R.I.P. Penny Marshall

Comedic actress and director Penny Marshall has died. Marshall was 75. She died peacefully Monday night in her Hollywood Hills home, from complications due to diabetes.

You might not have guessed the kid sister of Garry Marshall would grow up to be an icon.

But just as the lyrics to her hit ABC sitcom Laverne & Shirley boasted, “We’re gonna make our dreams come true, and we’ll do it our way.”

Born Carole Penny Marshall in the Bronx on Oct. 15, 1943, the daughter of a tap dance teacher and a film director, little Penny was destined for show business and made her TV debut at the age of 10 tap dancing on The Jackie Gleason Show. It was almost two decades later, however, at the age of 29 when she broke through playing Oscar Madison’s secretary on The Odd Couple. Marshall was an immediate scene-stealer. Not just holding her own onscreen alongside Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, but also afterward as the Fonz’s sometime girlfriend Laverne DeFazio on Happy Days. In fact, Marshall’s Laverne was such as sitcom star she deserved her own show with Shirley (Cindy Williams).

She began directed episodes of Laverne & Shirley in 1979, and got her first chance to direct a movie with 1986’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash, which also offered a comedic starring role for Whoopi Goldberg.

Marshall married twice; once at age 20, leaving college in 1963 and having a daughter, Tracy; then in 1971 to the actor/director Rob Reiner (he would adopt Tracy). That second marriage lasted 10 years.

Marshall transitioned to directing full-time, with a string of cultural and critical hits through the late 1980s and early 1990s that included Big, Awakenings and A League of Their Own. Marshall knew how to bring out the best in her performers, from Tom Hanks to Robin Williams to Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna.

She’d go on to make a modern holiday classic in 1996’s The Preacher’s Wife starring Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington.

And she’d continue to have a sense of humor, joining Fred Armisen (who impersonated Marshall for years on Saturday Night Live) for an episode of Portlandia.

Penny Marshall took any chance you gave her, broke any rule Hollywood had artificially constructed, because she made her dreams come true, her way. For that, generations of comedians and women are eternally grateful. She helped prove nothing’s impossible, that there doesn’t have to be anything stopping us from our own dreams.

Rest in peace, Penny.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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