Director Penny Marshall Dies, Aged 75

Penny Marshall

by Owen Williams |
Published on

Penny Marshall, director of smash hit '80s and '90s movies like Big and A League Of Their Own, has died in Hollywood, aged 75.

She was born Carol Penny Marshall in New York in 1943. Her mother Marjorie ran her own tapdance school, and her father Anthony a director and producer of industrial films. Her older brother was the comedy writer and director Garry Marshall, and her own career took off when she went to join him in Los Angeles in the late '60s when he was working on The Dick Van Dyke Show.

A few years of bit parts in films and on television followed, until her major break came in The Odd Couple: the sit-com adaptation of Neil Simon's play and film which her brother had developed for television. Her recurring role as a secretary lasted four years, during which time she became a familiar face in further comedies like The Bob Newhart Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Turning out for a single episode of Happy Days – "A Date With Fonzie" – unexpectedly led to spin-off Laverne & Shirley, a massive hit that ran for eight seasons between 1976 and 1983. She played Laverne DeFazio to Cindy Williams' Shirley Feeney: best friends who share an apartment and work in a bottle capping factory. By its third season it was the most watched show in America.

Marshall's directing career started with episodes of that show, and of another sit-com, Working Stiffs, which starred Michael Keaton and James Belushi. Her film career kicked off with the Whoopie Goldberg vehicle Jumpin' Jack Flash in 1986, which she followed up with Big (1988, starring Tom Hanks), Awakenings (1990, with Robin Williams and Robert De Niro), A League Of Their Own (1992, with Hanks again, Geena Davis and Madonna), Renaissance Man (1994, with Danny DeVito), The Preacher's Wife (1996, with Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington) and Riding In Cars With Boys (2001, with Drew Barrymore). Big was the first film by a female director to make $100m, a success that A League Of Their Own repeated.

In the 2000s she moved into producing (Cinderella Man, Bewitched) and occasionally took small cameo roles (sometimes as herself) and voice work. In 2010 she was diagnosed with lung cancer, but was in remission by 2012. A lifelong sports fan, she had most recently been working on a documentary about Dennis Rodman, currently listed as in post-production. The infamous basketball star apparently named Marshall as the only person he would trust to make the film.

She died on Monday from complications from diabetes. Outpourings of tributes on social media included reminiscences from her former husband Rob Reiner and her Happy Days cohort Ron Howard. "She was born with a funnybone and the instinct of how to use it," said Reiner. "I was very lucky to have lived with her and her funnybone."

"She made the transition from sitcom star to A List movie director with ease and had a major impact on both mediums," said Howard. "All that and always relaxed, funny and totally unpretentious. I was lucky to have known and worked with her."

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