Holly and Marty Nadler met when he hired her to write on the hit television series Laverne and Shirley in 1976. They moved full-time to the Vineyard in 1991 and broke up here; they were engaged to be divorced longer than they were engaged to be married. But they remain close friends.
Interviews by Mike Seccombe
“I was a story editor on Laverne and Shirley, and Penny and Cindy [stars Marshall and Williams] wanted more women writers. I knew Holly’s agents and they said Holly was very good. I read some of her stuff, and I was impressed. I said, ‘Send her in.’
I was just breaking up with my girlfriend and I had no interest whatever at the time in meeting another woman. The first day, when she [Holly] was pitching her ideas, I had a lunch date with the girlfriend I was breaking up with, and I said to Holly, “I’m going to lunch.” And she said “I could eat some lunch.” I said, “Actually I’m breaking up with my girlfriend.” And she said, “I’ll just eat somewhere else,” but she came down and actually watched me break up, while she sat at another table.
Then we went back upstairs and worked on the script. She was very beautiful and when she would leave, some of the other writers would say “Geez, she’s really hot,” and I’d say ‘Yeah, but I’m sure she’s like living with Joe Namath or something. She’s gotta be with someone, women like this are with someone.’
But the more we started talking over the weeks, the more I found her attractive and interesting, and we had a good time. She finally seduced me after a couple of weeks. We lived together for two years. Then we got like, engaged. I figured if I didn’t kill her, I’d marry her after two years.
We got married here on the Vineyard. I introduced her to the place — I’d been coming here since about ’66 — and she loved it here and we’d go back and forth to LA.
At one point maybe three or four years after we’d been together, she said, ‘What would you think if we didn’t have kids?’ I said, ‘You know what? I’m happy, I’m not dying to have a kid, we’re having a good time.’
But after about eight years, she went to visit her parents in Italy. She came back and said, ‘You know, in Italy I thought I was pregnant and it was the first time I didn’t go ‘Oh, sh--.’ And then when she wasn’t pregnant, she felt very disappointed.
So she said ‘You think we should try to have a kid?’ I said, ‘Sure, that would be good.’ And I went to my doctor — he knew us — and said, ‘Holly and I are thinking of having a baby.’ And he said, ‘I think it’s great, I have a couple. But it really changes your life. I think you should get this book called Baby Maybe. It gives all the pros and cons.’ Well, I walked into the house and Holly had the same book.
So that summer we had like a seminar with each other and decided to do it. One of the deciding factors was, we lived over on East Chop and there was a beach right in front of the house, and there was a trolley run by this guy Michael. I was on the beach reading Baby Maybe and he stopped with all these tourists and he goes, ‘Let’s see what the locals are reading. Marty, what are you reading?’ And I say, ‘Well, my wife and I are thinking of having a baby. We’re not sure. We’re studying it.’
Then I went over to a woman, there was a baby in her lap and I said, ‘What do you think? Did it work for you?’ And she was very happy. And then Michael said, ‘How many of you think Marty and Holly should have a baby?’ And they all raised their hands.
And Holly was looking out the window and said, ‘What’s going on down there?’ And I said, ‘They just took a vote, they think we should have a baby.’
So I look at the whole trolley and I say, ‘I think I’ll just go upstairs and jump on the missus right now.’
And we were very lucky because we got pregnant a couple of months later. When he was born and I filled out the birth certificate I just put Charlie, and they called me up and said I had to come back and fix it and put Charles on it. And I said, ‘No, Charles is his nickname.’ And he’s been Charlie for 23 years.
But things started to change in L.A. I was getting older, I was working less. We had two houses, there and here. Charlie couldn’t play outside in L.A., there were drive-by shootings, even in a good neighborhood. One night some gang threw a Molotov cocktail in a car parked outside. Then we found a bullet hole in our window. And we had to say to him, ‘You can’t go in the front yard; stay in the back where it’s all locked up.’
Then we’d come here and he was safe and happy. So on the ferry back to Woods Hole this time I said, ‘What are we doing? This kid could have a beautiful childhood here. And so we decided to move back here, with the thought that I could get work out of New York. And she was writing her first novel at the time.
