Making The Most of The Time We Have

Join author, educator, and learner, Annmarie Kelly as she laughs, cries, and kvetches with the writers, musicians, entrepreneurs, and wanderers who inspire all of us to reach beyond our divisions and discover what it means to be wild, precious, and brave.

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Be A Survivor with Jonathan Penner

Be A Survivor with Jonathan Penner

Jonathan Penner is an actor and screenwriter well-known for his multiple appearances on the show Survivor. But he joins us today to talk about arguably his most important role: caregiver for his wife, Stacy Title, an Academy Award-nominated director, screenwriter, and producer, who passed away in 2021. Annmarie and Jonathan talk about love stories, the creative life, and what happens after happily ever after.


Episode Sponsors:

Visible Voice Books, in Tremont, Ohio. With a glass of wine or cup of joe in hand, readers can explore a curated selection of new and secondhand books. Learn more or shop online at visiblevoicebooks.com.

Book Soup. Known for floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, high-profile author readings, limited-edition books, vinyl records, and celebrity clientele, Book Soup is an essential stop on any tour of Los Angeles. Find your next great read and shop online at booksoup.com.



By Jonathan Penner:

Horror Cinema (co-authored by Steven Jay Schneider; edited by Paul Duncan)

This Is My Voice

The Intelligent Traveller's Guide to Chiribosco

Here are links to a few of the films and television programs we reference during this conversation:

The American Friend (1977) trailer

Yul Kwon discusses Jonathan Penner and Stacy Title

50 Children documentary trailer


The movie Jonathan worked on in Cleveland is The Bye Bye Man, you can watch it on Netflix!



Follow Jonathan:

Twitter: @SurvivorPenner

Instagram: @SurvivorPenner



Annmarie Kelly:
Wild Precious Life is brought to you in part by Visible Voice Books in Tremont, Ohio. With a glass of wine or cup of joe in hand, readers can explore a curated selection of new and secondhand books. Learn more and shop for your next favorite read at visiblevoicebooks.com.

Annmarie Kelly:
We are brought to you by Book Soup, known for floor to ceiling bookshelves, high profile author readings, limited edition books, vinyl records, and celebrity clientele, Book Soup is an essential stop on any tour of Los Angeles. Find your next great read and shop online at booksoup.com.

Annmarie Kelly:
I was talking to a friend the other day about love stories and we were reminiscing about the kinds of films we loved in our 20s. There was Before Sunrise, where this guy and girl met in a train and spent one day falling madly in love in Vienna, and Four Weddings And A Funeral with all those couples, and speeches, and drama, and dresses.

Annmarie Kelly:
And then there was this one movie, The English Patient, where a man and a woman fell passionately in love in the desert. I have always been a sucker for a Hollywood romance. But they don't always tell the rest of the story, do they? What happens after the happily ever after? What happens when the steamy far-flung romance is replaced by the day in, day out reality of unloading the dishwasher, or stressing about your job? Is it even possible to hold onto the magic? Our guest today would argue yes.

Annmarie Kelly:
Jonathan Penner is an actor and screenwriter known for producing and starring in the film, The Last Supper, as well as acting in a television series, Rude Awakening. Jonathan is also known for multiple appearances on the reality series, Survivor.

Annmarie Kelly:
We speak to him today about arguably his most famous role, that of husband and caregiver to his wife's Stacy Title, an academy award-nominated director, screenwriter and producer who passed away earlier this year. Says Jonathan about his wife, "She made all of my dreams come true."

Annmarie Kelly:
So today on Wild Precious Life, we have for you a real Hollywood love story with both before and after the happily ever after. Jonathan Penner, welcome to Wild Precious Life.

Jonathan Penner:
Thank you. What a pleasure to be here. I'm looking forward to talking to you and hearing all that you have to say about living a wild and precious life.

Annmarie Kelly:
Well, we often start out by asking our guests about their heart story, but for you, I want to phrase that slightly differently. Will you tell us your love story?

Jonathan Penner:
I was married for 29 years, with my wife for 31 years. Almost from the day we met, we were inseparable. And my wife who was an extraordinary person, and the kindest, gentlest, most passionate person that I have met unfortunately had a genetic gene mutation and that gave her ALS, caused her to develop the symptoms of ALS and she died of ALS after a battle of about three and a half years. She passed away in January of this year. It's now October.

Jonathan Penner:
I was very fortunate to meet Stacy when I met her. I really am a believer that there's not just one person that you could love. It may be the love of your life, but that's because I was ready to have the love of my life walk into my life as was she. And we walked into each other's lives. We had similar backgrounds, we'd actually been to the same summer camp one summer together without knowing each other.

