December 19, 2018

RIP Penny Marshall (Oct 15, 1943 - Dec 17, 2018)

Penny Marshall
(October 15, 1943 - December 17, 2018)
Los Angeles Times
written by Dennis Mclellan
Tuesday December 18, 2018

Penny Marshall had been making minor inroads in Hollywood for several years before the iconic Laverne and Shirley characters debuted as Richie and Fonzie’s double dates on an episode of “Happy Days” in 1975.

Marshall, who played the feisty Laverne on the spinoff series, “Laverne & Shirley,” was a semi-regular on “The Odd Couple” as Oscar Madison’s secretary and a regular on the short-lived “Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers.”

But her career received a big boost from her brother Garry Marshall, who had been an executive producer on “The Odd Couple.” He also created “Happy Days” and co-created “Laverne & Shirley.”

“I’m sure people thought I got parts because my brother was being nice, and at first I probably thought the same thing,” Penny Marshall told The Times in 1988. “But my brother finally told me, ‘I’m not giving you a job ‘cause I’m nice. I’m not that nice.’”

With her deadpan demeanor and flat-toned Bronx accent that a TV Guide writer once described as sounding like “a groan filtered through a whine,” Marshall costarred as a Milwaukee brewery worker in “Laverne & Shirley” before becoming a director of hit movies such as “Big” and “A League of Their Own.”

Marshall died Monday night in her Hollywood Hills home due to complications from diabetes, Michelle Bega, a spokeswoman for Marshall’s family, told The Times on Tuesday. She was 75.

“Our family is heartbroken over the passing of Penny Marshall,” the family said in a statement.

“Goodbye, Penny,” tweeted “Big” and “A League of Their Own” star Tom Hanks. “Man, did we laugh a lot! Wish we still could. Love you. Hanx.”

Hanks, his “League” costar Rosie O’Donnell and Mark Wahlberg, who got his first acting job from Marshall, were among the numerous celebrities to salute the late actress and director Tuesday.

With “Big,” Marshall made history as the first woman to direct a film that grossed more than $100 million, but it was the wisecracking Laverne DeFazio of “Laverne & Shirley” who jump-started her career.

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight! Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated,” Marshall and costar Cindy Williams famously chanted as they skipped down the sidewalk in the show’s opening sequence.

Starring alongside Williams’ idealistic Shirley Feeney, the two 1950s working-class roommates worked on the assembly line at the Shotz Brewery in Milwaukee.

The midseason replacement show was launched on ABC in January 1976 and soared to the top of the ratings. Known for its broad physical comedy, it was the No. 1-rated show for the 1977-78 and 1978-79 seasons and aired until 1983.

“There were no blue-collar girls on television” when ‘Laverne & Shirley’ debuted,” executive producer Garry Marshall once said in an interview for the Archive of American Television.

Viewers, he said, “were dying for somebody that didn’t look like Mary Tyler Moore or all the pretty girls on TV. They wanted somebody who looked like a regular person. And my sister looks like a regular person — talks like a regular person — and Cindy Williams was brilliant as Shirley.”

“Laverne & Shirley” had been off the air three years when Marshall made her feature film debut as a director of the 1986 Whoopi Goldberg comedy “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

She had directed four episodes of “Laverne & Shirley” and the pilot for the short-lived 1979 sitcom “Working Stiffs” when she received an unexpected offer to replace director Howard Zieff 10 days into the shooting of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

“It was real scary,” Marshall told the New York Times in 1992. “I was hired on a Friday and went to work on a Monday. I didn’t know you had to shoot from so many angles!”

The film was not a success, but her next one was.

“Big,” a fantasy tale in which a boy wakes up in the body of an adult man played by Hanks, earned the actor an Oscar nomination and made Marshall the first female director in Hollywood history to direct a movie that grossed more than $100 million.

“Awakenings” (1990), a medical drama starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams, came next. It received three Oscar nominations, including for best picture and actor in a leading role (for De Niro).

Marshall went on to direct “A League of Their Own” (1992), “Renaissance Man” (1994), “The Preacher’s Wife” (1996) and “Riding in Cars with Boys” (2001).

Marshall appeared in a handful of roles in recent years, most related in some fashion to her late brother Garry Marshall, who died in 2016. That same year, Penny Marshall appeared in a special episode of the rebooted CBS series "The Odd Couple" memorializing her brother, in addition to serving as a narrator on her brother's final film, "Mother's Day."

As for her directing career, Marshall had a documentary in post-production about former NBA superstar and recent international diplomat Dennis Rodman. “Rodman” is scheduled for release Sept. 1.

A dedicated sports fan — she had Lakers season tickets and a large collection of sports memorabilia — Marshall was known among longtime friends for being intensely loyal.

She also has been described as a worrier, insecure and self-effacing.

Asked by a Times reporter in 1988 how deep her insecurities were, she joked: “I was born with a frown.”

“I always feel like somehow I’m going to be a failure,” she said in that interview. “I’m from the negativity and depression school. When I see bad reviews, I say, ‘Yeah, they’re probably right.’

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