Martha Cherry, who raised Marc and two daughters in Oklahoma and Orange County, California, was the inspiration for Desperate Housewives. People correspondent Michael Fleeman spoke with mother and son about how the show reflects their family.
How do you like the spotlight, Mrs. Cherry?
Mrs. Cherry: I told Marc I’m kind of overwhelmed with the publicity. I’ve always led kind of a quiet life, and all of sudden being in the limelight, I don’t know how to react. For his sake, it’s wonderful. That’s the main thing.
What does it feel like to see events on the show that come from your life?
Mrs. Cherry: Oh, I’m amused. A child looks at things differently than an adult. Don’t you find that true, Marc?
Marc: The thing that makes me laugh is that I just don’t think you realize sometimes how much I’ve borrowed.
Mrs. Cherry: Just watch yourself.
Any favorite moments in the show?
Mrs. Cherry: There are so many things that are just wonderful. The thing with the lawn mower—with the gal in the evening dress mowing. I went into hysterics.
Marc, how do you adapt your life to television?
Marc: So much of what I do is just take a kernel of truth from my life. It’s never exactly as it happened. I think the closest incident, which my mom told me about, was when Lynette left her kids off on the side of the road.
Do you remember doing that, Mrs.Cherry?
Mrs.Cherry: Oh, absolutely. And I remember feeling so bad because I watched him in the rearview mirror as I pulled away. I was concerned he might run after the car. He stood there with his little head down. It just broke my heart.
Marc: But I behaved when I got back in the car.
Mrs. Cherry: Well, you did. What you didn’t realize is that we were within sight of the house. You just didn’t know it. We were very, very close. But you were getting into the food, you were bothering your sisters. You were being a pill.
Marc: Yeah, I probably was.
Mrs. Cherry: And what has been interesting about that is I have met so many parents that said, “I did that,” and they would proceed to tell me an incident that would be just a little bit different. One woman, whose children were a little older than mine, said she would take her children to a detention center and threaten to leave them. Of course, we didn’t have one of those around.
Anything else from your past that we’ll see this season?
Marc: You find as a writer stuff comes up all the time. Sometimes it’s not a whole story. Sometimes it’s a moment or a phrase. I’ve had Bree say, “Let’s not be unpleasant.” My mom used to say that a lot. Sometimes it’s just little gestures or little moments, and I’ll write it. Especially for Bree’s character, I try to use the flavor of stuff I’ve observed.
Mrs. Cherry, do you see yourself in Bree?
Mrs. Cherry: Absolutely not. I thought: My goodness! I didn’t relate to that at all. What I related to was the woman with all the children.
Marc: I don’t think my mom was ever quite the über housekeeper, cleaner, cook, seamstress that Bree is. But what it was with my mom was the effort to keep things pleasant, keep things nice.
Did you always sense that Marc would go into show business?
Mrs. Cherry: Well, I don’t know about show business. But when he was 8 ½ months old he was in a walker, and he was talking. I had never been around children. So I didn’t know that they didn’t start talking until later. When he was 18 months old, he lay down on the floor and said he wanted some ice cream before dinner. And I said, “No, you could have some, but you will have to wait until we have dinner.” And he threw his stuff on the floor and had a tantrum. And I called my husband. I said, “Come here, I do believe he’s throwing a tantrum.” And we stood there in the doorway and watched him. He stopped. He gave us a most disgusted look. And he got up and just walked away. And I said to Truman, “Do you think we’ve failed?”
Marc: That was my first performance and they didn’t click into it the way I had hoped. It was my first audience and I did not get rave reviews
Mrs. Cherry, I have to say, when you told that anecdote I heard the Bree cadence in your voice.
Mrs. Cherry: Oh, dear. I just thought maybe it was the fact that she has red hair and I do too.
Have you ever told Marc that there are some things he can’t write about?
Mrs. Cherry: Oh, no, never.
Marc: I think my mom knows that I’m the keeper of the flame and some things are just too private. But for the most part, Mom’s very supportive—take what you need and use it and make money off it.
The story line about the one character coming and telling his mother that he was gay, and the mother saying, “I would love you even if you were a murderer” came from your life. Was it difficult to watch that?
Marc: Did you even see that story, Mama?
Mrs. Cherry: Yeah.
Marc: Oh, okay.
Mrs. Cherry: I’ve seen them all, twice. Even the reruns. I feel obligated. I wanted to be one of the million who watched it.
Mrs. Cherry: Well, one of them was me.
Did you know that that had come from your life?
Mrs. Cherry: I just felt that parts of it had. Like he said, he takes a little bit and then enlarges upon it. And what I really told him basically was, “You have no idea how much I love you.”
Marc: I don’t have a cynical view of suburbia or suburban life or family life. As much as we had some crazy stuff happen in our household, it was a wonderful childhood—a lot of love and a lot of happiness. But even if I try to do something that’s a little dark or wicked, I think you’re left with a feeling of hope or optimism. I think that’s very much a tribute to how I was raised. As much as I observed some wicked stuff happening, I really loved my life in Orange County growing up.
Mrs. Cherry, were you ever a desperate housewife?
Mrs. Cherry: Oh, I have a funny story to tell you. I took the children fishing. They were 2, 3 and 4. We had a great time hunting for worms. We get to the pond, and I had forgotten one thing. I didn’t expect anyone would catch a fish. And lo and behold, someone caught a fish. And I didn’t know what to do with it. And I didn’t know quite what to tell the children. So I said to them: “Oh, my goodness, it’s a mama fish, and we’re going to have to let it go because it needs to lay its eggs.” So we stood on the bank and waved goodbye to this fish. This man was seated not too far from us, and he had the most disgusted look on his face.
Marc: We bought it.
Mrs. Cherry: They bought it.
Marc: Now answer the question, Mama. Did you ever have a moment where you felt desperate?
Mrs. Cherry: Probably when we were living in Iran and your father had a heart attack.
Marc: We lived overseas because my dad was in the oil business. Dad had a massive heart attack and Mom was kind of there trapped. We were 13, 12 and 11.
Mrs. Cherry: What I didn’t realize was that the country was on the verge of a revolution. So the reception I was getting was not very ‘ responsive. I’m not a crier. I feel that tears are a waste of time. If you have a problem, you need to resolve it. We were on the second floor, and I asked someone where the elevator was [for her husband] and he just looked at me. So I cried. And I got a wonderful response. And I thought: My goodness, I must remember this.
Thank you both very much. Good night.
Marc: And Mom, I just heated up my dinner, and I’m going to eat my dinner now.
Mrs. Cherry: Well, good for you, Pumpkin.