Annmarie Kelly:
No way.

Jonathan Penner:
And we were both fascinated by the movies which we did together, made movies together, television together, had children together, were interested in raising our kids in the same ways really.

Jonathan Penner:
So, we walked into each other's lives and were thunderstruck by each other. And as I say, we were basically inseparable from the time that we met until the day that she died.

Annmarie Kelly:
Can you tell us, do you remember when you met?

Jonathan Penner:
Oh, it's a great story actually, or I guess you'll be the judge of that. But in a nutshell, I had been, I'm an actor, have worked as an actor and was working as an actor at the time on a movie with another actor named Jason Alexander. This was just before Seinfeld.

Jonathan Penner:
And he and I were in this movie together out of town. We were in St. Louis. Anyway, Jason was happily married to a wonderful, wonderful woman and had a booming career. He'd just won Tony Award anyway.

Jonathan Penner:
I said to him, "I want what you have. How do I get all of that great stuff?" And he said, "I don't know." Anyway, so he was going to introduce me, I'll tell the whole story. He had just been on Broadway in this show that he won a Tony for called Jerome Robbins' Broadway.

Jonathan Penner:
And the show is him and 40 women. He was the only guy in the whole show. This is true. He'd left the show. He'd been replaced in the show and he'd gone on to, I think he'd probably shot the pilot for Seinfeld at that point.

Jonathan Penner:
Anyway, he said, "Look, I'll take you, we'll go to have some dinner and then I'll take you to the bar where all the girls, the women from the show go after the show. We'll walk in together and if you can't get lucky there, that night, then you got no game at all." I said, "Great, let's go."

Jonathan Penner:
Couple of nights before that, he calls and says, "Listen, maybe my wife wants to meet you. Can she have dinner with us?" I said, "Yeah, great. Of course." The next day he says, "I'm not comfortable leaving my wife at the restaurant when we go to the bar, her cousin, can her cousin join us? And then they'll go to the movie, so they'll do what they're going to do and then you and I will go to the bar." I said, "Great. Wonderful."

Jonathan Penner:
So, that night, we met at a restaurant and I walked in and this gorgeous girl walks in right in front of me. And I would never forget it because I noticed her right away and she walks up to the hosts stand or whatever. And she says, oh, Jason Alexander party or I'm here to meet and the four of us having dinner.

Jonathan Penner:
And I said, "Oh, we're having dinner together." So, we had a great meal and at about 10:30 or 10:00 o'clock, Jason said, "Okay. Well..." I'm pointing at my watch. I realize you guys can't see I'm pointing at my... I'm acting like Jason, pointing at my watch. If we're going to go, we should go.

Jonathan Penner:
And I said, "I ain't going anywhere. What are you talking about? Where the hell do I want to go? Why would we go to a bar to meet women when I've just met this fantastic woman? Let's go do something else." So, we went bowling, which used to be a thing. It shows how old I am. Like, what do you want to do? Let's go bowling.

Jonathan Penner:
Anyway, we went bowling and had a ball. He and his wife were an old, married couple at this point. They've been married. They don't want to hang out with us. So, I lived, I don't know if you know New York, but where are you? Are you in New York?

Annmarie Kelly:
I'm in Cleveland, which some people call the New York of Ohio, but not very many people.

Jonathan Penner:
That's absurd. That's a silly thing.

Annmarie Kelly:
But I've been to New York many times.

Jonathan Penner:
They also call it the mistake on the lake. They call it a lot of things. I know.

Annmarie Kelly:
We also call it the believe land.

Jonathan Penner:
I like Cleveland. I spent a lot of time in Cleveland. I shot a movie in Cleveland. Anyway, so after bowling, when Jason and Dana, his wife, said, "Okay, we're going home." I said, "Hey, you live downtown." She lived on East 34th Street and I lived on West 10th Street. So yeah, we live Downtown, but that's like Cleveland-

Annmarie Kelly:
It's not close.

Jonathan Penner:
... and Detroit. "You live in the Midwest, I'll see you home." So, we got into a cab together. I said, "Let's share a cab." And I said, "Let's have one more drink. We'll have one more drink. I'll take you to my local bar."

Jonathan Penner:
So, I took her to a bar in the west village and we had another drink and we kissed for the first time that night. And then we were walking home, and I walked her past my apartment and she said, "Okay. Well, what a fantastic night."

Jonathan Penner:
And I said, "Come on. We can't end this night, come upstairs." And she's like, "I'm not going upstairs with you. What are you, nuts?" I mean, to her great credit, right? She's like, "I ain't going anywhere with you."

