Jeff Pearlman

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Tracy Reiner

#156
Penny Marshall's daughter. Betty Spaghetti in "A League of Their Own." Mary Haise in "Apollo 13." Mother of five. What doesn't this Hollywood veteran do? POSTED May 28, 2014

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Yesterday afternoon, while driving back home from a visit to Cooperstown, N.Y., I asked the wife which Quaz I should run this week. I began mentioning some names, but when I reached Tracy Reiner she said, “Stop!”

Stop?

“We’re coming back from the Baseball Hall of Fame!” she said. “Tracy Reiner is Betty Spaghetti! You have to do her this week! It’s timing …”

And here we are.

My 156th Quaz Q&A features Tracy Reiner, whose life is, to understate, fascinating. She’s the biological daughter of Penny Marshall. She’s the adoptive daughter of Rob Reiner. She’s been a key player in two iconic films—”A League of Their Own” and “Apollo 13″—and continues to act and direct … when she’s not focused upon her five children and/or medical software.

One can visit Tracy’s website here, and follow her on Facebook here.

Tracy Reiner, there’s no crying in the Quaz! There’s no crying in the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Tracy, my kids (ages 7 and 10) love A League of Their Own. They absolutely, positively love it. So before I go into your career, let me ask: A. What’s your take of the movie, some two decades later. B. Did you know it’d be this good of a film as you were making it? C. What do you recall from the actual experience?

TRACY REINER: This film changed so many things . It mapped a new way for people to see history, baseball and female athletes. It totally changed the way men looked at us playing, and I mean not just the USC coaches but the White Sox and the Cubs also played with us at exhibitions. The guys couldn’t believe we could really play even as actors until we showed them. Charlie Hough pitched with me for 30 minutes in the bullpen when Comiskey Park was brand new and Jack McDowell coached me as well and came to practice. Ozzie Guillen sent us flowers and notes—he was very impressed with all the skirts.

What else changed? Basically, there was no way to even start a farm league for girls to play at all unless it started from both ends. After we knew we were good, we laughed at how 250-pound men were playing with little balls, diva-style, and paid millions of dollars to do so. Meanwhile, these women played double headers in skirts and went out dancing at night. Modern ball vs. old-school ball was what we see as sad now. The Silver Bullets and Justine Siegal and Baseball for All and even Sports Illustrated for Women started after the film. Also, the WNBA started and really took off.

As for the quality of the film—we all knew the historic aspect and the comedy was there but we did not know until after that it would touch so many people. I don’t just mean girl players, but Megan Cavanagh, Lori Petty, Annie Cusack and Patti Pelton and Anne Ramsey and I did the sports card shows for 10 years. And what I learned from the coaches, PE teachers, dads, moms, daughters and wives of players is that little girls all over the country wanted to play.

Most important to me, at the card shows the veterans and their wives and widows changed me deeply. I had no idea how deeply moved people would be. Screw the fact that it’s still the highest grossing sports movie of all time. People changed. People cried and felt understood. I had so many women athletes say they made their life choices after watching the film. I’ve still never seen such a reaction from a film. I am so honored to have been a part of telling their story with my family and so deeply grateful for these women keeping us all in their lives personally. The cast is as close to this day as any I’ve ever even heard of on other movies. We share all of our real-life events often to this day.

Now, I actually found out about the film when my cousin Wendy was trying out and was nervous because she works on films but isn’t an actress, per se. So I drove her with a mouth filled with wisdom teeth stitches and saw 2,000 girls trying out at USC. I was in awe, but I saw a lot of girls who I knew that I was more athletic than. So, in a jealous moment, I signed up to try out. I threw as hard as I could and did all the stations and heard Rod Dedeaux (the late USC baseball coach) say, “Damn, that girl’s got an arm!”

