Published in KPBS On Air Magazine December 2000
“Passion equals energy,” proclaims Marilu Henner. And it’s a good thing, too. Henner has so many passions, she needs a passel of energy to accomplish everything. In 48 years, she’s achieved more than most people imagine for their whole family!
Henner has been a Broadway star, a TV and film actress, a singer, a dancer, a mother, a teacher, a talk-show host and a writer of bestsellers (5 so far, 8 more on the way). Her days and weeks aren’t actually longer than anyone else’s, but she only sleeps five hours a night, and she does most of her writing from 11pm-2am, after she comes offstage. “Theater and writing go together perfectly,” she chirps. Right now, she’s on the road, starring in a 7-month national touring production of Annie Get Your Gun (at the Civic Theatre, December 12-17).
While many dread the grueling 8-performance-a-week schedule of bus-and-truck productions, Henner actually chose the tour over the Broadway Annie Get production. “I had already done Broadway, as the first replacement for Annie Reinking in Chicago,” said the effervescent Henner. “I hadn’t been on tour for 27 years, since I was 20, right out of college and into the first national tour of Grease. I had this romantic notion of touring, and I wanted to show my kids the country.”
Since she’s written three health books (all making it to the New York Times bestseller list), she wanted “to see what American is eating, what its health is like, what its fitness is like.” And she found “it wasn’t as bad as I expected.” On the subject of health, Henner is (what else?) passionate. Her mission: to get the world to stop eating milk products. “To make a long story short,” she says, “dairy is bovine slime. If people gave up dairy products, the world would be a better place.”
Her most recent book, “I Refuse to Raise a Brat,” (co-authored with psychoanalyst Dr. Ruth Velikovsky Sharon) is about childrearing. On that subject, her terse advice: “‘No’ is a complete sentence.” Which is to say, she’s vehemently opposed to parental negotiating, bargaining, pleading or idle threats. So far so good on the home front, but her kids are still only 4 1/2 and 6. Meanwhile, on tour, late at night, she’s been working on her next book, “Healthy Kids from Conception to College,” and giving online classes at her website, marilu.com.
Henner, best known from “Taxi” and “Evening Shade,” also played Molly Brown in the miniseries “Titanic,” which was created by her husband, director-producer Robert Lieberman. Her other TV appearances have included her “Marilu” talk show and the documentary “We’re Having a Baby,” during which her own actual birth and delivery were televised. She and her husband formed a production company which produced “Medicine Ball,” an offbeat FOX series, and a CBS Movie of the Week, “Abandoned and Deceived.” Her film work has included “L.A. Story,” “Blood Brothers,” “Between the Lines,” “Johnny Dangerously,” “Perfect,” “The Man Who Loved Women,” “Noises Off” and she played herself in the Andy Kaufman story, “Man on the Moon.”
Now, she’s thrilled to be taking on the role of sharpshooter Annie Oakley, singing a spectacular score written in 1946 for the legendary Ethel Merman. “I’ve always loved the character,” she admits. “I love the tomboy aspect. As a kid, I hung with the guys. I was very athletic and very competitive. But there was always something feminine about me, too. I love the trip Annie takes [in the musical] from the backwoods to the ball.”
In the biggest Broadway success of Berlin’s and Merman’s career, set in the mid-1880s, Annie Oakley, an illiterate hillbilly from the Cincinnati area, demonstrates her remarkable marksmanship. As a result, she is persuaded (through the ever-convincing claim that “There’s No Business Like Show Business”) to join Col. Buffalo Bill’s traveling Wild West Show. Annie takes one look at Frank Butler, the show’s featured shooting ace, and falls madly in love. After competing with, out-shooting and then eclipsing him in the show (“Anything You Can Do,” “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly,” “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” “The Girl That I Marry”) she realizes that “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun.”
Henner’s sanguine about the controversial ‘politically correct’ changes that were made in the recent revival. “They smoothed out the rough edges, took out the Indians and changed the ending. It’s still spicy enough, though. It’s not bland. The main focus is the love story, which has a very contemporary feel. They’re two competitive characters. There’s a lot of heat and sexuality between them. But it’s still a family show.”
At the time that we spoke, she hadn’t yet started working with her replacement co-star, Tom Wopat (of “Cybill” and “The Dukes of Hazzard”), who plays her onstage lover in San Diego. Does she expect chemistry between them? “Four 1/2 years ago,” she confessed, “I did a ‘Cybill’ episode with him. I was 7 1/2 months pregnant. I had to kiss him. And I almost went into labor.”
©2000 Patté Productions Inc.