Jonathan Penner:
And I said, "Nothing will happen. You have my word of honor. I'll give you pajamas and we'll go to sleep. I just don't want the night to end." And that was the truth. And we went up. She said, "Okay." And she went upstairs and I gave her sweatpants and a T-shirt and we climbed into bed and we just held each other and kissed. And we were inseparable ever since then.

Annmarie Kelly:
That is beautiful. Were Jason Alexander and his wife in on this setup? Did he lure you there with the promise of 40 women and then bait and switch?

Jonathan Penner:
Well, it was a very soft setup, right? Because if it didn't work out at dinner, then we had a plan. So, it worked out perfectly.

Annmarie Kelly:
I love that she needed to trust you in order to stay and that you gave her your word that nothing would happen and that you made her feel safe. I know many, many, many, many women for whom what you just described, the idea of wanting to be together, but wanting to take it slowly as adults almost never happens. But that's what people wish for is to just be together.

Jonathan Penner:
Yeah. They want to be together. You have to be able to trust and you have to... I mean, not that what I did was so fantastic. All I did was treat her like a person and I respected her and I assuaged her fear. She wanted to be with me. I wanted to be with her and she was afraid of something. And I said, "You don't have to be afraid of that. That's not going to happen. I will keep you safe."

Jonathan Penner:
And I said that to her, that was the basis of our relationship. Not that I would keep her safe, but that we would keep each other safe, that we would respect each other and love each other. And there was no... I mean, we had a faithful, we never slept with anybody else. We never did anything. We were each other's best friends and each other's great loves.

Annmarie Kelly:
Listening to you talk about your wife, I'm half in love with her already too.

Jonathan Penner:
Oh, God. What a person.

Annmarie Kelly:
Thank you for sharing. I think sometimes when someone you love passes away, one of the hardest things is that people say I'm so sorry or that I'm so sorry for your loss. But they don't ask you to talk about them as though talking about them is painful.

Annmarie Kelly:
I find talking about them is what you want to do. You want to tell the stories, right? Because you want to know that they're still alive. You describing that there are men out there who will hold a woman in their arms and trust that they'll be safe for as long as they're able is the most romantic thing, I think, I've ever heard on this show.

Jonathan Penner:
Sorry, I don't mean to laugh. I'm very happy. I'm happy. We had a very romantic relationship. We were both romantic people. We were very, very... We loved each other very, very passionately. But a lot of that came from that trust and that vulnerability.

Annmarie Kelly:
I know that Stacy directed you earlier in your career, and not so early, right? More recently. Was that vulnerability present in your working relationship?

Jonathan Penner:
Well, to be directed by her, sure. I mean, an actor has to give themselves over to the director, if they trust the director. I know, listen, there are a lot of asshole actor who would say, "I'm not an asshole, I'm taking care of... I'm the only one who's responsible for my career, for my instrument, for my work."

Jonathan Penner:
There are a lot of big star actors that I know, have worked with and have worked with people that I know who were like, "Don't talk to me. You hired me to be me, to do this thing that I do and I don't need to hear from you. I don't care what you think my motivation is. So just stay out of my way and just yell action and yell cut, and it's going to be fine.

Jonathan Penner:
And maybe that's true. I don't know. But I never had that relationship with the director myself. And with Stacy, whatever she wanted me to do, I would try to give to her. But honestly, directing is 90% casting.

Jonathan Penner:
It is true. You cast the right person and let them do their thing. You didn't cast anybody else because that's the person for the part, you're going to let them do what they're going to do. You direct them a little bit. You say, "A little more to the left," or you say, "Have you thought about this?" Did the vulnerability extend to our relationship? Of course.

Annmarie Kelly:
The two of you guys worked in Hollywood for a long time together. My understanding of Stacy's story from what I've read and from what I've heard in other interviews is that she received this Oscar nomination for a short, that had she been a man probably would have led to bigger things sooner. But as a female director during the time that she was a female director, she had to work harder than men in a similar role. Is that a fair characterization?

Jonathan Penner:
I think so. I mean, of course, there's no question. Stacy was extraordinarily talented, tenacious, ambitious, lovable person. And came up in a class. When I say class, I'm talking about a group of directors who, the men, not all of them.

Jonathan Penner:
I mean, this is the sticking point, right? Not every one of them became Quentin Tarantino, or David O. Russell, or Steven Soderberg or the guys that she came up with. I mean, she literally heard things like, "You're great, but we already had a movie directed by a woman this year."