We got home and my mouth was a mess. I’d popped both sides of stitches and was exhausted My mom showed up shocked and said we had scored really well and my mom sat us down and asked if we wanted to do this. We said yes. So training started and some girls were hired.Then my mom decided to direct it herself and everything went nuts—eight hours a day for six days a week in training and then casting. We all switched roles and positions for a while. Then the real players showed up and our lives totally changed.

Each one of us has years of personal relationships and stories of what an amazing group of women were able to pull this off. I have spent the last 25 years sharing my life with these women. The cast and the AAGPBL Legendary Ladies of Baseball are a part of my family. That hasn’t happened on any other movie.

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J.P.: So if one looks over your resume, you’ve had a very strong career—active, myriad roles, different sorts of characters. You’ve been a working actress for a long time, which ain’t something to sneeze at. And yet, your mom is Penny Marshall. You were adopted as a girl by Rob Reiner. In other words, you have big connections, a big last name. I wonder, what comes with that? More pressure? Less pressure? More opportunity? Less? Is it a blessing, or a Catch 22?

T.R.: It’s an absolute gift to be surrounded with just massively talented people. It gives you amazing insight and also it gave me, personally, the ability to choose a balance of real life and what I call simulating real life. I worked for a long time and worked production and ran a development company, then I took a long real-life break and got married. And now I am producing a film about the 100-year history of the American Legion Post 43 and Hollywood. There is no curse to having family in the business you’re in … although family will do to family what strangers would never dare. That’s in good and bad ways. It’s life.

J.P.: I’m fascinated by life paths—so, Tracy, what’s yours? I know you were born in Albuquerque, know your family background. But why did you go into acting? How did it start? When did you first feel the love?

T.R.: I wanted to raise horses and ride forever. So when did I feel the love for performing? Acting is really fun and really intense, and there are lots of people out there all doing the same thing. I love the effort and creed of film people—but show business is a cold and vain world. I lived here as a kid so I learned to say no and was protected from a lot of really fucked-up people and also had to deal with a lot of really fucked-up people.

But, like in any family, you feel totally left out if you don’t at least participate in family events. I had to learn the language my family spoke since I spent my first years in New Mexico. My family was into therapy and I was sad from my parents splitting and for me therapy was not fun. It was very serious and not really helping me be funny and laugh more. They all still think I’m really intense, and unfortunately therapy left me highly analytical and fast minded. Somewhere around then my mom sent me to improv class and Viola Spolins, then Uta Hagen, then Stella Adler and on and on. All were very nice to me and were very nurturing. I’m still not a comic. I am known for crying a lot in movies. It’s my balance, I guess. They make you laugh and I make you cry. It’s a family.

J.P.: You turn 50 this year—not old by normal standards, but—it seems—sort of antiquated in the world of female actresses. Which strikes me as really, really unfair and sucky. How hard is it for, oh, post-40 actresses to land good roles? Is there as big a double standard as I think? And did that at all influence your transition away from acting toward other endeavors?

T.R.: I didn’t want to be a woman at 40 trying to look young. I thought it was the perfect time to go off and turn into the next character in my story—mother and writer and huge business facilitator. I have helped 10 projects while raising my kids. I started doing digital business plans, then consulting the actors and filmmakers. All by introductions. Not from my family at all. They think I’m nuts for not sticking to one thing and I keep having an amazing adventure. Now I’ve done domestic cultivating—kids, pets, gardens, screenplays, etc.

And now I’m into space … macro perspectives of all this history I’ve studied. I was a history of storytelling major in college. Now I want to animate the periodic table. Not a very sitcom, action or drama topic. I home school my girls and I like it a lot more than they do so we will see about next year. It reactivated my brain after being “in service” as a parental unit. I’m ready to travel and work again and show them the world like my parents did with me. Don’t get me wrong—I will act in anything now. It’s fun. I love it. It’s great as a job—so heads up anyone reading. I’m ready to be the Colleen Dewhurst version of me. Or Glenda Jackson. Geraldine PageEllen Burstyn. Or a toothless homeless woman talking to the stars. It’s all now about the focus of the piece.

