‘Laverne & Shirley’ star, ‘Big’ director Penny Marshall dies

Marshall died of complications from diabetes on Monday, Dec. 17, 2018, at her Hollywood Hills home. She was 75.

FILE - In this Dec. 17, 1990 file photo, director Penny Marshall poses with co-stars of “Awakenings” Robin Williams, left, and Robert De Niro at the premiere of the film in New York. (AP Photo/Chrystyna Czajkowsky, File)

FILE - In this Dec. 17, 1990 file photo, director Penny Marshall poses with co-stars of “Awakenings” Robin Williams, left, and Robert De Niro at the premiere of the film in New York. (AP Photo/Chrystyna Czajkowsky, File)

Penny Marshall, who indelibly starred in the top-rated sitcom “Laverne & Shirley” before becoming the trailblazing director of smash-hit big-screen comedies such as “Big” and “A League of Their Own,” has died. She was 75.

Michelle Bega, a spokeswoman for the Marshall family, said Tuesday that Marshall died in her Los Angeles home on Monday night due to complications from diabetes. Marshall earlier fought lung cancer, which went into remission in 2013. “Our family is heartbroken,” the Marshall family said in a statement.

In “Laverne & Shirley,” among television’s biggest hits for much of its eight-season run between 1976-1983, the nasal-voiced, Bronx-born Marshall starred as Laverne DeFazio alongside Cindy Williams as a pair of blue-collar roommates toiling on the assembly line of a Milwaukee brewery. A spinoff of “Happy Days,” the series was the rare network hit about working-class characters, and its self-empowering opening song (“Give us any chance, we’ll take it/ Read us any rule, we’ll break it”) foreshadowed Marshall’s own path as a pioneering female filmmaker in the male-dominated movie business.

“Almost everyone had a theory about why ‘Laverne & Shirley’ took off,” Marshall wrote in her 2012 memoir “My Mother Was Nuts.” ”I thought it was simply because Laverne and Shirley were poor and there were no poor people on TV, but there were plenty of them sitting at home and watching TV.”

Marshall directed several episodes of “Laverne & Shirley,” which her older brother, the late filmmaker-producer Garry Marshall, created. Those episodes helped launch Marshall as a filmmaker. When Whoopi Goldberg clashed with director Howard Zieff, she brought in Marshall to direct “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” the 1986 comedy starring Goldberg.

“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” did fair business, but Marshall’s next film, “Big,” was a major success, making her the first woman to direct a film that grossed more than $100 million. The 1988 comedy, starring Tom Hanks, is about a 12-year-old boy who wakes up in the body of a 30-year-old New York City man. The film, which earned Hanks an Oscar nomination, grossed $151 million worldwide, or about $320 million accounting for inflation.

Read more: Somber stars attend memorial for Reynolds-Fisher at compound

Read more: Canadian ‘Superman’ star Margot Kidder’s death ruled a suicide

The honour meant only so much to the typically self-deprecating Marshall. “They didn’t give ME the money,” Marshall later joked to The New Yorker.

Marshall reteamed with Hanks for “A League of Their Own,” the 1992 comedy about the women’s professional baseball league begun during World War II, starring Geena Davis, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell. That, too, crossed $100 million, making $107.5 million domestically.

More than any other films, “A League of Their Own” and “Big” ensured Marshall’s stamp on the late ’80s, early ’90s. The piano dance scene in FAO Schwartz in “Big” became iconic. Hanks’ reprimand from “A League of Their Own” — “There’s no crying in baseball!” — remains quoted on baseball diamonds everywhere.

On Tuesday, Marshall’s passing was felt across film, television and comedy . “Big” producer James L. Brooks praised her for making “films which celebrated humans” and for her helping hand to young comedians and writers. “To many of us lost ones she was, at the time, the world’s greatest den mother.”

“She had a heart of gold. Tough as nails,” recalled Danny DeVito, who starred in Marshall’s 1994 comedy “Renaissance Man.” ”She could play round ball with the best of them.”

Marshall’s early success in a field where few women rose so high made her an inspiration to other aspiring female filmmakers. Ava DuVernay, whose “A Wrinkle in Time” was the first $100 million-budgeted film directed by a woman of colour, said Tuesday: “Thank you, Penny Marshall. For the trails you blazed. The laughs you gave. The hearts you warmed.”

In between “Big” and “A League of Their Own,” Marshall made the Oliver Sacks adaptation “Awakenings,” with Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. The medical drama, while not as successful at the box office, became only the second film directed by a woman nominated for best picture.

Carole Penny Marshall was born Oct. 15, 1943, in the Bronx. Her mother, Marjorie Marshall, was a dance teacher, and her father, Anthony, made industrial films. Their marriage was strained. Her mother’s caustic wit — a major source of material and of pain in Marshall’s memoir — was formative. (One remembered line: “You were a miscarriage, but you were stubborn and held on.”)