Jonathan Penner:
Or, "You're going to hate to hear this, but I'm just more comfortable talking to your husband," or, I mean, terrible things that she heard. Stacy, by late in her career, she was already in her late forties or fifties, was trying to get diversity program slots at NBC because then she couldn't get arrested in television.

Jonathan Penner:
I'm a diversity hire. Hire a woman, hire somebody over the age of 45 so that I can direct an episode of Gray's Anatomy or whatever it is. I mean, this is literally an Oscar-nominated men set. This woman was a genius, and I don't use that term lightly. She was literally a genius. Right?

Jonathan Penner:
And she's talking to some younger woman who wanted her as a mentor, who said, "Well, should I apply to this NBC program?" And Stacy's like, "You should, I'm applying to it." And the woman was literally like, "Stacy Title is applying to this program?" She was heartbroken. Not because, it was just like, if you have to apply to this, who is a person that she looked up to.

Jonathan Penner:
Stacy had directed four feature films, had an Oscar nomination, had a career in Hollywood as painful as it was. And the woman's like, "If you have to deal with this, what the hell am I going to have to deal with?" There is an unconscious bias. And even Stacy would admit to suffering from an unconscious bias.

Jonathan Penner:
When she thought about what does a director look like? She didn't think, "Oh, it's a gorgeous woman." That's not who she thought of, even though she was a director, right? She thought of some white guys strutting around in jodhpurs with a megaphone. Some hard-ass guy.

Annmarie Kelly:
Sarah, our lead producer on this show, was fortunate to be mentored by Stacy. She describes the way your wife believed in people's talent with complete and utmost faith. That she saw strength, and talent, and versatility and wonder in people that they didn't always see in themselves.

Jonathan Penner:
Yeah. Oh, no. She was an extraordinary person. She had been a journalist and made herself into a filmmaker. Right? Which is not the normal course of events. So, if people said, "Oh, I'm interested in this." She'd be like, "Okay, I'll get you a job doing that. Let's help you do that. How do I help you?"

Jonathan Penner:
She understood intrinsically. It was never something we discussed. But people are like, the bad analogy is plants. You give them water and sunshine, and they grow. That's what she was like. She was like water and sunshine all the time.

Jonathan Penner:
And it was extraordinary to witness and to be part of. She did that for me, she made all my dreams come true. Everything that I have that's good, I thank her for. It's the truth. And she gave me the, this is going to sound backwards, but it's true.

Jonathan Penner:
You have the opportunity to care for somebody. And I mean that literally. To literally take care of somebody, to give care and to help somebody through, it turned out to be a terminal situation, but it doesn't always have to.

Jonathan Penner:
She really suffered, but to take responsibility for her care and to take care of her, and to give her dignity, to honor her presence and her passing was an extraordinary gift that I got. She didn't give it to me, but I got it because I was with her while she was going through her illness. And that was an extraordinary.

Annmarie Kelly:
If you don't mind, let's talk about that a little bit. I don't know what it's like to lose a partner, but I do know something about being a caregiver. My dad died of brain cancer last year. And before that, we rotated through, as caregivers. Moved in there part-time, rotated him in his bed, gave him sponge baths, sang to him when he could no longer talk. We held his hand when he lost the ability to see. I imagine that you experienced a version of this. What was it like to be both a husband and a caregiver?

Jonathan Penner:
Well, it was terrible. I mean, it was horrible, but as a caregiver, something I had never done and had to learn, in some ways that was very enriching because it was a new learning experience for me. It was a new way of giving her love, and attention, and affection and to treat her with great care and to show her how she was loved, that she was loved, that she was adored, in fact.

Jonathan Penner:
I grew through it in ways that you wish you're still an idiot. Wisdom is very expensive. And wise people have had experiences and they're not all great. Right? That's how you learn is you're challenged. I mean, that's the, we can talk about survivor, but when they talk about challenges in life, the reason they use that word in survivor is that you are challenged.

Jonathan Penner:
And how do you rise to the challenge? How do you cope with the challenge? That's how you face yourself. You face yourself and your ability, "Oh, shit. I didn't win. I couldn't do it. Or", "I did." It's a small victory, these challenges and that's how you grow stronger and stronger and more experienced and you move forward.

Jonathan Penner:
And if you don't have any challenges, if you never run into a wall that you got to figure out how to get over, through, around, under, then that means you're sitting in your room and you never went outside. You never tried to open the door. And so, you're not going to learn anything sitting in your room. That's all. So, it was terrible and it was very enriching too.

Annmarie Kelly:
I found that being a caregiver was simultaneously heartbreaking. And then there would be these moments of crazy love or joy. And they seem a little bit like gallows humor, but I'll give you an example.

