Meet Penny Marshall in the clip above. As she talks to Larry King in an interview from 2012, her rich sense of humor and unbeatable New York accent is on full display. Sadly, she died last Monday at the age of 75.
Born in the Bronx, Penny grew up together with her brother Garry who would also go on to have a very successful career as a writer and director (he died two years ago). Her first taste of showbiz was tap-dancing as a child and in the late 1960s she moved to Los Angeles where Garry was already working as a comedy writer. She started out as an actress and landed a role on The Odd Couple (1970-1975), which had been developed by Garry. Penny was on the sitcom for four years and it landed her more work – notably on one of the decade’s hottest shows, Happy Days, where she appeared together with Cindy Williams as Laverne and Shirley, two dates for Henry Winkler and Ron Howard’s characters.
They were such a hit that Garry decided to create a spin-off, Laverne & Shirley. Running from 1976 to 1983, the sitcom was another big success, commercially and critically; Penny was nominated for a Golden Globe three times.
In the 1980s, both Garry and Penny were clearly interested in directing, and she helmed a few episodes of Laverne & Shirley. Her first feature was a dreadful comedy, Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986), but it did well enough. Creatively, Marshall performed much better after that. Big (1988) was a major hit for her and Tom Hanks in the lead; they would be reunited for A League of Their Own (1992), a comedy-drama that co-starred Madonna and still remains one of the most successful baseball movies ever made; watch the amusing clip above where Geena Davis shows her chops. Marshall also made a very good drama about mental health, Awakenings (1990), with Robin Williams and Robert De Niro in the leads. There would be two more films in the 1990s, none of them too memorable; her last would be the Drew Barrymore drama Riding in Cars with Boys (2001).
As a filmmaker, Penny Marshall elevated women, but above all she always found humor and human dignity in her stories.
On the news of her death, many celebrities expressed grief; Marshall was indeed beloved. Among those who tweeted were Hanks, her ex-husband Rob Reiner, her Laverne & Shirley co-star Michael McKean – and also the official Major League Baseball account.
Goodbye, Penny. Man, did we laugh a lot! Wish we still could. Love you. Hanx.
— Tom Hanks (@tomhanks) December 18, 2018
I loved Penny. I grew up with her. She was born with a great gift. She was born with a funnybone and the instinct of how to use it. I was very lucky to have lived with her and her funnybone. I will miss her.
— Rob Reiner (@robreiner) December 18, 2018
Let me put it this way: Penny was my friend, my coach, my comedy playmate. I was awed by her clarity and her phenomenal instincts. She found the love at the center of the hurt and somehow found the funny along the way.
— Michael McKean (@MJMcKean) December 19, 2018
We join the baseball community in mourning the passing of Penny Marshall, director of “A League of Their Own.” pic.twitter.com/RITPLo5xN7
— MLB (@MLB) December 18, 2018