Marilu Henner remembers Christmas in Chicago (and everything else)
For the ‘Taxi’ alum, now starring in a Hallmark holiday movie, the season meant six decorated trees at her home in Logan Square.
Few people can claim to possess a genuine “superpower.” But just ask actress Marilu Henner how many Christmases she recalls growing up in Chicago.
“I remember every Christmas in my life since I was 5 years old,” said Henner from her home in Los Angeles. While the 70-year-old Chicago native 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, including growing up in Logan Square.
“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.”
Young Marilu first attended St. John Berchmans Catholic elementary school followed by Madonna High before studying at the University of Chicago. Although she majored in political science, acting was her career destiny.
“I wanted to be an actor since I was two and a half,” 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 in Chicago.” One of those productions was the original stage version of “Grease,” first performed in 1971 at a converted trolley barn in Old Town.
In “A Kismet Christmas” (repeating at 7 p.m. Christmas Eve), Henner plays Gramma Mia, keeper of a famous family recipe for a kismet cookie that, 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 [British Columbia] and had some scenes in traditional Dickens-like costumes which was fun.”
The movie’s screenplay was written by Betsey Morris, adapting 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.”
Henner also travels 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 in ‘Grease’ as well as the show ‘Chicago’ [as Roxy] that I did 408 times. I also talk about growing up in Chicago and 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 hit, 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.”