In her book “Total Memory Makeover”, Marilu Henner talks about what it’s like to call up any memory from any given day in her life–something she’s been doing for as long…well, as long as she can remember.
In an amazing feat of the mind, Henner was born with a super-memory, able to flip through any date you give her like a photo album in her brain and recall specific things, like the day she found out she got the part of Elaine Nardo on “Taxi”.
“It was June 4 of 1978. It was a Sunday and I found out at the ‘Grease’ premiere party,” Henner said. “‘Taxi’ is so vivid to my mind. The very first rehearsal was July the 5th of 1978. That was a Wednesday and our first show was shot the 14th, a Friday.”
And it’s not just that she has memorized particular dates and facts; she can rattle off seemingly inane details about a random day on the spot. She says it’s like having mini-movies playing in her head all the time, a revolving reel of images she associates with certain days.
As someone who has recollection issues–I was in a near-fatal car accident in 2001 which splintered my short-term memory–it amazes me that the human brain is capable of such things. It’s hard enough for me to remember what happened last week, let alone last year; I am a feverish documentarian, always anxious to capture on film or disk the cherished moments of my life with my husband and daughter because I know they won’t stay in my mind very long.
For Henner, those moments will forever be encapsulated, available to flip through the way most of us look through photos on our phones. She says the gift of memory has certainly helped her as an actress, as she can call up a particular emotion she may have felt years ago that relates to the character she’s reading for. It also, she says, gives her life an extra bit of meaning.
“It’s that defense against meaninglessness,” she said. “I’m not just occupying time. There’s some significance to what I’m doing and how I’m living my life.”