“It’s that ‘Mad Men’ sort of generation that got away with a lot of things. Women were just used to being discussed a certain way,” she says
Marilu Henner crashed through her glass ceiling on an all-male show in the ’70s.
The 65-year-old actress rose to fame as the only female lead on the ABC sitcom “Taxi” from 1978 to 1983 playing divorced single mom Elaine Nardo working as a sassy cab driver among the all-star male dominated cast of Danny DeVito, Tony Danza, Andy Kaufman, Christopher Lloyd and Jeff Conaway. In those days, she says, strong female roles for women in Hollywood were a lot harder to come by — and women felt pressure to behave in a certain way to keep their jobs.
“I think it’s hard for women. Especially back then I think they got into a situation where they were finally given a job and they wanted to seem like one of the guys so they played that game rather than being any kind of pioneer.”
The Chicago native, who was in the original production of the musical “Grease” in 1971, and dated John Travolta on and off, cut her teeth on acting during the golden age of American television when shows like “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley” were at their prime. After “Taxi,” she went on to star in films like “The Man Who Loved Women,” “Noises Off” and the CBS sitcom “Evening Shade.” In her early career, long before the #MeToo movement, she says she experienced some instances that would never be tolerated today.
“The first time I was on ‘The Tonight Show’ with Johnny Carson I walked out and I had a beautiful silk blouse on and he went ‘Oh it’s cold backstage, huh?’ You would never see that now. That’s like crazy. It’s that ‘Mad Men’ sort of generation that got away with a lot of things. Women were just used to being discussed a certain way; body parts being focused on. You knew that there were certain auditions where you were like ‘uh oh’ did they really have to crawl on all fours wearing a bikini? You just kind of took it for granted that that was okay. It’s becoming not okay.”
More recently, she, like many other actresses over 50 in Hollywood, has faced criticism for her age.
“You face ageism all the time. I always feel like me no matter what age I am,” Henner says.
In addition to acting, Henner carved out a secondary career in the health space after losing her mother, who died from complications of rheumatoid arthritis at 58. Since then, Henner, who partnered with health supplement company Youngevity, has penned 10 books, including “Total Health Makeover,” and one about her remarkable autobiographical memory which allows her to remember exactly what she was doing on any given day of the week in the past.
“I knew I was never going to be exclusively an actress,” Henner admits.
Long before lifestyle actresses-turned-wellness-gurus like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Alba started preaching about superfoods and detoxes, Henner cut out dairy, gluten, soda, sugar, meat and caffeine from her diet and started a vegan lifestyle decades ago and says people told her she was crazy for doing it.
“I was cupping and skin brushing in the ’70s!” she quips.
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