Penny Marshall, Iconic Comedian and Film and TV Director, Dies at 75
One of the signature filmmakers and TV comedians of the last 50 years has left us: Penny Marshall, star of — and later director and producer of — films and television has died. TMZ reports Marshall passed away last night in Hollywood, following complications from diabetes. She was only 75 years old.
Marshall’s big break came as a cast member on the TV sitcom version of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple — which was produced by her brother, Garry Marshall. After The Odd Couple wound down, Penny Marshall made a guest appearance on Happy Days as Fonzie’s friend Laverne DeFazio, and then she and co-guest star Cindy Williams were then spun off onto their own series, Laverne & Shirley, which lasted for eight seasons and almost 200 episodes on CBS. For several years, it was the highest-rated show on television; its opening credits and theme song remain one of the most iconic in TV history.
While still starring on Laverne & Shirley, Marshall began directing — first episodes of her own sitcom, and then other shows along with movies. She had a string of major hits starting in the late 1980s with Big, the beloved comedy about a boy who makes a wish and finds himself transformed into an adult (Tom Hanks, in the role that made him a major movie star). Marshall followed Big — the first film directed by a woman to gross more than $100 million at the box office — with Awakenings, a drama about a catatonic man (Robert De Niro) given a new lease on life by an experimental drug.
Next came perhaps Marshall’s best work: A League of Their Own, a terrific historical film about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, in which women played pro baseball while men were overseas fighting in World War II. Featuring irresistible performances from an all-star cast of Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, and Tom Hanks as the drunken, cantankerous manager Jimmy Dugan, the movie brought to light an important, forgotten period in American sports history, and told a compelling story about sisters (Davis and Petty) both striving to succeed. And of course this scene became legendary:
Marshall worked steadily through the 1990s and into the 2000s, although she never quite topped the one-two punch of Big and A League of Their Own. Those films plus Laverne & Shirley make for an incredible legacy, though, and make her passing a huge loss for movie and television fans everywhere.