Few people can claim to possess a genuine "superpower." But just ask actress Marilu Henner how many childhood Christmases she recalls.
“I remember every Christmas in my life since I was 5 years old,” Henner said from her home in Los Angeles. While the 70-year-old actress is best known for her role in the popular late '70s/early '80s sitcom “Taxi,” Henner is equally renowned for her exceptional memory.
“It’s called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory and only a handful of people are known who have it,” said Henner, who is currently starring in the new Hallmark Channel holiday movie “A Kismet Christmas.” The rare condition allows Henner to instantly recall almost any day of her life in vivid detail.
Young Marilu first attended Chicago catholic schools before majoring in political science at the University of Chicago, but acting was her career destiny.
“I wanted to be an actor since I was 2½,” she recalled. “While I loved political science, I was drawn to performing — I went to dance school, got involved in school plays as well as local theater.”
Henner also credits her eclectic family for inspiring her creative spirit.
“I had this crazy but happy and wonderful childhood,” she said. “My mother ran a dance school in our backyard with 200 students between the ages of 2 and 80 including the nuns from our school who would come over for stretching classes. She also ran a beauty shop from the kitchen with about 25 neighborhood women clients, so the house always smelled like perm solution.”
An uncle, quite the character, resided upstairs.
“He lived with 10 cats, two dogs, two birds, a skunk, 150 fish, and his boyfriend Charles,” she said. “He taught art and held other classes after school. He was the neighborhood astrologist and ran a cat hospital on our roof!”
Henner’s parents were first-generation Americans with European roots, but she remembers celebrating very traditional American Christmases.
“We had Christmas trees, six in fact, at our house, including two decorated fir trees outside,” she said. “As a vegan, I haven’t eaten turkey since 1981, but my mother would always cook one for Christmas.”
Baking featured prominently not only in Henner’s childhood home, but in the actress’ new Hallmark Christmas movie scheduled to air four times in December (see hallmarkchannel.com for dates).
Henner plays Gramma Mia, keeper of a famous family recipe for kismet cookies which, if placed under one’s pillow, allows the sleeper to dream of their true love kismet — a Turkish word synonymous with destiny.
“My character is very nurturing with a certain wisdom and she’s always cooking, like me,” said Henner. “We filmed in Victoria (Canada) and had some scenes in traditional Dickens-like costumes which was fun.”
The movie’s screenplay was written by Betsey Morris, based on an adaptation of Lori Wilde’s novel, “The First Love Cookie Club.”
“I couldn’t be happier with the way the movie turned out,” said Wilde. “Honestly, I cried when I watched it. The actors completely brought my characters to life and Marilu was brilliant — just how I imagined Gramma Mia would be.”
“How can you not love Marilu in any part?” adds screenwriter Morris. “She brought such a warm energy to the role. When she opened her arms to hug people, it felt like she was hugging them with her whole heart.”
“I’ve done 27 movies for Hallmark, including five with holiday themes, as well as 18 ‘Aurora Teagarden Mysteries’ for the channel,” said Henner, who has also authored 10 books and traveled the country with her one-woman stage show sharing her career story and ‘superpower.’
“I do a tribute to ‘Taxi’ and talk about working on Broadway,” she said. “I even let the audience give me dates and I’ll tell them what happened on those days.”
While she’s performed the show 40 times since March 2020 when the pandemic started, Henner says she’s never found a venue in her hometown.
“I’d love to bring it to Chicago and have tried, but keep getting told there's no local theater that does that kind of club act now which is hard to believe,” she says. “I’m hopeful it will happen one day because the show is a blast.”
The prospect of returning home to share her achievements remains a goal Henner seems determined to achieve; when it happens, you might even call it kismet.
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, in Alabama, and has written features, columns, and interviews for numerous magazines and newspapers. See getnickt.org.
This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Marilu Henner's 27th film for Hallmark and her one-woman show