“Those words are implanted in your soul, unfortunately. It’s just the way it was,” Marshall once recalled. “You had to learn at a certain age what sarcasm is, you know? When she says it about somebody else, you laughed, but when it was you, you didn’t laugh so much.”

During college at the University of New Mexico, Marshall met Michael Henry, whom she married briefly for two years and with whom she had a daughter, Tracy. Marshall would later wed the director Rob Reiner, a marriage that lasted from 1971 to 1981. Tracy, who took the name Reiner, became an actress; one of her first roles was a brief appearance in her mother’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Marshall is also survived by her older sister, Ronny, and three grandchildren.

Marshall’s brother Garry, already established as a writer, coaxed her to move out to Los Angeles in 1967. She studied acting while supporting herself as a secretary — a role she would later play on “Happy Days.” Her first commercial was for Head & Shoulders opposite a then-unknown Farrah Fawcett.

“I just cannot bring myself to accept that the homely person on the screen is me,” Marshall told TV Guide in 1976. “I grew up believing an actress is supposed to be beautiful. After I saw myself in a ‘Love American Style’ segment, I cried for three days. I’ve had braces put on my teeth twice, but they did no good.”

Marshall never again matched the run of “Big,” ”Awakenings” and “A League of Their Own.” Her next film, the Army recruit comedy “Renaissance Man,” flopped. She directed “The Preacher’s Wife” (1996) with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. Her last film as director was 2001’s “Riding in Cars With Boys,” with Drew Barrymore. Marshall also helmed episodes of ABC’s “According to Jim” in 2009 and Showtime’s “United States of Tara” in 2010 and 2011, and directed the 2010 TV movie “Women Without Men.”

Marshall, a courtside regular at Los Angeles Lakers games, left behind a long-in-the-making documentary about former NBA star Dennis Rodman. When the project was announced in 2012, Marshall said Rodman asked her to do it.

“I have a little radar to the insane,” explained Marshall. “They seek me out.”

___

Jake Coyle, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The public will start to weigh in next month on the possible future uses of Oak Bay Lodge. In the meantime, a request to the province by the City of Victoria to intervene and allow use of at least a portion of the closed facility as temporary shelter space awaits an answer. (Black Press Media file photo)
Oak Bay Lodge redevelopment planning continues, request for temporary use awaits answer

Public consultation on future of CRD-owned site begins next month

A project on McCallum Road will add 227 residential units to Langford. (Photo courtesy of Highstreet Ventures)
Residential project slated for McCallum Road in Langford

Six-storey development will be built to highest energy-efficiency standards

Saanich golfer and top B.C. junior and juvenile player Willy Bishop was named to the 2021 Canadian National Junior Golf Squad on Nov. 19. (Photo courtesy Jenny Bishop)
Saanich student to tee-off with national golf team

Willy Bishop, 16, named to Canadian National Junior Golf Squad in 2021

Island Health has reported a COVID-19 outbreak at Saanich Peninsula Hospital. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)
Four new COVID-19 cases added to Saanich Peninsula Hospital outbreak

Inital round of patient testing is complete, staff testing continues

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

(AP Photo/Paula Bronstein)
POLL: Has COVID-19 changed your plans for the holidays?

The lights are going up, the stacks of presents under the tree… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Dec. 1

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Lake Trail Middle School in Courtenay has closed again due to a threat Friday (Dec 4). File photo
Island middle school closed for the second time in a week due to threat

On Nov. 26, Lake Trail Middle School was closed for a day while a similar incident occurred.

Melissa David, of Parachutes for Pets and her dogs Hudson and Charlie are trying to raise money for a homeless shelter that will allow pets and are seen in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘My only wish:’ Children asking pet charity to help their furry friends at Christmas

Parachutes for Pets says it has received 14 letters from children in the last week t

Melissa Velden and her chef-husband Chris Velden, stand in their dining room at the Flying Apron Inn and Cookery in Summerville, N.S. on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. The couple is hosting holiday parties with appropriate distancing and other COVID-19 health protocols in place at their restaurant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Celebrities, Santa and Zoom part of office holiday parties being held amid COVID-19

Many will send tokens of appreciation to workers or offer time off or cash

Watch Messiah at home with the Sooke Philharmonic

Concert available to stream Dec. 12

Emergency crews used a backhoe loader to clear fire debris from the scene of a fire on Wesley Street Thursday as police and firefighters gathered up propane tanks, stoves and fireplaces used by camp residents to heat tents. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
City of Nanaimo dismantles downtown homeless encampment after fire

Four to six tents burned up in Wesley Street fire Thursday, Dec. 3

Most Read