But once you leave that town . . . they don’t want you here eating lobster and them not being able to breathe the air and getting shot at. So eventually my agent told me they weren’t interested in me coming back or commuting from there.
So I stopped. The money ran low and I started working other jobs here, helping friends’ businesses. I worked in the bakery, at the dock gassing boats, the Chilmark store.
I don’t know what her side of the [divorce] story is, but my side is, she got more and more disenchanted with living here and not having the great trips and stuff, and the money problems. They always say what comes first [in a break-up] is money problems. And I don’t think she ever really needed to be married. She was very independent. I think we were very different in a lot of ways too.
We were together 25 years and I think we just grew apart. We lived together for Charlie’s sake for six years; we were roommates. It wasn’t easy, but it was acceptable because we weren’t at each other. We like each other. The secret is, we were two people who shouldn’t really have got married. The other secret [of a happy divorce] was, we’re not selfish people who would do whatever for ourselves, even if it affected the child.
We both realized that when you bring a child into this world, you are responsible for that child. In fact my kid said to me, at 12 years old, he said: ‘Dad, for my own stability, I need you in the house.’
I knew I would stick with him until high school and then when he went to college I said: ‘Charlie, for my own stability, I’m outta here.’
Now I have a year-round place that I rent and I inherited my mom’s condo in Florida, and I go out to LA. My son’s out there, doing pretty well. He’s working on a show as a production assistant.
I’m writing, but just what I want to write. I have a pension now from the Writers’ Guild and I just went for my social security. I’ll be 62 in October. People tell me I don’t look it.
And I’m still working for Garry Marshall, script-doctoring. I did five movies for him over the past six or seven years. I’m writing two screenplays now and a play that I’m trying to get ready by spring. I would like to give it to the [Vineyard] playhouse, but I’ve got a feeling they’ll read it and say it’s so filthy and politically incorrect we can’t do it. In that case I’ll rent out one of the Island theaters and warn people to be prepared to be shocked and disgusted.
The best thing about Holly is that she is so caring, and a spiritual, lovely human being. We’re much happier as a non-couple.
Did he tell you I came in to our first meeting with 45 story ideas? I’d sold one script before. I was so new to the business and so naive. So the meeting went a long time, because I had all these ideas and Marty was so nice about it. I had no hint from him that I was taking up too much of his time. Then we broke and he sent me to the commissariat for coffee, and he and his about-to-be-ex walked past my table — where I was thinking up more ideas.
So eventually he wrote down a few that he liked and said he would pitch them to [the show’s creator] Garry Marshall. I was really taken with his genuineness and his charm. He seemed to have no capacity to play games. He was so real and funny. He was perfect.
Most of the comedy writers and comedians I’ve met seem so unable to have a serious moment. But he can really be reflective and profound. Not analytical, we diverge there. We would see a movie together and I could talk about it for half an hour and he would just nod blankly.
He apparently consulted with all of his co-writers about me in advance when he realized we were attracted to one another. He wears his heart on his sleeve. Just like that first day of our meeting he told me all about his problems with that ex-girlfriend — they’d been in Aspen together and she was mad at him for not even trying to ski.
Anyway he consulted everyone on the question of when in the course of bringing this script along he could ask me out. Like, ‘Do I have to wait until it’s completely shot and aired?’
So when it was finished he invited me out to the improv late at night for coffee or drinks. His best friend showed up to check me out. Then it went very quickly. I guess it was a month or two later that we moved in together. And we moved to Malibu, which was so nice, on the water.
All our friends were in show business and we were relatively young [he 32, she 30]. I remember when we were the youngest people in posh restaurants. You had to be making a certain level of income and we seemed to be the youngest ones making it. Then suddenly there was a new generation.
Marty was raking it in. I was just a freelancer — you know, you sell a script and feel rich for a couple of weeks — but Marty was just always on a show. It was probably not the best thing for a relationship because we just always had plenty of money to throw at problems. We didn’t even see each other all that much. The television hours! He’d go in at 10 in the morning and sometimes get back at 2 in the morning.