J.P.: You have five kids. Let me repeat that—five kids. I have two. Couldn’t even imagine the stress of having three more. How do you do it? Manage? And how has that impacted your career?

T.R.: It’s made me sane. I grew up basically an only child. I have a sister, Heather, from my father Mickey. I love to be silent and alone and having constant chaos opened up a whole new skill set. Twelve years ago I would have laughed and driven away if you said, “Guess where you will be in 2014 …” But I am better now at being me and being a parent and an artist then I ever imagined

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J.P.: According to your bio, you grew up with 15 family members employed by the Atomic Energy Commission, which resulted in your interest in renewable energy , space and super luminal transport physics. Tracy, recently a crushing report on climate change came out, suggesting—more or less—we’re sorta fucked. Tracy, do you have any remote hope for humanity? Or are we just screwed?

T.R.: There is a tremendous effort being made to save the earth and a tremendous effort at still raping the earth. She will have to reconcile this battle. I am on the side of the white blood cells fighting the disease.

J.P.: In 1993, “A League of Their Own” became a relatively short-lived TV series, and you played Betty Horn in all six episodes. Did you think the series would take off? Did you know it wouldn’t? And what is it like to have a series cancelled?

T.R.: There are such sad, funny stories about the series. They actually hired one of the greatest writing teams to try and launch the show, but I think they knew there was no way a period piece show that dealt with the war, politics, baseball and women’s feelings was going to excite male sponsors and general doubters. I had just had an 11-pound baby so it looked like Betty’s husband died and she ate a lot. Tom Hanks, Ted Bessel and Harvey Miller all guest directed. Monica Johnson, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel from the film wrote. That doesn’t happen. And it did. Tom Hanks laughed at me and said, “You know, if this goes you will be only the second sitcom widow on TV!” Julia in the 70s was the other.

And then we got the script. The famous TV script where a monkey is in the show. When there’s a monkey you’re cancelled.

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Tracy, right, with her fellow Apollo 13 cast member, Kathleen Quinlan.

J.P.: You were awesome in Apollo 13. I really mean that—awesome. I sorta feel like the film somehow gets overlooked when we discuss great movies of the 1990s. Yet, for my dough, it’s right there. What do you recall of the experience?

T.R.: I auditioned really fast because it was at Universal and I wanted to sneak in the back lot with my son, who was 2. I said, “Bill Paxton is from Oklahoma. Do you want me to do an accent?” Um …  sure. So I read really quick and showed Ron Howard my son in the video since the character had three kids. I remember the line—to Jim Lovell’s wife—was, “You’ve done this three times? You don’t even sweat or nothing?” And I was off. There were no tears in any of my lines.

I was going to do the directing program at USC and I got a call that Ron Howard wanted to see me to read in person. So I went and he said, “Thanks, goodbye.” I don’t think he even knew that I had uncle who worked at NASA and worked on Apollo 13. Just as I got all my classes settled I got a call saying I got the part. Then I researched Mary Haise, my character, and she also had a degree in Astrophysics like her husband and was a master archer and was the only NASA wife who had a shag. All the tears came when we shot the launch. It was one of the greatest sequences ever. Jim Lovell’s real wife and daughter were put in the scene standing in front of me and Kathleen Quinlan (who is another hero of mine) and the two Lovell women started to cry when they played the real launch audio of the takeoff.

There were tons of people watching a tissue go up a flag pole but when they cried we stopped and Ron came up and said to me, “You know what to do.” I looked into her eyes and knew watching your husband leave the planet, an absolute life risk, for the third time was beyond bereavement and prayer. I had reacted to death but this was something else … overwhelming and, for Mary Haise (seven months pregnant), it took all of my compassion and ability way up and in honor of them.

