Marilyn Michaels can impersonate numerous celebrities but Julia Child isn’t one of them–at least not when it comes to the late chef’s culinary prowess. “When it comes to cooking, I just can’t stand on my feet and do it. I hate it so much!”, she said in a recent phone interview with Manhattan Digest. “I guess I’m better at it than I let on but who cares?”, she added. “Who gives a sh**? I really don’t care. By the time I finish cooking something, I’ve lost my appetite. That’s the best diet I know. That’s all. There are so many things I’d rather do like work on the book.”
That book happens to be her own.
How Not To Cook for the Rest of Your Life, released earlier this summer, is a combination of various advice and anecdotes from Michaels’ illustrious career as a comedy star of stage and screen. She co-authored it with her son, Mark Wilk. “It was difficult to work together because we have very different work styles,” she confessed. “We would often lock horns.” Still, she’s quick to laud his praises adding, “He’s very smart and clever. If I hit a block, he’d come up with the greatest lines.”
Talent seems to run in the family. Wilk is a concert pianist, comedy writer, and lyricist. Michael’s mother was the groundbreaking cantoress Fraydele Oysher who paved the way for female singers in the Jewish synagogue. Michael’s father was Metropolitan bass singer Harold Sternberg and her uncle, Moishe Oysher, was also a cantor. In addition to her vocal talents, Michaels is an accomplished painter.
Given the wealth of talent that surrounded her, it’s no small wonder why Michaels became a regular on popular talk shows. The Today Show, The Tonight Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, Live! With Regis & Kathie Lee are just a handful of her credits. She is best known for her spot-on impersonations of celebrities including Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, Judy Garland, Connie Francis, Eartha Kitt, Diana Ross, Rosemary Clooney and more. Her knack for impressions began at an early age. “I guess I was around 14,” she recalled. “I would just pick up the sounds of singers around me and I’d reproduce them.” She also starred in the Emmy Award-winning series, The Kopykats.
On stage, she assumed Streisand’s now iconic role of Fanny Brice in the national tour of Funny Girl. Originally, producers talked about sending her to Australia to do the show, but traveling ranks with recipes among Michael’s list of preferred merriments. “I ended up getting a call saying that they wanted to see me at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York. I showed up. After the audition, the show’s composer, Jule Styne, ran up to the stage. He looked at me and said, ‘Darling, you must do the show.'” She continued to reminisce about the once in a lifetime experience. “Can you imagine what it was like to do the score in front of the company of the first national tour with Jule playing for me at the piano?” she said, confessing that she was a bit misty about the memory. “It was a great thrill, but that went both ways. He left me a note that read, ‘You’re a thrilling talent.’ I mean…. what better credential could I get from one of the great musical comedy geniuses of all time?”
Like Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin, Michelle Wolf and other great comedians she isn’t afraid to push the envelope. On the subject of nannies and parenting, Michaels writes, “I don’t believe that women should raise children on their own.” When asked if she’s worried that the comment will raise controversy, her response was immediate. “F— ’em!” she said, and further explained. “I don’t think children should be reared by parents alone. Parents lose it! It’s hard to be a full-time mom. My mother was an entertainer and a pioneer. Women who give up what they really want to do, they are miserable. For the rest of their lives, they tell their children what they sacrificed. My mother did that. She could have had a much bigger career and she constantly reminded my brother and me of that fact.”
She relayed a story from her stint in Catskills on Broadway, a show for which she received an Outer Critics’ Circle and Drama Desk award. “At that time, I had hired a nanny for Mark. She was a heavyset gal from the midwest and looked like she belonged to a sect. She came in and was not interested in the baby but rather, how she looked in the uniform. She kept checking herself out in the mirror. I took her out for lunch because I wanted to have a good relationship with her. During our meal, she looked down at me and said, ‘So… you don’t raise your child yourself?’ I thought, ‘You little pisser! I’m paying you to do to this and to be respectful of me!” She didn’t last long. Oh well, she didn’t have a lot of credentials and not too many brains.”
Michaels advice: “I think if you can afford help, it’s important to have someone give you a helping hand so that the quality time you have with your children is golden.”
The multi-talented star also shared her opinion on transgender individuals. “If you identify as a grapefruit, they’ll find a way to accommodate that too,” Michaels writes in her book.
She elaborated on the topic. “I come from a time when Christine Jorgenson made news being the first American to have sex reassignment. I tell you very honestly that I don’t understand it. I understand homosexuality because we’re all born bisexual. If we’re ambitious, many of us have dabbled in different lifestyles. I’ve had actors tell me, ‘There isn’t a thing I haven’t done.’ But when it comes to mutilating the body, I somehow don’t get it. I can’t wrap my head around it. In the final analysis, this body is what you’re given. It’s scary to me that they would put themselves through such dangerous surgeries to come up looking more feminine or masculine. I hope I’m not being insulting, but I’m being honest. I want to see people live their dreams sexually but not hurt themselves.”
So far, her audience, comprised of diverse demographics, has not created any backlash towards her brand of humor.
Given our societal bend towards sensitivity and political correctness, Michaels stands firm in her convictions and explained the role that comedians play in the world. “We have always dealt with society by bringing knowledge to them and giving them a mirror in which they can see themselves. We’ve had political cartoons since the dawn of time. Maybe it wasn’t in the form of stand-up, but certainly in print publications. It’s just that today, we’re wilder and go further. It’s important that we’re able to do that. I don’t personally care for comedians whose acts are mostly expletives. You can be funny without them, but if you need an extra little taste, you can throw that in.”
Although she’s not keen on the kitchen, The Upper West sider does enjoy dining out. She cites Flor de Mayo, Barney Greengrass, Zabar’s, Pomodoro Rosso, Arte Cafe, & PJ Clarkes among her favorites.
Currently single, Michaels hasn’t completely thrown in the towel on dating, but she’s had her share of doozies. Although it didn’t make it in the book, she revealed that she once dated ‘The Plumbing King of New York City.'” “I suffer from irritable bowel syndrome and he said that he had the same thing, so he brought me laxatives!” After I regained my composure and picked myself off the floor from hysterics, she added, “This guy was such a loser!”
A note for her future suitors: Diamonds over Dulcolax.
For more information visit http://www.marilynmichaels.com/