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A vivacious red-haired actress known for her Midwestern sass, Marilu Henner starred in several Broadway plays like "Grease" before landing her career-defining role of tough New York cabbie Elaine Nardo on the classic sitcom "Taxi" (ABC, 1978-1983). Although Henner was never nominated for an Emmy Award for her work on the series, she was made an honorary New York cabbie and achieved through this one series, television immortality as the only female in a legendary ensemble cast. A popular fixture of tabloids for relationships with famous men like John Travolta, everyone's favorite guy's gal parlayed her sitcom success by co-starring in feature films like the campy favorite "Johnny Dangerously" (1984) and "Perfect" (1985) and guest-starring on innumerable television shows throughout the 1980s and into the next decade. She also parlayed her interest in health and fitness into a new career, co-writing Marilu Henner's Total Health Makeover in 1998 and continuing to churn out nonfiction healthy-lifestyle titles over the next several years. In addition to her viability as a health guru, her acting career flourished in the 1990s and into the millennium, during which time she played Burt Reynolds's wife on...
A vivacious red-haired actress known for her Midwestern sass, Marilu Henner starred in several Broadway plays like "Grease" before landing her career-defining role of tough New York cabbie Elaine Nardo on the classic sitcom "Taxi" (ABC, 1978-1983). Although Henner was never nominated for an Emmy Award for her work on the series, she was made an honorary New York cabbie and achieved through this one series, television immortality as the only female in a legendary ensemble cast. A popular fixture of tabloids for relationships with famous men like John Travolta, everyone's favorite guy's gal parlayed her sitcom success by co-starring in feature films like the campy favorite "Johnny Dangerously" (1984) and "Perfect" (1985) and guest-starring on innumerable television shows throughout the 1980s and into the next decade. She also parlayed her interest in health and fitness into a new career, co-writing Marilu Henner's Total Health Makeover in 1998 and continuing to churn out nonfiction healthy-lifestyle titles over the next several years. In addition to her viability as a health guru, her acting career flourished in the 1990s and into the millennium, during which time she played Burt Reynolds's wife on the popular CBS sitcom "Evening Shade" (1990-1994) and appeared as one of the more respectable contestants on "Celebrity Apprentice" (NBC, 2004- ). One of the few actresses who could be both beautiful and just 'one of the guys,' Henner's unique appeal helped make her one of the more admired television stars of her generation.
Although the actress was born Mary Lucy Denise Pudlowski in Chicago, IL on April 6, 1952, "Henner" was not a stage name she chose; her car salesman father, Joseph, and her uncle changed the family name for business purposes - probably in an effort to sound less ethnic, as was often the case in less tolerant times. The third of six children in a Greek/Polish household, Henner was two years old when she took her first dance lesson at the studio her mother, Loretta, president of the National Association of Dance and Affiliated Arts, ran out of the family's garage for 20 years. After graduating from Madonna High School in 1970, Marilu enrolled at the University of Chicago, abandoning her studies not long after to originate the role of Marty in the pre-Broadway Kingston Mines' production of "Grease" in 1971. The actress turned down a role for a Broadway run of the hit musical in order to continue as Marty on a national tour over the next few years, during which time she carried on a very public romance with her then unknown co-star John Travolta, who played the goofy Greaser, Doody. Henner did, however, join the Broadway production once the tour ended.
In 1974, Henner appeared in the Tony Award-winning musical ''Over Here!'', a World War II spoof starring the Andrews Sisters that also featured future stars Travolta, Treat Williams, Samuel E. Wright and Ann Reinking. Henner then appeared in the 1976 revival of another Broadway musical comedy, "Pal Joey," starring Dixie Carter. It was a part as a topless dancer with which Henner scored her first feature film role in "Between the Lines" (1977), a largely forgotten picture critics called "odd" and "underappreciated" at turns. Directed by Joan Micklin Silver and chronicling the hijinks of the staff of a Boston-set alternative weekly newspaper, Henner co-starred with then-unknowns Jeff Goldblum, John Heard, Bruno Kirby and Jill Eikenberry. In 1978, she appeared in Robert Mulligan's ambitious Oscar-nominated drama "Bloodbrothers" with Richard Gere, Paul Sorvino and Tony Lo Bianco. During this period, she also appeared in around 30 television commercials - in everything from Fruit of the Loom to Schlitz beer and becoming the singing-dancing "Samsonite Luggage Girl." The starlet also tried her hand as a "celebrity" panelist in several episodes of "Match Game" (NBC) in 1978.
Winning the part of Elaine O'Connor-Nardo (the character's nationality was changed to Irish after the red-haired Henner was cast) on the James L. Brooks Emmy Award-winning TV comedy "Taxi" was the role that made Henner a household name. Playing a gutsy divorced mother of two, Henner brought equal amounts sweetness and sexuality to her role as a New York City cabbie, and held her own in a male-dominated cast that included Danny DeVito, Tony Danza, Judd Hirsch, Christopher Lloyd and Jeff Conaway. The series won 18 Emmys in its five-year run and was nominated for several others. In her memoir, By All Means Keep on Moving, Henner was candid about her romances with many of her "Taxi" co-stars. She dated Tony Danza during the show's first season, before beginning a relationship with Judd Hirsch a year later in 1979. Although it was written of Henner that she slept with virtually all of her male co-stars, DeVito was mentioned in her book as an exception. Perpetually upbeat, Henner shared lighthearted anecdotes about working with her "Taxi" co-stars, telling fans "[In the episode] 'Shut It Down, Pt. 2' - where Danny [DeVito] takes me on a date - to avoid laughing when he said 'stallion,' I purposefully slept with painful boots on the night before so I would give myself a stomachache the next day. Believe me, I had to go to great pains not to crack up on 'Taxi.''' Despite five consecutive years of nominations, Henner never picked up a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe Award for her work.