Annmarie Kelly:
My father had brain cancer, so one of the things that happened is he lost his memory. He had always had a crackerjack memory. He could tell you sports games scores from 30 years ago. And he lost all that. So, I realized one night I could show him every NCAA ball game, every basketball game that was great from the past 30 years.

Annmarie Kelly:
And we watched one amazing game after another. Buzzer beaters, games where the team came back by 22, Cinderella, every single game we watched was brand new to him. He got to have them all over again.

Annmarie Kelly:
And again, it was heartbreaking because he's losing his memory. He's forgetting who we are. But we also had these moments of tenderness amid all of that. And I'm wondering if you can tell us anything about living in grief, how do you go on?

Jonathan Penner:
So, I would encourage people to not be afraid of their own emotions and if they cannot get out of the debilitating, the painful state, to seek either counsel, religious counsel, talk to a trusted confidant and they will help you. I say to people all the time, people very, very close to me are going through a lot of pain. You have to understand.

Jonathan Penner:
My family has also lost their mother. They've lost their sister. They've lost their daughter, their dear friends, cousin, it's senseless. This was, as we've said, a very, very beautiful person.

Jonathan Penner:
And I say to them, I say, "I don't know. I have no idea. I don't have the tools to help, but I have the resources. I have enough brain power to be able to help you find some resources. I can listen and tell you that I'm here for you. I love you. And I feel for you and I'm really with you as you're going through this." So, I don't know if that's helpful. I don't know if that's advice or what that is, but that's where my head went to.

Annmarie Kelly:
I think a lot of what you said rings incredibly true for me. One, giving yourself permission to feel, right? This tremendous love that you had for this person doesn't go away because the person is no longer with you. That love is still right here.

Annmarie Kelly:
So, giving yourself permission to feel, and we just spoke with Lori Gottlieb on this show. She wrote Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, this book that's being turned into a series. And the idea is simply that, yeah, sometimes you do need to sit with someone in your grief, someone who knows how to sit with you and hold you in those moments, and being not afraid to feel and also not afraid to go to someone who can help you heal.

Annmarie Kelly:
The late writer, Rachel Held Evans, people who listen to the show will have heard me say it before that we live inside an unfinished story and that you live inside your unfinished story, but you also live inside Stacy's unfinished story. And there are wishes and blessings that she surely had for you that you carry with you now.

Annmarie Kelly:
That all of us who've lost people are living inside of the unfinished stories of those who are no longer walking with us. And out of an honor and love for them, we keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Jonathan Penner:
The way that any of us can honor anybody is to live in a way that they would like to live. They cannot do it. We have an opportunity right now to, as people alive on earth, to do stuff that we may take for granted. We may think, "Oh, it's not that big a deal," but boy, they'd give anything to be back and able to just do it, to just do the effing dishes, to just make their bed, to just give you a hug, to tell your kids how much you love them. They'd give anything.

Jonathan Penner:
Stacy could do that and so we have to do that because that's really what life is about. Yes, of course, she would have wanted to have directed another movie to win in the academy award she didn't win. What she really would want to do is give me a big hug and give me a big kiss and tell me how much she loves me, how proud she is of me, how much she loves spending time with me. I really believe that.

Jonathan Penner:
And that's what we can do. That's what we can do right now. That's why I'm doing this podcast. I have dedicated myself now to making as many connections, to being as kind as I can be, to living the way that Stacy would want to live if she could and the way that I have seen that I can live. It's as simple as that. Nothing I'd rather do.

Annmarie Kelly:
You heard it here then, guys. Love and live magnanimously. If not because you want to, because the people who loved you magnanimously would have wanted you to. And to celebrate those everyday moments that the people who are no longer with us don't have.

Annmarie Kelly:
In some ways, I am angry at your survivor label that you carry as The Ultimate Survivor guy, because there's this terrible irony about that label now, right? Stacy is gone and yet you survive.

Jonathan Penner:
Survivor was a nice part of my life, is a nice part of my life. It was like a hundred days of my life. I'm old. I'm going to be 60 at my next birthday. You know what I mean? I had a lot of days.

Jonathan Penner:
So yeah, Survivor is a big part of my identity in the world. My mother is a Holocaust survivor, right? She was part of this crazy, true story of the 50 children. And it's a great story. And she was one of the 50 children. She was five-years-old when she came to this country on a boat with 49 other kids.

Jonathan Penner:
Anyway, they had a reunion. There are still a couple of those kids who are now all in their 80s or 90s. She's the youngest at 88, are still around in their family, and their grandchildren, and their great-grandchildren.