Originally the script said something like, “I hear in Italy 13 is a lucky number” … look to kids, blah blah blah. Now it’s crazy real. Mother Mary crying to the moon and the launch and the score … to this day people tilt their heads and look at me and smile. That film was the second best time ever. I knew many of the cast before the film which is always fun. We won Best Ensemble Cast at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. I got to meet Arthur C. Clark‘s brother (awe from a geek like me) and Arthur Projected holographically from Sri Lanka at the Arthur C. Clark awards. I got to go because of the film and then got invited to speak in Seoul at their KIPA film school on storytelling from game design to feature films with some guys from James Cameron’s Earthship TV.

So all my crazy technology buttons got pushed and I started not finding the same levels of intelligence in many of the films that followed. Or in what I was being looked at for being 35 … 36 … 37. So I was totally reality inspired and also spoiled and needed a break. I was having totally unrealistic expectations from the people in this industry . So I stopped simulating and started connecting people and ideas and now both sides of my brain feel much better. .

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J.P.: In 2013, you headed a team that funded and marketed a new medical software company. Um, that’s not something you read in the bios of too many actresses/directors. Please elaborate …

T.R.: Not true. Women actresses have always been major connectors of people and ideas and money and technology. Hedy Lamarr, Jayne Mansfield— there are plenty. Google it. I love lens history and projection as well as farm and water technologies and alternative energies. The man who started the medical software was in early Animatronics special effect and other things.

J.P.: You recently said in an interview, “some of the technology that is being used  in special effects and large format I find  to be dangerous. And I’ve spoke with quite a few people in 3d technologies and we need to make sure that there is not just film stimulations but also conscious effort to preserve the integrity in doing this job.” What, exactly, do you mean by “dangerous”? What’s the problem here?

T.R.: I have my own very serious concerns with the stability of people’s binocular fusion of the eyes just for starters. I have seen many dysphorias come from watching 3D films and I have seen the difference of my own performance on the audience in 3D and I suggest people really seriously give a shit about a whole bunch of things about CGI and special effects. About what they watch and show their kids. I spoke on panels and I asked many people about the guidelines and I have many friends who do that job. I bug them constantly. I have been asked to say things and be a noisy brat by some of the inventors of the technologies and so I do. Just remember how much more important your food is over movie stimuli.  Don’t watch crazy shit. And if you can’t help it … yes, you’re pretty much fucked.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH TRACY REINER:

• The wife and I debate this all the time—does Dottie Hinson intentionally drop the ball?: Seriously? Whatever you believe, you make true.

• Five things you always carry in your purse?: Water, 1,000 cards, pens (I love black pens), Magic Mom Kit, passport, phone.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): The Deer Hunter, Starbucks, Kiss, Marvin Hagler, Howard Stern, potatoes, Kentucky, Marla Hooch, convertibles, Martin Landau, Hollywood, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Justin Bieber: Marla Hooch, Martin Landeau, convertables, potatoes. The rest are not in my life.

• Five greatest actresses of your lifetime?: I think I mentioned them.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a place crash? If so, what do you recall?: No shit—I’ve gotten off the plane twice. I just heard out loud in my head, “Get off!” They, of course, didn’t crash but it was creepy. Pissed off the people I was flying to meet. I told them I was late.

• Number of times a year someone says to you, “There’s no crying in baseball. There’s no crying in baseball.”: It used to be a lot, then only at amusement parks. Now only when we all hang out and with Bitty Schram … I just signed another release for the clip of that to be used all these years later.

• My daughter is wrapping up fifth grade, and she really wants an iPhone 5. Thoughts?: No No and ah NO. Testing new technology on your kids is kinda fucked up. No, Daddy. Nothing personal. iPad laptop or towers are a bit safer. I like iPhones but they are bad for kids’ bodies—period.

• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to move to Las Vegas for a year to become her personal acting coach. Good news—$5 million for the year. Bad news—you can only look at her shoes, and twice a day you have to bake her banana bread. You in?: Money isn’t what’s happening. I don’t endorse shame games.

• I have an idea—A League of Their Own II—Revenge of The Ghost of Jimmy Dugan. You in?:  Only if they play on the moon.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life