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Penny Marshall talks cancer, abortion, reconciling with 'Laverne & Shirley co-star in new memoir

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Penny Marshall first gained fame as the lovable Laverne in the 70s classic "Laverne and Shirley" and then segued into a successful career behind the camera, directing blockbuster films like "Big" and "A League of their Own." The Bronx native, whose mother ran a dancing school, recounts it all in her new memoir, "My Mother Was Nuts." 

The 68-year-old grandmother of three has had a fascinating life and seems to be friends with literally everyone in Hollywood. Her life rules are, “try hard, help your friends, don’t get too crazy, and have fun.” 

FOX411: So was your mother really nuts?

Penny Marshall: She was very sarcastic which I didn’t know as a child, you don’t know that word until later. She lived for her dancing school and she hated my father and so I had the brunt of their dislike for each other. My brother and sister were planned. I was not planned. I was a mistake and told I was a mistake.

FOX411: Yet all three of you grew up to be very successful!

PM: Well we had to get a godd**n sense of humor! When you get talked to like that you either end up in a looney bin or you do something more damaging or you develop a sense of humor which we tended to do. When she was sarcastic about somebody else we laughed. So we developed a sense of humor.

FOX411: The ‘Laverne and Shirley’ set was famously dysfunctional.

PM: We did curse a lot. We weren’t cursing at each other. We were cursing at the writers. We complained a lot because we wanted better.

FOX411: You became estranged from Cindy Williams.

PM: We were not estranged during the show but then she got married. I was very happy. She was having a baby but Bill (Hudson her then husband) was a pain in the ass. He wanted to be a producer. So that’s what happened. But she was married and she thought he was being protective.

FOX411: But now you’ve made up.

PM: Oh yeah. She’s in New York. She was supposed to come up when I was in New York. I got home on Sunday night. I’m a little jet lagged. I went to Milwaukee. Then I rode to Chicago to get to a good flight to L.A.

FOX411: You must be a superstar in Milwaukee.

PM: Oh yeah they think I’m from there.

FOX411: The show is still so popular.

PM: Yeah! The economy is such, when we were on we were poor. We were poor girls. We worked in a brewery. We had to make five bucks to make the rent. That’s what’s going on the country now. We were before our time. So I think it still appeals because we were working class.

FOX411: You had an abortion when you were in your 40s.

PM: In 1963 I got pregnant. I had a kid. Abortion was illegal. I was 40 something years old. I had a kid already, my womb wasn’t crying out. I talked to my brother (Garry Marshall). We made the pros and cons. I had a kid already. Joe Pesci offered to be the father. I didn’t want to do that to him. It was more do I want this other person in my life, for the rest of my life.

FOX411: You had your daughter at 19. Did you have any idea what you were doing?

PM: No! I don’t think anyone knows, do you? We do the best we can. There’s no rules. When I grew up everyone played together. Now you’ve got all these mechanical doohickeys. I have a 20 year old grandson and I don’t think he knows how to talk to people. They don’t know how to make conversation so that worries me today. I don’t mind if somebody texts me but I’m not a big texter, the things are too small. I don’t mind if they text, ‘7 o’clock,’ that’s fine, that’s logistics but, ‘What’s up?’ Get real! Pick up a phone!

FOX411: How is your health these days?

PM: Well I had lung cancer and that mesta, whatever that word is (metastasized) on my brain. I felt no pain or anything by the way. The rags said I had liver cancer, I don’t drink! They made up s**t, I’m sorry about my language but I get pissed at these things. But I’m fine now.

FOX411: What’s your favorite film that you directed?

PM: Well they’re all different. The one they didn’t expect me to do was ‘Awakenings.’ They all looked at me like, ‘That’s not what she’s supposed to be doing.’ ‘Big,’ everyone wishes, ‘When I’m big I’m gonna....’ ‘Jumping Jack Flash,’ they hired me on a Friday and we started shooting on the Monday.

FOX411: ‘Big’ was hard to get made.

PM: It was in pre-production twice. Nobody wanted to do it because there were two other movies with the same premise coming out. So everyone turned it down. Hanks turned it down. So I said, ‘Let me go another way.’ So I called Bob DeNiro who I knew and he wanted to do a commercial film rather than Marty Scorsese films. Once he said yes now the world wanted to do it. So he gave me a credibility at the time when I didn’t have any. But who’s in every comedy today? Ok! I’m not an idiot and I knew Bob. He had a different sense of humor than Tom’s. I’d pay to see him dance on a piano.

FOX411: You’re best friends with Carrie Fisher.

PM: Carrie and I had these birthday parties for like 25 years because our birthdays are six days apart and we knew a lot of the same people. So we had these birthday parties and then it got to be a little too expensive.

FOX411: How much too expensive?

PM: $30,000. Waiters and the cooks and the things and the table rentals so it got to be just too much. I tried to get Marisa Tomei and the late Brittany Murphy to share a birthday party. They’re younger. (Producer) Art Linson said, ‘Why don’t you charge everyone 500 bucks?’ I don’t know quite how to do that. I can’t afford the parties.

FOX411: Oh please.

PM: Please, I haven’t done a movie since 2001.

FOX411: So what have you been living on?

PM: Well, residuals. A couple of TV things I directed.

FOX411: How come no more movies?

PM: Because I don’t do horror. I don’t do vampires. I don’t do car crashes and I don’t do people in big metal suits and that’s what sells overseas. I tell stories so only the independents do that and they don’t pay you that much. I’d rather do TV or an HBO movie.

FOX411: HBO would be perfect for you.

PM: Well I have a couple of scripts but I’ve just been busy with this book tour! In 2009 I got sick. I dodged a big bullet. I got it taken care of. I had to get some radiation. I could probably go live in Japan.

FOX411: Are you dating anyone?

PM: No, Lorraine Bracco always yells at me. I have the iPad, I got my clicker, my cell, I got papers all over the bed. She says, ‘No wonder you can’t sleep with anyone, there’s no room!’ So she always comes over and cleans up my bed.

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