Something is nagging at Marilu Henner and she’s itching to get it out. For half an hour she’s been sitting in her cramped, one-bedroom West Los Angeles apartment, gamely answering questions about her life and career. Her manner, as ever, is upbeat. Dressed casually, she exudes the good-time-girl sexuality that helped make Taxi’s five-season TV ride so pleasurable. There’s even a cartoon in her bathroom of Noah’s Ark in which everyone (man and animal) is fornicating to a frazzle.
One wall of the Art Deco, blue, pink and gray apartment (today Henner is wearing spiral titanium earrings to match) is covered with photos, many featuring Henner with her co-star, buddy and boyfriend, John Travolta. Marilu has been chatting merrily (“I just started group analysis and I really like it”) until that name is mentioned.
Suddenly she stops talking and sets her jaw into the serious mode. Now, it appears, is the time for that nagging something to receive its full expression. Out it comes. “This is my life,” says Henner. “I go into these interviews and when they come out they are all about John. I never want to say, ‘We never see or talk to each other.’ So much of my life is tied up with John. But listen, I have always had my own separate career.”
The apartment is suddenly feeling smaller. An uncomfortable moment of silence ensues. Henner shall have it her way. So no more about Travolta, not for at least a paragraph. A sentence, surely. Henner has her own new movie, Rustlers’ Rhapsody, a comic Western co-starring Tom (The Big Chill) Berenger. She’s cast as a saloon gal who hooks on the side. “She doesn’t go to bed with her customers,” says one character. “She just talks dirty to ’em.” Henner reports that she loved going to Spain to make the film. “I met great people,” she says. “That’s so much more important than what the film may do at the box office.” Translation: The film’s a dud (see page 12).
Marilu adroitly moves on to next month’s movie, Perfect!, a peek at the sweat-and-sex scene of L.A. health clubs. “That one is going to be a huge hit,” she says. Travolta (there’s that name again) stars as a reporter who gets caught up in the workings of the club. Since Perfect! is their first movie together, Marilu can hardly avoid bringing up his name. “John says he has never enjoyed me more on film,” she says.
Let’s face it, Travolta cannot be avoided. If Marilu wants to talk about him, hey, let her. “From the moment we met,” she says, “we immediately adored each other.” That was Nov. 28, 1972, when both started rehearsals for the road company of Grease. At a Travel Lodge in San Francisco, less than a year later (“for nine months he had another girlfriend”), they enjoyed what Marilu refers to as their first “big moment.” They still celebrate that initial meeting and the one that happened two years ago last November, when they got back together after a long separation.
In between, Marilu got married. In 1980 she met Frederic (The Rose) Forrest, 48, when they signed up for the ill-fated Hammett. The attraction was immediate, but the rush into wedlock was his idea. “He wouldn’t just live with me, and we were going to get married or break up according to him.” What helped kill the marriage after two years, says Marilu, was the lemon of a house they bought on top of L.A.’s Mulholland Drive. “He wanted a Tara,” she says. “I called it Tara the Terror.” Forrest has the house now, but no Marilu. “We should have known we were in trouble,” she says, “when we were driving across the country on our honeymoon and knew none of the same songs.”
She and Travolta, 31, knew a lot of the same songs (they did two musicals together—Grease and Over Here!). And on nights off they loved going dancing. But during Marilu’s marriage, the two friends stayed apart. “We didn’t talk to each other at all,” says Henner regretfully. They got back together after her split, and coincidentally, ended up buying the same car, Jaguars (his color maroon, hers blue). Now they’re rarely apart. Travolta, an expert pilot, takes her flying at least twice a week. “I haven’t spent two weekends in the same place in I don’t know how long,” she says. “I’ve been flying with him for 11 years.”
They have no plans for marriage. “We like things the way they are,” says Marilu, who claims that neither sees anyone else. “It’s a relationship,” she says, but with Travolta it’s the bond of friendship that seems strongest. He has been there to offer strength to Marilu through all the bad times, especially the death of her mother. (Her father, a Chicago car salesman, died of a heart attack in 1969.) Her mother ran a dance studio, where Marilu learned and later taught. Crippling arthritis and spinal cord degeneration killed her mother seven years ago. “It was the most horrible time ever,” says Marilu.
Travolta, having suffered the loss of his mother to cancer at the same time, was a strong ally. So, for both, were their families. Marilu plays fairy godmother to her five siblings, ages 27 to 42. Like John, she is constantly showering them with gifts or trips. “My parents had this philosophy, ‘Don’t expect us to leave you anything because we’re going to spend it all with you while we’re here.’ I like to spend my money on my family.” Luckily, she can. She finished on Taxi making $15,000 per week. Success impresses her and Travolta, too, says Marilu. “We get very excited and close the door and jump on beds.”
But how did we get on the Travolta subject again? It’s Henner’s career she wants to talk about. Most of her movies, including Bloodbrothers, The Man Who Loved Women, Cannonball Run II and Johnny Dangerously, have been flops, but the critics appreciated Henner’s contribution to them. Now all she wants is a big part in a successful picture. What’s she got in mind? “I’d like a romantic comedy, a relationship kind of movie,” she says. “Johnny and I are looking for one to do together.” Sorry, but she brought him up.