Jonathan Penner:
We did a Zoom call of the reunion. And then after that, I had a Zoom call with some kids from Syracuse who have an online Survivor game. They asked me would I help them or encourage them, or talk to them about Survivor.

Jonathan Penner:
I said, "Of course, I would. I would be happy to." And I was. So, I was talking to another friend. I said, "Oh, I got this survivor thing and then I got this Survivor thing." And they're like, "What do you..." "I have this Holocaust survivor and this Survivor TV show, and now I'm the survivor of ALS, so yeah. I'm the survivor guy.

Annmarie Kelly:
Tell me your mom's story. How did she end up one of the 50 children on that boat?

Jonathan Penner:
There was an extraordinary couple in Philadelphia, in the late '30s, the Crouse family, who knew that things were not going well for the Jewish people in Europe and said, "Let's see if we can get some of these kids in."

Jonathan Penner:
So, the Crouse family were part of a Jewish club organization in golf club or social club. There were some dead visas that had been assigned that had never been collected that had worked their way through the system but we're just sitting there.

Jonathan Penner:
So Crouse said he knew somebody at the state department. He said, "If I... can I get those? If I can get affidavits from my club, that we will adopt all these kids that their parents don't get out." And they said, "That we can do."

Jonathan Penner:
My mother and her sister, ages five and eight, were part of this what was called the kinder transport and were taken away from their parents for a number of months, put on a boat, taken to America. There's lots of intrigue and espionage of getting these visas approved by the Nazis and crazy, fantastic story. I mean, it would make a great movie, honestly.

Jonathan Penner:
And most of the kids' parents did get out, including my mother and her sister's parents made it out, but some of the kids didn't and were adopted and were raised in Philadelphia. But this was a real mitzvah. And about a thousand people, we figured out, from these 50 kids, their children and their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren were allowed to live.

Jonathan Penner:
I mean, I would not have survived if it hadn't been for this. I never would have been born. My mother would have died in Auschwitz with her grandparents and her aunt who all perished. So, it's a fabulous story. There's a good book about it and there's a little movie about it.

Annmarie Kelly:
That's an incredible story. I've never heard this story before. I'm picturing what it must have been like for those parents to put their children on that boat. I am having goosebumps. I'm a mother of three myself. But to know in your gut that you have to do this thing to keep your child safe, but to not know whether you're ever going to see your child again, that they had that love and faith, and maybe even something deeper, just this survivor instinct that they had to do that. My God.

Annmarie Kelly:
Did your mother talk about this? I know from other conversations that there tended to be, and there are all kinds of people, but there tended to be two approaches to, if you went through that, for some families, they never spoke of it.

Annmarie Kelly:
I don't want to bring that horrible tragedy to my children. So, some people never spoke of it, but of course, it was always alive in them. And then for other people, it was just part of their story that was handed down to their children. Which family were you?

Jonathan Penner:
My mother was very much would talk about it. I knew the story from the time I knew any story, because she's like, "You're a miracle. I'm a miracle. Every day on this earth for me is a effing gift. Most of the people died. There's no reason why I'm still here."

Jonathan Penner:
"It was absolute dumb, effing luck that my mother saw that thing. My father was out of town. He never would have permitted it to happen. He came back and found out that I was getting put on a boat and he went to bananas. All this stuff."

Jonathan Penner:
So, she made sure I knew about it. Whereas her sister who had one daughter never talked about it, hated to talk about it. It was absolutely, it was so painful for her. And it was interesting this Zoom reunion to hear the different versions that some of these kids, you're right, hadn't heard about it until they were 30 or 40 years old. Didn't even know that they're...

Jonathan Penner:
"How did you get here?" "Oh, I came on a boat." They didn't want to talk about it at all. Whereas others are like, "You better go raise money for this organization. You better keep this story alive. You better remember 6 million of us died. And the fact that we're here, we're here so we can keep that story alive. It's the only reason that we survived." Very, very interesting opposite spectrum of reactions.

Annmarie Kelly:
I wonder if that storytelling, I've heard it said that actors are in part just storytellers. And I wonder if this storytelling that came through your family, this story of survivor, this survival, this story of you being a miracle, I wonder if that in any way fed into you becoming an actor.

Jonathan Penner:
Maybe. I mean, my brother isn't an actor. It's a very clean way to look at things, but it's probably too clean.

Annmarie Kelly:
Well, when did you know that you wanted to be an actor?

Jonathan Penner:
Oh, as a kid. No, no, very, very young. No, I was hurry. I was eight-years-old.

Annmarie Kelly:
How did you go from wanting to act to actually being an actor?

