Director Penny Marshall, TV Icon of ‘Laverne & Shirley,’ Dies @ 75

TV icon Penny Marshall, who went on to become the most commercially successful female director of all time, has died.

Penny Marshall: October 15, 1943—December 17, 2018 (Image via ABC) reports that Marshall, 75, died due to complications from Type 2 diabetes on Monday, December 17. She had been diagnosed with brain and lung cancer in 2009.

Marshall was born into a showbiz family, including a mother who danced, a father who directed and produced and a sister who was a casting director. Most notably, her brother was the ubersuccessful writer/producer/director Garry Marshall (1934-2016), and it was his early success in comedy that provided forum for Marshall to reveal her prodigious talents.

While in college, Marshall became pregnant with a daughter, leading to a two-year marriage to the father. They divorced in 1963 and Marshall began acting, following her brother to L.A. in 1967 and making her credited debut in the film The Savage Seven (1968), a biker curiosity that would not be emblematic of her choices.

More up her alley, she popped up in How Sweet It Is! (1968), produced by her brother, and The Grasshopper (1970), both directed by Jerry Paris (1925-1986).

Around this time, Marshall appeared in a hilarious TV spot with Farrah Fawcett (1947-2009), playing a plain jane to Fawcett's annoyingly perfect girl-next-door. Her trademark deadpan delivery was already locked and loaded:

As her career began taking off, Marshall met and married Rob Reiner (b. 1947), another rising star from an entertainment family. There were wed from 1971-1981, appearing in the 1978 romantic TV movie about their love affair, More Than Friends.

Marshall made many episodic TV appearances on her way to the roles that defined her as an actress, including on That Girl (1968-1969), My Friend Tony (1969), Barefoot in the Park (1970), The Super (1972),  The Bob Newhart Show (1972) and Mary Tyler Moore (1974-1976).

As Myrna (Image via ABC)

Her first big impression was made as Myrna, a variation on herself in which she would specialize, on The Odd Couple (1972-1974).

A winning 1975 appearance on Happy Days playing floozy Laverne DeFazio on the episode "A Date with Fonzie" led to the spin-off Laverne & Shirley (1976-1983), retooled with the girls (the other played by Cindy Williams, b. 1947) playing much sweeter.

"What an extraordinary loss. My good friend, Penny Marshall is gone — one in a million. Utterly unique, a truly great talent. And, oh what fun we had! Can't describe how I'll miss her." — Cindy Williams to Today

The on-screen chemistry between the two women was like milk and Pepsi (a favorite Marshall/DeFazio concoction).

There was an innocence to L&S — the world's oldest virgins. Ish. (GIF via GIPHY)

The show became an iconic comedy smash, allowing both to show off slapstick comedy skills.

Bad blood and Williams' leaving to have a baby took the wind out of the show's sails eventually, but Marshall appeared on every episode.

She acted only sporadically after the series ended, popping up in random films (including a cameo in 1993's Hocus Pocus alongside her brother — playing man and wife), with her final filmed performance bringing her full circle as a character on the rebooted The Odd Couple in 2016.

Marshall was pursuing directing and producing instead of seeking to act. She directed five episodes of TV (including four for Laverne & Shirley) ahead of her feature debut, the Whoopi Goldberg (b. 1955) vehicle Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986). As a bonus, she directed the music video for the film's Rolling Stones cover theme, sung by Aretha Franklin (1942-2018).

It was not a hit, but her sophomore film was a $100M smash, the 1988 comedy Big, with Tom Hanks (b. 1956). An A-lister, she followed it in short order with Awakenings (1990), which was Oscar-nominated for Best Picture but not for Best Director, and the $100M smash A League of Their Own (1992), selected for preservation by the U.S. National Film Registry for its cultural importance.

Her hits may have made her the most commercially successful female movie director in history.

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She went on to direct the less successful Renaissance Man (1994), The Preacher's Wife (1996) and Riding in Cars with Boys (2001), as well as more episodic TV, the TV movie Women Without Men (2010) and a forthcoming documentary on baskeball star Dennis Rodman (b. 1961).

Outside of acting and directing, Marshall was an effective Kmart pitchwoman with sidekick Rosie O'Donnell (1962) in 1996. The same year, she made a cameo on SNL to support Whitney Houston (1963-2012), her Preacher's Wife star.

In 2012, Marshall published the memoir My Mother Was Nuts, and made a number of public appearances at autograph shows with Cindy Williams and her brother.

The Lakers fan is survived by daughter Tracy Reiner (b. 1964), who appeared in A League of Their Own.

Hollywood remembers:


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