/ Why she’s interesting / As the grandmother of actor James Franco, she impressed about 40 million viewers with a snappy Marky Mark reference at the 2011 Oscars and rendered FunnyorDie.com viewers speechless with a single, well-chosen profanity. But it’s all in a day’s work for the founder of Little Italy’s Verne Gallery, who’s never lived her life according to the rule book.
/ On where life can take you / Verne’s husband, an oral surgeon and lieutenant in the Navy, came home in 1953 with big news: He had orders to ship out to Yokosuka. “I was so naive; I thought Yokosuka was someplace off the coast of California. I was right about that — it was Yokosuka, Japan.”
/ On where she took life / “We never lived on the base, which was our choice, because the people who lived on the base established a little America unto themselves. They didn’t realize that it was a privilege to be there during the occupation. We lived in half of a Japanese house, and our landlord would give us ideas of what we should see.”
/ Heartfelt collecting / The couple started seeking out art soon after they arrived in Japan. An early purchase, a pair of scrolls by famed artist Shibata Zeshin, turned out to be well-chosen artifacts. “[They] have been on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art,” she says. “It was a gut reaction to something we wanted to live with, which is the way art should be collected.”
/ In the spotlight / The morning of the Oscars, she received a call from Franco’s manager. “He says, ‘Are you able to manage standing before millions of people?’ I said, ‘I sure am. I have been waiting for this opportunity to get into my grandson’s act for all these years.’ ”
/ Coming to a theater near you / When she spoke to us, Verne had just returned from the Detroit set of the 2013 movie Oz: The Great and Powerful, in which Franco plays the Wizard. “I’m in that film. I’m a townsperson. They worked for five hours on my makeup and the costumes. I was on the yellow brick road when the Wicked Witch comes.”