Jonathan Penner:
It was very different. 40 years ago, 35 years ago when I started acting, I came out of college, I had a little bit of acting education, not much of one, but some. I had some idea. I like to be on stage. And you read the showbiz papers. There used to be papers that you could buy every week that had auditions in there.

Jonathan Penner:
And you start to audition around until you get a professional gig, and then you get an agent, and then you get a movie. It took me three or four years before I, basically waiting tables and doing shows with U-Hauls that you'd drive around with the scenery in the back and stuff like that before I...

Jonathan Penner:
And then things start to come together quickly, right? Things start to snowball. I got a lot of commercial work, I was a very successful commercial actor for a number of years. I did some soap work. I did some independent film work. And then I got White Palace, which was this movie with Jason that was a studio movie.

Jonathan Penner:
And then I met my wife and then we made short and then I did a TV series. And then I used the money... Like that. But it was not an overnight thing. It took years of pounding the pavement as we used to say. Pounding the pavement.

Annmarie Kelly:
Do you remember an early role that you got that was actually probably a terrible role but felt awesome to you because it was a new role, even if it was a U-Haul that you're driving around the scenery, do you remember an early role like that?

Jonathan Penner:
Oh, they were all great. I loved every role that I did. I was the sure guy. Put up your hand if you're confident you're not going to smell. I was that guy. I was a Levi's 501 Jeans guy. I did a terrible movie and I'm not good in the movie, but Sandy Bullock was my love interest in the movie. Sandy Bullock. Yep.

Jonathan Penner:
It's not a good movie, but I did the best. I had a director who had no idea how to direct me. I had never been in a movie. I had no idea what I was doing. And I think that's very obvious from the movie. Sandy, on the other hand, comes at smelling like a rose because she was fantastic. She was wonderful. I did a soap. I played a scumbag on a soap. That was hilarious and great fun. Every role I ever got I was so happy to get. Yeah.

Annmarie Kelly:
Yeah, yeah. I'm a writer and I can still remember the feeling of some of my first paid gigs. So, you mentioned being the sheer roll-on/deodorant guy. One of my first paid writing gigs was to write ad copy and proofread it for boxes of deodorant. And the idea that anyone was going to pay me to write. Right?

Annmarie Kelly:
I wrote a tri-fold for a veterinarian talking about the difference between a CAT scan and an MRI and an X-ray for your pet. And I got paid to write. And these were paid writing gigs and I was delighted by them. Even though, looking back, I didn't know anything about any of that. Just excited to be working within your craft.

Annmarie Kelly:
Jonathan Penner, I could talk to you all day, but we have a wrap up that we do here and I want to honor your time. So, I'm going to lead us into our closing questions that we do with folks. These are, there's not a point system, they're just easy.

Jonathan Penner:
I'm not going to win? No? Dammit. All right. I'll do it anyway.

Annmarie Kelly:
There's no prize. You just pick one. Okay. For you, but multiple choice, dogs or cats?

Jonathan Penner:
I have both. I'm not going to pick. I love both. I have a cat named Blue and a dog named Tootsie.

Annmarie Kelly:
Ooh, for the movie?

Jonathan Penner:
Yes, because she looks like Dustin Hoffman [inaudible 00:37:41]. He's a long, black dog, people think it's because she looks like a Tootsie roll, but it's because she looks like Dustin Hoffman [inaudible 00:37:48]. She's a long-haired Dachshund.

Annmarie Kelly:
I love it. Coffee or tea?

Jonathan Penner:
Coffee.

Annmarie Kelly:
Mountains or beach?

Jonathan Penner:
I guess the beach. I love to swim, but I like the mountains too. But if I had to pick one, I'd go to the beach.

Annmarie Kelly:
All right. Are you an early bird or a night owl?

Jonathan Penner:
I've become much more of an early bird. I used to be a night owl, but now I'm up at 6:00, 6:30 every day.

Annmarie Kelly:
All right. When it comes to reality TV shows, would you say that you're more of a Great British Bake Off fan or are you more into a show like alone?

Jonathan Penner:
I like the Great British Bake Off. I don't watch a hell of a lot of TV. That's the truth. I don't watch a lot of TV. I do watch Survivor and I used to watch the Great British Bake Off. Stacy and I love that.

Annmarie Kelly:
Excellent.

Jonathan Penner:
She watched a lot of it.

Annmarie Kelly:
Are you a risk taker or are you the person who always knows where the band-aids are?

Jonathan Penner:
Both.

Annmarie Kelly:
And what's a favorite movie that you love?

