Martin Short writes a book about keeping a smile through hard times

Martin Short talks about his autobiography, "I Must Say," and trying to "regain buoyancy" after cancer death of wife Nancy Dolman.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Crying isn’t the first reaction you would expect to have after reading Martin Short’s autobiography, “I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend.”

But the Emmy- (“SCTV”) and Tony Award-winning (“Little Me”) Short, who created such comic characters as the man-child Ed Grimley and the obnoxious talk show host Jiminy Glick, wears his heart on his sleeve when he talks about losing his older brother, his beloved mother and father by the time he was 20 and then losing his wife, Nancy Dolman, to cancer in 2010.

“Before she lost consciousness, as, struggling for breath, she saw nine paramedics hurry into our bedroom after I placed a frantic 911 call, she calmly turned to me, took my hand, and said, ‘Marty, let me go,”’ he writes. “And so we did.”


The two met in the early 1970s in the Toronto production of “Godspell.” Short was one of the stars, and Dolman had been brought in to understudy two of the performers. It was love at first sight. They were married for 30 years.

“I’ve been asked to write books over the years,” said Short, 64, during a recent interview at his two-story Cape Cod-style house in the Pacific Palisades that is filled with family photos of Dolman and their three grown children, Katherine, Oliver and Henry. “I knew it had to be something more important that just anecdotes. After my wife died, I realized we all go through this and we wake up the next day whether we think the world should stop or not — it doesn’t.”

On Sunday evening, Live Talks Los Angeles is presenting Short in conversation with his good friend Steve Martin at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. The event is sold out.

Short’s natural inclination is to be happy. “I am not a depressed person at all,” said the actor, who has starred in such film as a 1986’s “Three Amigos,” 1987’s “Innerspace” and 1991’s “Father of the Bride.”

“I never have been in therapy,” said Short. “So I thought, well now I see what a book could be. This kind of naturally happy person who has met with obstacles and wants to regain buoyancy.”

While writing his book, Short worked with Oscar-nominated writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson on his latest film, “Inherent Vice,” based on the Thomas Pynchon novel, which screens Saturday evening at the AFI Film Festival.


“The character is crazy,” said Short. “He is a dentist who is kind of a cocaine pedophile.”

Short is also a regular on Fox’s struggling freshman comedy series “Mulaney,” starring comic John Mulaney, which recently saw its episode order cut from 16 to 13. And he’s just been signed to replace Nathan Lane on Broadway in January on the hit revival of Terrence McNally’s comedy “It’s Only a Play.”

It takes more than talent and luck to succeed in show business, said Martin. “You have to have endurance. You have to have this feeling of saying this is foolish, I’m still doing this, but I have no other choice.’”

“I Must Say,” which is Ed Grimley’s catchphrase, is also full of wonderful funny stories and memories of growing up in an “amazingly original, interesting, fabulous family” in Hamilton, Canada.

His first big break was in the 1972 Toronto production “Godspell,” which starred Victor Garber, Gilda Radner, Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin, with Paul Shaffer as music director.

“Eugene is my best friend,” he said. And Martin was Short’s sister-in-law for many years. “She’s the aunt to my children, and her two boys are my nephews.”


Radner became his first serious girlfriend. “Everybody just adored her,” said Short.

Twitter: @mymackie