “Okay. What did I do exactly a year ago in kindergarten? What did I do when I was exactly my little brother Lorin’s age?” I would sort of time travel in my head and do a little meditation. My family called me “Miss Memory,” “Memory Kid,” “Memory Girl” and “UNIVAC,” which is the old computer. People who knew me knew I had an unusual memory. They’d say, “The place we went to, when was that?” I became the family historian and the historian for my friends. Even as my circle got wider and wider, people would say, “She’s got a very unusual memory.” Anybody who knew me knew this about me.

When 60 Minutes was approached for the story about the woman who had come forth saying she had an unusual memory, they had done all this testing on her and they never seen anything like it. They were offered the story, but Lesley Stahl’s a good friend of mine, so she said to them, “Hate to burst your bubble. She’s not the only one. My friend, Marilu Henner, has the same memory, so I guess it’s not that unusual.” She passed on the story.

Diane Sawyer picked up the story for Primetime Live, but then three years later, Leslie call me and said, “Okay. It is unusual. They’ve only found 4 people so far. You’re going to be number 5.” Then they found a number 6, so they did the story on 60 Minutes. Since that time, the number is still only in the 50s.

There’s a gradient of how intense it is for some people. Some people are in the 99the percentile, some people are in the 65th percentile. I’m in the 99th with a small group of people. It’s an unusual memory, but I can’t imagine not having it, and it serves me well. You’d have to talk to my husband to find out how annoying it is for him (laughs). He says, “What man ever wins an argument against his wife anyway? At least, I have an excuse.” (laughs) Okay. Give me a date.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): My 16th birthday was November 14, 1971.

Marilu Henner: Do you remember what day of the week it was?

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It may have been a Saturday because there was a party.

Marilu Henner: Your birthday was on a Sunday that year, but you might’ve had the party on Saturday. I remember what I was doing. I had a new boyfriend at the time, and we had a fun day in the city of Chicago because I was in college at the time, and I was running around with my new boyfriend.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That’s just remarkable, and what is also amazing is your husband’s journey with cancer. Why did you decide to write a book about it?

Marilu Henner: First of all, I’ve been writing books for a while. This is my 10th book. Here’s the story. Michael and I knew each other in college at the University of Chicago. We were college freshmen together, and he was my dorm mate’s boyfriend. She was later my roommate even after they split up. But I didn’t give a look in his direction because of the girlfriend code. I just thought he was this great guy. We double dated, and they even came to see me in the first incarnation of Grease. He was just this wonderful guy, and then they split up the second year, so he was kind of the enemy on campus, but I’d wave across the quadrangle.

Years later, as I said, I was a professional actress and came out to Hollywood. I was about to marry my first husband, Frederic Forrest, in a courthouse in New Orleans. I was getting a marriage license to marry him that weekend and ran into Michael in the courthouse far from the University of Chicago, and he was basically just crossing through. I was in a room, looked out and I said, “What are you doing here?” He said, “I’m living here now with my wife and kids.” I said, “I’m getting married this weekend.” He walked away from me, and I thought, “Oh, man. How come I’m not marrying a man like that?”

It didn’t bode well for my first marriage. I was with him for two years. In the 2nd marriage, I was with him for almost 17 years. I had two fabulous sons. Six months after my second divorce was final, out of nowhere, Michael calls me. I mean, literally out of nowhere. We had not seen each other in 22 years, and I couldn’t believe he was calling me. I kept thinking, “Is it a reunion dinner? Is it a date?” I always say that the first 4 ½ hours was the reunion dinner, then the second 4 ½ hours was making out in my kitchen, so it was definitely a date.

Within a week, we’re saying “I love you. We’re going to spend the rest of our lives together.” Two months into our relationship, he’s diagnosed with Stage 2-3 bladder cancer, and a month and a half later, he’s diagnosed with lung cancer. We tell stories in the book about how I wanted to take him to my doctors, but we went to see first what a typical doctor would say.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who are your doctors?

Marilu Henner: My doctors are integrative medicine doctors who will always work at helping the body heal. They look at you holistically and at every single thing you’re doing in terms of a health history, some of the habits you have, the food you eat, your exercise and stress management. Anyway, we went to a typical doctor first, and the opening chapter of the book is called, “This is Your Lucky Day.”

We literally walked into the number one bladder guy’s office out here in LA, and he said, “This is your lucky day. I have a cancellation on Wednesday. I’m going to go in, take out the bladder and take out the prostate. I’m going to make a neobladder out of his intestines. We’ll pull down his intestines and make a neobladder.” There was this horrified look on our faces. He said, “Oh, don’t worry if you two want to have sex. We’re just going to run a small hose up his penis, and when you want to have sex, you just pump it 6 times.” I said, “Well, can we have the 7-pump model because we’re a sexy couple?” Then I said, “What about nutrition, health, detox?” He said, “Go have all the steak and highballs you want.” I said, “Okay. Bye. We’ll let you know about Wednesday.”

We walked to the parking lot, and Michael said, “I’m not losing my organs like that.” I said, “I don’t think you have to.” We went to see my doctors, and the book’s about the journey we took that first year of our relationship to bring him back to health and to boost his immune system rather than suppress it, to save his organs rather than destroy them.

Both cancers were in remission within that year. That was 12 ½ years ago. He’s been in remission 12 ½ years. The book is called Changing Normal: How I Helped My Husband Beat Cancer. Happy to say, he didn’t lose his organs. He didn’t have to do chemo or radiation and no pump necessary. But so many people don’t want to change their normal. They don’t want to look at some of the habits they might have that might be exacerbating a cancerous condition. We were getting some pushback on it, but I don’t care. It’s the truth. This is what happened. This is what we did.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That’s a strong argument for alternative medicine.

Marilu Henner: I keep calling it “complimentary” instead of alternative because they work together. He did immunotherapy, which is very AMA, and he did some other AMA things, but he didn’t do all of the really radical stuff. I really do believe we’re going to look back on this as the dark ages where we’ll say, “Wait! We used to burn, cut, poison people, suppress their immune systems and expect them to heal. What were we thinking?”

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What else is going on with you, Marilu?

Marilu Henner: I have the radio show I’m going back to, but I’m taking a break because of the book tour. The book’s been great because it made the New York Times bestseller list, and it also made the Publisher’s Weekly list. It was number one on Amazon the second day it was out, so that’s going well. I’m starting to write the next book.

We’re going to be doing another “Aurora” movie. We’ve got number 4 in the can, so number 5 and possibly number 6 will be done later this year. I’m in a Broadway show, but waiting on a theatre. It’s called Gettin’ the Band Back Together. We’ll find out if we get a theatre in the winter or spring of next year. I have a deal with the Food Network, so I’m doing some specials for them. I’m keeping busy.

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  1. Vivian Navarro

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