Jonathan Penner:
My favorite movie is a movie that few people know anymore. It's called The American Friend. It's a 1979 German film directed by a German man named Wim Wenders spelled W-I-M W-E-N-D-E-R-S. It's about the Ripley character that Matt Damon played in the talented Mr. Ripley.

Annmarie Kelly:
That's a great movie.

Jonathan Penner:
It's based on another book about Ripley. And he's played by an actor named Dennis Hopper who you saw. And there's a wonderful actor named Bruno Ganz, German, who plays a character named Jonathan in the movie. Some people think it's very slow, some people think it's very strange. They're right. And it's my favorite movie.

Annmarie Kelly:
All right. It's slow and strange movie. We will make sure to link to that on the show notes.

Jonathan Penner:
Please, fabulous movie.

Annmarie Kelly:
What's your favorite ice cream?

Jonathan Penner:
Oh, I like something super sweet like pralines and cream or like rocky road.

Annmarie Kelly:
I like that. All right. And last one, if we were to take a picture of you really happy and doing something you love, what would we see you doing?

Jonathan Penner:
I'd be in bed with my wife.

Annmarie Kelly:
Ooh. Is this the early holding each other, or are we getting a scandalous picture? I just want to make sure I can visualize it.

Jonathan Penner:
I don't know. It would start off early, and then it would get scandalous, and then it would end just cuddling up. I mean, like some sometime in there. You take a movie and then you pick a frame. Any of those would probably be pretty happy.

Annmarie Kelly:
That's wonderful. Well, Jonathan Penner, thank you for being here. Thank you for helping us believe in true love, honestly, and vulnerability, and what it means to make each other's dreams come true. Thank you for sharing your wife's legacy with us.

Jonathan Penner:
My pleasure. Thank you.

Annmarie Kelly:
For a lot of us who are married or partners, I don't think we always focus on the daily joy. We focus on the daily annoyances. You know how he doesn't load the dishwasher, right? Or how she leaves her messes on the floor. But you are reminding us that every day is a gift and to be loved and vulnerable.

Jonathan Penner:
It is a gift. If you have one more second, I can just speak to that because-

Annmarie Kelly:
I do.

Jonathan Penner:
Okay. There are two things that come to my mind. One is, if you don't like the way they're doing it, then do it yourself. In other words, you either do it yourself and it gets done the way you will want or you let them do it. And though it's not done the way you want, you don't have to think about it anymore. Okay? It's yours. You want the responsibility? Do it.

Jonathan Penner:
And then, yes, it's going to drive you crazy for a day when it's not the way you want to do it and then you say, "Oh, shit. I never have to think about the dishes again. That's his job." And fidly bing, bang, boom. Okay?

Jonathan Penner:
And the other is, nobody is perfect. No relationship is perfect. Certainly my relationship with Stacy wasn't perfect. We thought about murdering each other all the time. I mean, honestly. We fought because we never let... We did. But because we never let each other get way with any bullshit. There was never any stuff between us that we needed to get through.

Jonathan Penner:
If somebody said something offensive, then you say, "You can't say that." But let's clear the air right now so that there is never any buildup. And so, you simply are engaged all the time. And when somebody says something mean, that's really what it is. If somebody says something unkind or thoughtless, you say, "No. Sorry. Not going to let you say that to me. No one talks to me like that, and certainly not you, and let's not have that anymore."

Jonathan Penner:
Because nobody's perfect. Nobody's going to handle everything perfectly. We all make mistakes and you just got to have a couple of boundaries and say, "No, my self-respect says you cannot speak to me like that." And they might go, "It's all your fault." And she'd say to me, "You're like a peeled peach. You're so tender and vulnerable all the time."

Jonathan Penner:
And I'd say, "Yeah, I'm a peeled peach. And when you drop a peeled peach, it really hurts. So, don't drop the peach. Treat the peach with the tenderness that the peach deserves and then the peach is happy and you've got a very nice, little piece of fruit that you don't have to pick up and clean up after.

Annmarie Kelly:
Oh, Jonathan Penner, the peeled peach. I love this. To love and be loved, to trust someone, not just in strength but in vulnerability, to hold someone's hand on their last day. Thank you for your storytelling. And to all of our listeners, we are wishing you love and light wherever the day takes you. Be good to yourselves. Be good to one another. And we will see you again soon on this wild and precious journey.

Annmarie Kelly:
Wild Precious Life is a production of Evergreen podcasts. Special thanks to executive producers, Gerardo Orlando and Michael DeAloia, producer Sarah Willgrube, and audio engineer, Eric Koltnow. Be sure to subscribe and follow us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

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