An organized, healthy lifestyle is the key to Marilu Henner’s positive attitude

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
April 13, 2008

Phoning from her California home after her stint on “Celebrity Apprentice” was completed, Marilu Henner is in a chatty mood. Born and reared in Chicago, the actress best known for her work on “Taxi” gives a verbal high-five to her interviewer, whose accent she immediately recognizes as one from her hometown.

“Chicago girls are always recognizable, even over the phone,” she says with a throaty laugh. “We also talk really fast!”

This is especially true of Henner, who grew up in Chicago, graduated from the now defunct Madonna High School and attended the University of Chicago for a few years before quitting to tour with “Grease” (where she met and dated her co-star John Travolta).

These days, the actress has a successful career as an author. With several New York Times best sellers already under her slim belt, Henner is excited about her latest self-help book: Wear Your Life Well: Use What You Have to Get What You Want (Collins, $24.95). Co-written with her brother Lorin Henner, the book is easy to read and full of tips that range from common sense (“Mascara needs to be tossed out after three or four months”) to just a tad more esoteric (“Fall in love with your stress or it will kill you”). Still, the Henners have an easygoing writing style that isn’t judgmental and they include enough tidbits about Marilu’s life to keep nosy fans happy.

Q. How was it writing the book with your baby brother Lorin?

A. It was great. People have always said that we finish each other’s sentences all the time. We bounce off each other and get along really well, but we’re not afraid to fight for our points either. Where we have our biggest differences is in discussions about men and women … we have some Mars and Venus type of arguments. For instance, we fought a lot in the chapter about sex but he’s a real comedian and will always break an argument by calling me on things in funny ways. But it’s my book so I always win. [Laughs.]

Q. You have a reputation for being super organized. Do you live up to that reputation?

A. That’s completely true. A great vacation for me would be to have two weeks off to do nothing but organize. That would be heaven! I love to clean. I love to straighten up. If my kids want to stay up late or get some treat, they know that I’ll give in if they promise to clean or organize something with me. Give me a messy makeup drawer to organize and I purr.

Q. Is it true that as a child, you were considered smart with a great personality — but not exactly a looker?

A. My sisters were the beauty queens. I always was funny and had a good personality, which some people may even characterize as a bit odd. My kids get that from me. My son wants to go to the University of Chicago, where I went. There was a slogan up at U. of C.’s Web site once that said, “Where fun comes to die,” and you’d think that’d scare kids away, but he loved that. He gets it. I’d love for him to go to U. of C. I loved it there and had the best time.

Q. Why do so many people fail in their attempts to lead healthier lives?

A. Because they see it as a chore. Eating well and exercising for me aren’t things I do because I want to look better. They make me feel better. So I make a great, healthy meal and I’m excited ’cause I get to eat fresh veggies. Or I get to go to the gym and work out. For me, those are fun. I think people need to find out what works for them, which may not be the popular fad of the day.

Q. You have a fearless attitude about life, even with your children. Were there times when you thought you coddled them too much?

A. Not really, because I always felt like I wanted my kids to be of the world. I was one of six kids, so we were like cats in a bag. We had to fight for attention, but in a good way. I see some parents who want to protect their children to the point where the kids can’t get a sense of freedom. Sometimes the kids want to play in the sandbox with other kids rather than their moms — and that’s OK!

Q. What would you tell people who feel their lives haven’t turned out the way they wanted?

A. I talk about this in my book, but the key to your life is how you deal with Plan B. I could’ve been upset about so many things that have happened, but I refused to feel like a victim. I like to view it as a different kind of opportunity. I was lucky because I had parents who were real “lemonade stand” kind of parents. They took those lemons and made something wonderful with them.

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