“Those experiences taught me the lessons that came in handy later in my life: Try hard, play by the rules, help your friends, don’t get too crazy, and have fun.”
― Penny Marshall, My Mother Was Nuts

The news broke this week as well as many hearts: Penny Marshall has passed away at the age of 75 due to diabetes complications. The American audience got the first glimpse of Penny Marshall’s humorous personality and undistinguishable Bronx accent back in 1976 with the now-classic sitcom, “Laverne and Shirley,” winning them over with her whines and contagious laughs. Running for eight seasons, the show ended in 1983–spanning almost a decade and cementing an archetypal foundation for female relationships in American television. For the ones unfamiliar with it, the sitcom revolves around “two best friends, roommates and polar opposites Laverne DeFazio (played by Marshall) and Shirley Feeney. After losing their jobs at Shotz Brewery where they’re both employed, the pair moves to Burbank, Calif., in season six to get a fresh start and hope to break into the movie business.”

Today, we have shows like “Girls” “Broad City,” while the nineties had “Sex and the City.” All of these shows center around the same ideals as in “Laverne and Shirley”: best friends with disparate personalities that somehow make it work, and help each other navigate the discrepancies of big cities, new jobs, and love interests.

In 1988 Marshall made history when she directed the acclaimed movie “Big”: not only did Tom Hanks win an Oscar for his performance, she was also the first woman to direct a feature film that grossed more than $100 million. 

Marshall’s big break was in 1971 with the help of her brother, Garry Marshall, in the ABC sitcom “The Odd Couple.” After that came “Laverne and Shirley”. When it ended in 1983, Marshall got into directing with the help of a friend, Whoopi Goldberg, for the film “Jumpin Jack Flash” (1986). She also directed the films “Awakenings” with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams; “Renaissance Man” with Danny DeVito; “Riding in Cars with Boys” with Drew Barrymore; and “The Preacher’s Wife,” a remake of the 1947 film.

Tom Hanks in “Big.”

Penny Marshall had a personality. In her 2010 memoir, “My Mother was Nuts” she recounts how she started in the acting business:

“I quit temping and signed for unemployment. At that moment, I became a real actress. In Hollywood, unemployment is a lifestyle. You have to work hard to get on it. Then you’re free to go on auditions, as well as to sit around and drink coffee, smoke, and flirt with whoever is cute in your acting class. I’m not going to lie though, it helped that my brother had an important job in the business. he made it clear that he wouldn’t rush his career for me, but he would open doors. The formula seemed to work.”

Her career included numerous films that were noteworthy for strong female characters, including “A League of Their Own” (1992), which tells a fictionalized account of the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). The film starred Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, and Debi Mazar. In 2012, A League of Their Own was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. 

Check out her book, “My Mother was Nuts” here.


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