Growing Up in O.C.: “Wayne’s World” Director Penelope Spheeris

Penelope Spheeris
b. 1945, raised in Westminster
Director, producer, screenwriter;  known for the movie “Wayne’s World”

I had to ride the bus to school and back. One day after school, kids came up and said, “You’re going to have to fight Marian today.” And I said, “Who’s Marian?” “She just wants to fight with you, over on Goldenwest and whatever .…” I didn’t want to go there, I wanted to get on the bus. But I was pushed away from it, because they wanted me to fight. So I go to where the fight’s supposed to be and there’s this big girl I didn’t even know—I’d seen her, but didn’t know her. And we had to stand and fight each other. And, I didn’t want to do it; I didn’t know why she was mad at me or why the kids wanted me to duke it out. But the funny story is that, years later, I worked at the Snack Shop [now Coco’s] in Costa Mesa. And some guy comes into the restaurant and says, “Hey, aren’t you Penelope Spheeris?” I said I was, and he went, “Well, here … ” And he opens his wallet and there’s this big chunk of blond hair. I said, “What’s that?” “It’s Marian’s hair. You pulled it out.”

At the time I was going to high school, Orange County was this wasteland. The worst part was the boredom. When you’re really bored you become creative. That’s what happened to me.
I came from a lower-middle-class background. I had lived in trailer parks. My mother’s greatest claim to fame is that she never went on welfare. She was a charming person who also was an alcoholic. There was always a different boyfriend or husband. But the one at that particular point used to beat me up. So when you get beat up all the time you kind of become rebellious.
So for the first, oh, 2½ years of high school I was a major rebel. I was hanging around with all the wrong types … My mother was so mad at me she told me I was never going to be anything. And I went, “Oh, yeah? Watch this.” And that’s when I switched it around. I wanted to prove she was wrong.

So I got on the swim team and started to hang with kids who were, I guess you’d say, proper. I graduated with pretty close to straight A’s and I was a song leader—though I really wasn’t the type, honestly—and I became art editor of the yearbook, which is why I’m so visible in the yearbook.

In a way, this all relates to my life today. I spent most of 2013 getting my California license to be a foster parent. And I’ve had a couple foster kids so far, and there’s another one coming. Something I try toimpart to them is that you can change your life. From all bad things can come something good.

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