Director and Comic Actor Penny Marshall Dies at 75

Penny Marshall, director of Big and star of Laverne and Shirley, brought the Bronx to Hollywood.

Penny Marshall, Hollywood’s top-grossing female director and star of television’s Laverne & Shirley died at age 75 from complications from diabetes. She had reportedly been battling health issues since diagnosed in 2009 with lung cancer which spread to her brain.

“Our family is heartbroken over the passing of Penny Marshall,” the family said in a statement. “Penny was a girl from the Bronx who came out West, put a cursive ‘L’ on her sweater and transformed herself into a Hollywood success story. We hope her life continues to inspire others.”

Marshall is best known for her role as Laverne DeFazio on the Happy Days spinoff Laverne & Shirley , which ran on ABC from 1976 to 1983. She was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy three times during the run. The seres was created by her brother, the late Garry Marshall. Laverne & Shirley centered on two blue-collar Milwaukee brewery workers. Cindy Williams co-starred as Shirley Feeney. Marshall and Cindy Williams first played the role on the “A Date with Fonzie” episode of Happy Days which  aired on November 11, 1975. Laverne and Shirley appeared in five more episodes.

After directing several episodes of Laverne & Shirley, Marshall made her feature film directorial debut in 1986 with Jumpin’ Jack Flash, starring Whoopi Goldberg. She was a last-minute replacement for Howard Zieff. Her second movie, Big (1988), starring Tom Hanks, was the first female-directed film to earn over $100 million at the box office. Marshall’s 1992 film about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League organized during World War II, A League of Their Own, also broke through the $100 million box office mark.

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She also directed the films Awakenings with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams, The Preacher’s Wife remake, starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston, Renaissance Man starring Danny DeVito, and Riding in Cars with Boys with Drew Barrymore.

Carole Penny Marshall was named after actress Carole Lombard. She was born Oct. 15, 1943 in the Bronx, New York. Her family lived on the Grand Concourse. Anthony Marshall, her father, made industrial films. Her mother Marjorie taught tap dance. Marshall lived across the street from actor and director Rob Reiner, who she would marry in 1971 and divorce in 1981, but the never met because the Grand Concourse was a busy street.

Marhall made her film debut in her brother Garry Marshall’s film How Sweet It Is (1968). She also acted in the film The Savage Seven (1968). She appeared in episodes of the series That Girl, starring Marlo Thomas. Marshall played Oscar Madison’s secretary, Myrna for four years on the series The Odd Couple. Her character married her boyfriend, Sheldn, played by Rob Reiner, on the show. Marshall had been considered for the role of Gloria Bunker Stivic on All in the Family, which went to Sally Struthers.

Marshall also acted in the TV movies Evil Roy Slade (1972), The Crooked Hearts (1972), The Couple Takes a Wife and Wacky Zoo of Morgan City (1972). She appeared was a regular on The Bob Newhart Show from 1972 to 1973. Marshall played Mary Richards neighbors Paula on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Marshall had a minor role in the 1979 comedy 1941, directed by Steven Spielberg. Marshall directed episodes of Showtime’s United States of Tara. She appeared on IFC’s Portlandia.

Marsall wrote the 2012 memoir, My Mother Was Nuts.

Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.

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