It’s a tragic day for American pop culture with the passing of Penny Marshall. TMZ reported that Penny Marshall passed away at the age of 75 in her Hollywood Hills, California home from complications with diabetes. The report was issued by Michelle Bega, Marshall’s longtime publicist. You’ll of course remember Marshall from her famous roll on first “Happy Days”, followed by her leading role with Cindy Williams on “Laverne & Shirley”. She wasn’t just a gorgeous and hilarious leading lady; Marshall’s career touched every generation of America cinema.
Before we dive into her illustrious career, let’s go back to Marshall’s beginnings in the Bronx. In fact, she even grew up on the same street in the Bronx as Neil Simon, Calvin Klein, and Ralph Lauren. Must’ve been something in the air there, right? Born on October 15, 1943, Marshall was born into a family of cinema. Her mother, Marjorie Marshall, was a tap dance teacher and her father, Tony Marshall, was a film director and producer. Show business might’ve run in her blood, but Penny Marshall made her own fate from an early age.
Marshall was married twice. Michael Henry was her first husband and they were married for three years. Michael and Penny had a daughter, Tracy, when Penny was just 19 years old. Her longest and second marriage was with Rob Reiner for 10 years, and he adopted her daughter, Tracy Reiner. The two divorced in 1981.
With her brother Garry Marshall directing, Penny Marshall landed her first role as Myrna Turner on “The Odd Couple”. Audiences loved her kitsch and wit, making her a standout among the cast. She followed this appearance with a two-year streak on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”.
It wasn’t until her iconic role as Laverne DeFazio, though, that American viewers really paid attention to this charmer on both sitcomes. In fact, her trademark ‘L’ for Laverne inspired women the world over to begin using their monogram proudly.
Running for eight years, “Laverne & Shirley” was critically acclaimed and Marshall herself received three nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy.
She did even more than a renaissance man as a true renaissance woman, Marshall remained a prolific female director in an era that often saw women overlooked for such positions. She jumped into the big leagues (literally) with her directing career. Not only did she begin directing on the set of “Laverne & Shirley”, but she recognized her talent for production early on. Her older sister Ronny Hallin is also a television producer, proving that the cultural gene just runs in the Marshall family.
Like her Golden Globe nominations, Marshall’s film Awakenings was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards. In 1996, she received the Women in Film Crystal Award that honors women in communication and media.
The films she directed include:
- Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986) with Whoopi Goldberg
- Big (1988) with Tom Hanks
- Awakenings (1990) with Robin Williams and Robert De Niro
- A League of Their Own (1992) with Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna, and Rosie O’Donnell
- The Preacher’s Wife (1996) with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston
Marshall is often overlooked as a director and instead remembered for her leading role. “Laverne and Shirley” was a groundbreaking show during an age of American sitcoms that many look back on proudly. We’ll never forget Laverne DeFazio and her friendship with Shirley Feeney, and we’ll certainly never forget her powerhouse films with some of today’s greatest actors and actresses.
Tonight, raise a glass of milk and Pepsi to Penny Marshall, a woman who showed all of us ladies how to handle the shenanigans in a Milwaukee brewery, should we ever find ourselves there.