Consequently every weekend, even though we were living together, it was like we were dating and catching up. I think it took a number of years, for Marty’s work patterns to become less prodigious, for us even to find who the other was. I remember about seven years into the relationship, we were here in the house on East Chop and I’d taken a message for him in his study; when he came home he said, ‘Now the pad and paper and the pen I always keep on this side of the desk,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, no. I married an obsessive compulsive.’ Seven years into the marriage.
He’s just obsessive about everything. I’m so laid-back that I am annoying to someone like that. I just think, ‘Oh, this is what the universe wants for us now...’
So there was some conflict there. He’s a list maker and he’ll call five times to remind you about something. Our son and I always laugh about this. We know we can always get in touch with him, because he checks his cellphone and voicemail and whatnot every 17 minutes. We clocked him.
Years ago we were working on a show called Love Sidney with Tony Randall and we went out to see a show on Broadway, and Marty said he would make the reservations, [but] he’d been talking for a few days about being the ‘new Nadler’ and not being such a stickler. So he didn’t confirm the reservations and we couldn’t get in. And Marty was always the biggest confirmer. So we were wandering around the darkened streets of the upper West Side around 11 at night, and Marty was saying, ‘This is the new Nadler! Isn’t it great?’ And we were going, ‘Oh, no, we want the old Nadler back.’ Every few days he thinks he’s become the new Nadler, you see.
Anyway we suddenly decided we wanted to have a child together. I guess he told you about asking the tourists on the trolley? I thought, ‘If it’s got to that, we should probably just do it.’
Then Charlie was seven, and we were coming here for holidays and long weekends and Marty was finding the TV work was not as easy. He wasn’t just getting on one hit show after another, and we were struggling a little financially, and we just had to decide whether it was to be LA — where we would have to say to Charlie, ‘You can’t play in the front yard, are you crazy?’ — or here. In ’91 we said, ‘Let’s just take the plunge and live here year-round.’
Well, it was pretty harrowing. We both started doing real work. Marty worked at the bakery for a while and I got into real estate doing vacation rentals, which is just so hard for a sensitive person. You know, when all summer long people are calling you to complain the sheets don’t match and so on. And we were behind on our bills and I just think we weren’t quite strong enough and brave enough to face this stressful upheaval together. We seemed to have become unhappy in isolation from each other.
I don’t know that so many couples are meant to be together a really long time anyway. If I had been raised in a strong Catholic family I would probably have become a nun; I have this really strong yearning for solitude and for spiritual grace... And Marty is more a man of the world. I know that I was probably never meant to be married although I’ve always loved being a mother. In any event, our paths just diverged.
When I told Charlie, who was I guess about 14, that dad and I would be moving into separate bedrooms, I said to him he actually wouldn’t be able to tell any difference. And I don’t think he did. We still had dinner together at night. We were still a family, but not a couple.
Living together as housemates was sort of unnerving, but in a way also sort of a halcyon time because we could put that final wrench on hold and be a family together. It was strangely peaceful.
Charlie doesn’t think there’s anything un-normal about us. He was here recently having dinner, talking about some family that seems very wholesome, the kids have gone but the parents are still together, and I said, ‘Can you think of any other normal families?’ And he said, ‘We were normal.’
It’s lovely if divorced couples can stay friends. There were admittedly some miserable years before we got to that. But if you stay friends some of that original chemistry re-asserts itself. Every so often he’ll just be so kind and just so understanding and so tender, or we’ll have such a good laugh together, that I’m totally reminded and re-acquainted with how we made each other happy for almost 20 years. Other times he’s just so pig-headed.
We’re still very supportive. I think we’ve just jumped past old misery and recognized each other as close family. I have a feeling that deep down we depend on each other utterly.
I’m the more sentimental one, but I think Marty would grudgingly admit that too. And I still think he’s the funniest person I’ve ever met.
It’s hard to get him to laugh, though. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed but professional comics hate to laugh themselves. They’ll say anything to get around laughing, like ‘That’s funny!’ but they won’t laugh. Sometimes he’ll just nod, like ‘that’s good.’ Laughter’s supposed to be so good for you and all these truly funny people aren’t getting the benefits of that themselves.
So if I can ever get a good guffaw out of him I feel great for hours.