Near the end of the sitcom's run, Henner met her first husband, Frederic Forrest who co-starred with her in "Hammett" in 1982. Executive produced by Francis Ford Coppola and directed by Wim Wenders, the sleeper hit about pulp novelist Dashiell Hammett also starred Peter Boyle and Elisha Cook, Jr. Many considered Henner's role as Kit Conger to be the most interesting of her career, although the film was plagued with production troubles throughout shooting. Henner and Forest married in 1980 after a six-month courtship; they divorced in 1982. The actress experienced mixed success co-starring in several comedies through the remainder of the 1980s. Blake Edwards cast Henner in his Burt Reynolds vehicle "The Man Who Loved Women" (1983), a tepidly received film also starring Julie Andrews and featuring Kim Basinger and Sela Ward. Henner played Michael Keaton's love interest, Lil, in the over-the-top 1920s gangster comedy "Johnny Dangerously" (1984) and appeared in "Rustler's Rhapsody" (1985), both of which bombed, though the former became something of a cult favorite for Generation X. Henner was also bestowed cringe-inducing Razzie nominations for her work in "Cannonball Run II" (1984) with Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise and for her performance in 1985's embarrassing fitness club drama "Perfect," which also starred Jamie Lee Curtis and old flame Travolta.
Henner retreated to TV roles for a bit, making guest appearances on the new "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (NBC, 1985-89) in 1985 and on former co-star Tony Danza's hit sitcom "Who's the Boss?" (ABC, 1984-1992) in 1986, as well as starring in the made-for-TV movies "Love with the Perfect Stranger" (CBS, 1986), "Ladykillers" (ABC, 1988) and "Channel 99" (NBC, 1988), directed by "Taxi" creator James Burrows. Henner also returned to the stage around this time, stepping in for Marlo Thomas to play Barbara Kahn in "Social Security" (1986), directed by Mike Nichols and also starring Olympia Dukakis. At the tail end of the 1980s, Henner made an infamous guest appearance on "Later with Bob Costas" (NBC, 1988-1994). After telling Costas that she has hyperthymesia or "hyperthymestic syndrome," a condition where the affected have a superior autobiographical memory, he asked Henner what she had been doing July 20, 1969 when the Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Flustered, the actress recalled that she had lost her virginity that night in the shower, an interview clip subsequently included in many "best of" "Later" specials. Teaming up with Burt Reynolds again - this time on TV - as his co-star on the popular series "Evening Shade" (CBS, 1990-1994) re-established Henner's prominence. She also made something of a feature film comeback with supporting roles in some successful early 1990s comedies, including the well-received "L.A. Story" with Steve Martin (1991) and Peter Bogdonavich's "Noises Off " (1992), starring Carol Burnett and Michael Caine, which was regarded by critics as uneven but funny nonetheless.
With Jim Jerome, Henner co-wrote a tell-all memoir to end all tell-alls, By All Means Keep on Moving,, published in 1994. In it, the uninhibited actress described her many love affairs, her short-lived marriage to Forrest and how the deaths of her parents and reduced work opportunities as a middle-aged actress prompted her to learn all she could about healthy diets, which led her to macrobiotic veganism. Henner continued to publish books touting healthy eating and positive thinking, including Marilu Henner's Total Health Makeover, The 30-Day Total Health Makeover, I Refuse to Raise a Brat, Healthy Life Kitchen, Healthy Kids, Party Hearty and Wear Your Life Well. Having married second husband, producer-director Robert Lieberman in 1990 and given birth to sons Nicholas and Joseph, the never shy actress revealed details of her personal life in a documentary about the birth of her second son, "We're Having a Baby!" (1996). The ABC special followed Henner during her pregnancy until she delivered Joseph. Lieberman executive produced the only season of Henner's ill-fated talk show, "Marilu" (syndicated, 1994-95).
Broadway beckoned again in the late 1990s, and Henner received rave reviews as Roxie Hart in "Chicago" (1996) and also starred in a 1999 production of "Annie Get Your Gun" after replacing Bernadette Peters in the title role. Soon after, Henner took over for Michelle Lee in a production of "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife" (2000-02). In 1999, Henner joined most of her former co-stars in an uncredited appearance in a "Taxi" recreation scene in Milos Forman's celebrated film "Man on the Moon," the biopic of comedian Andy Kaufman, as portrayed by Jim Carrey. At the turn of the millennium, she also acted in the made-for-TV movie "Gone But Not Forgotten" (2004), as well as guested on "Greg the Bunny" (Fox, 2002- ) and "Providence" (NBC, 1999-2002) in 2002. After appearing as herself in 16 episodes of the new "Hollywood Squares" (syndicated, 1999-2004), Henner continued to pop up on reality TV shows. She hosted "America's Ballroom Challenge" (PBS, 2006-07) and competed on "Dancing with the Stars" (ABC, 2005- ) in 2006 and "The Celebrity Apprentice" (NBC, 2004- ) in 2008. The following year, Henner played the very last patient on the finale of the venerable NBC series "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009). After guest appearances on a number of popular TV procedurals and comedies, Henner returned to the "Celebrity Apprentice" fold after being announced as one of Donald Trump's "All-Stars" who would compete in 2013.
By Virginia Pelley
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