It started with a kiss.
Penny Raven — former Fresno Bee columnist, candidate for lieutenant governor, socialite and businesswoman — was given a small role in the 1990 feature film “Pretty Woman” because of a smooch she got from director Garry Marshall. This year is the 25th anniversary of the Richard Gere-Julia Roberts movie about a hooker with a heart of gold.
The invitation from Marshall is part of a long friendship between the pair that started after Marshall came to Fresno for a charity event in 1974. Raven was a member of the Fresno Cancer League, a fundraising arm of the American Cancer Society. The special guests for their fundraiser were Marshall, Charles Nelson Reilly and Jack Klugman. Marshall, who had created the TV series “The Odd Couple” with Klugman and Tony Randall, was there to help raise money and promote the program.
Marshall ended his speech by saying that his wife made him promise to kiss the prettiest girl in the room.
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Raven expected Marshall to select someone else, so she was surprised when he left the stage and kissed her.
Before Marshall returned to Los Angeles, he called Raven and invited her and her husband, Larry, to a taping of “The Odd Couple.” That was the start of a friendship that continues to this day.
Marshall is known for casting friends, former classmates and relatives in his movies. He’s done it with such consistency, they have a name in Hollywood: FOGs (Friends of Garry). Raven became a film FOG during the shooting of “Pretty Woman.”
“He called me about a year and a half ahead and told me he had something very special he wanted me to do in ‘Pretty Woman,’ ” Raven says. “He said, ‘You have the right look for what I want.’ ”
She was to play a woman in an upscale Rodeo Drive clothing store where the snooty sales clerks initially reject the prostitute (played by Roberts) and ask her to leave. They are unaware she’s been given money by her current customer (Gere) to use to buy a new wardrobe.
Raven left Fresno at 3 a.m. to make the 6:30 a.m. start time. Before going through makeup or wardrobe, she was asked to be one of the extras in a scene shot on Melrose Avenue. She window-shopped while cameras rolled. That scene didn’t make the final cut.
For the store scene, the wardrobe department had been alerted days earlier of her sizes, so when she arrived on set they had a designer suit ready for her to wear. Raven’s apologetic that she didn’t find out the name of the designer. She was so afraid she would spill something on the suit during lunch, she covered herself in napkins while eating.
FOGs always get special treatment, which Raven saw when she went to have her makeup done.
“There were three chairs there. A man was sitting in one chair reading his paper and doing the crossword puzzle. He was asking me questions about the puzzle. I had no clue that it was Richard Gere,” Raven says. “I had seen him in ‘An Officer and a Gentleman,’ but he had a buzz haircut. Here’s this gray-haired, distinguished looking, kind man. I just didn’t recognize him one iota.”
A few moments later, they were joined by Roberts, who needed an adjustment to the red wig she was wearing in the scene. Raven remembers Roberts as being a sweet young woman.
Marshall fondly recalls casting Raven in “Pretty Woman.”
“We were shooting at a fancy boutique on Rodeo Drive and I needed an elegant lady to be a customer,” Marshall says.
He knew Raven always looked elegant, so he put her in the scene. He adds that the reaction Raven gives when Roberts’ character comes into the store was perfect.
It was so good, she has a close-up in the movie.
Raven’s role was no more than an extra, but Marshall made sure she got royal treatment. During the lunch break, Raven was allowed to use one of the trailers, a perk normally only given to the main actors. Although the scene lasts for only a few moments, it took all day to film.
“There were 26 takes of Julia coming in the door. I don’t know if the timing was wrong or they weren’t getting the reaction they wanted,” Raven says.
“Pretty Woman” was the first of three Marshall movies in which Raven appeared. She plays a member of the royal family in “Princess Diaries II” and part of a couple checking into a hotel in “Valentine’s Day.”
Raven, 71, has a manila folder filled with mementos from working on “Pretty Woman.” There’s the invitation to the cast and crew screening and party, a copy of the check (she was paid $127.23 after taxes) and photos of her from the day.
“Pretty Woman” wasn’t her first on-screen work. A few years earlier, she was in the 1986 TV miniseries “Fresno” starring Carol Burnett, Dabney Coleman and Gregory Harrison.
Raven was reporting for The Fresno Bee on the casting session of local extras for the few scenes of the miniseries shot in Fresno. When some of the extras didn’t show up, the casting directors asked her if she would play a reporter in a scene.
“A few weeks later, I got a call from them saying they needed a familiar Fresno face and would I come to Los Angeles to be in more scenes,” Raven says.
She thought she would work a couple of days, but it turned into six weeks. She would return to Fresno on the weekends to report on society events, which were the fodder for her columns, and then she would head back to Los Angeles to shoot more scenes.
Her connection with Hollywood has been strong for years, especially with Marshall as they continue to talk on a regular basis.
“Whatever is going on in our lives, we are friends who just enjoy talking with each other,” Raven says. “When we go to Los Angeles, if Garry is in town, we always go by to see him.
“You know, to this day, in every movie Garry puts in grapes for Fresno.”
And, it all started with a kiss.