Friends, as you have no doubt heard by now, we lost Penny Marshall the other day at the age of 75. This was far from the original post I had intended to share with you but when we lose an actor, producer, and Director of Marshall’s caliber it takes precedence over the more lighter pop culture news I wished to share. Probably like many of you that frequent the Retroist, I first knew of Penny Marshall from her work on the long running and popular Laverne & Shirley sitcom – that was broadcast on ABC beginning in 1976 and lasting until 1983.
For what it’s worth, Laverne & Shirley was a spin-off of another equally popular TV sitcom – Happy Days. As the way I understand it, Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams’ characters of Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney were friends of the Fonz. As a matter of fact, it’s been said that Cindy Williams didn’t actually want to appear in the spin off at all. At least that is how Michael Eisner remembers it – you can check it out for yourself in the video below.
Believe it or not, Penny Marshall auditioned for the role of Witchiepoo in the classic Saturday morning series H.R. Pufnstuf, the series of course was produced by Sid and Marty Krofft. The role however went to the other actress up for the part – which was Billie Hayes. It was in 1971 though when Penny landed a permanent role in the television version of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple where she played Myrna Turner, who was Oscar’s secretary. A show I should add that her brother, the late and equally great Garry Marshall not only Executive produced but managed to direct 6 of the episodes over it’s 114 episode run. In the clip below, Penny talks about not only how she landed the gig for the series but what it was like working on the set.
Now I would like to say the next thing that made me sit up and take notice of Penny Marshall was 1988’s Big which marked the first of two times she worked with Tom Hanks. That isn’t the case however as thanks to an Entertainment Tonight report – I learned she was the Director of 1986’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash with Whoopi Goldberg, John Wood, and Annie Potts. Although of those two films I will have to say I do love Big more – while they are apples and oranges I just think that it’s the better of the two movies.
In 1990, Marshall Directed Awakenings with Robert De Niro and the legendary Robin Williams – which was based on the 1973 memoir of Oliver Sacks. It’s in 1992 that I personally believe that Penny Marshall helmed one of the greatest movies of all time – it marked the second time she would feature Tom Hanks in one of her films as well as featuring Geena Davis, Madonna, and Rosie O’Donnell – obviously I’m talking about A League of Their Own. This is a film that I’ll generally stop what I’m doing and watch if I catch it on the Sundance channel or IFC and it always – every single time moves me to tears by the end of the picture. While the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was a real thing, the film itself is a fictionalized telling of the events members of the League experienced. I will admit that I didn’t know that the film’s massive popularity led to a short-lived CBS television series in 1993 though!
Penny Marshall would continue to appear in films and television – sometimes as herself like in 1995’s Get Shorty or lend her voice to The Simpsons. She was a Producer on 2005’s Cinderella Man and 2005’s big screen adaptation of Bewitched. Marshall even found time to appear in an episode of CBS’ remake of The Odd Couple – she wasn’t the only one of her Family members that did so though, Garry Marshall appeared as Oscar’s Father!
Friends, it is always sad to lose a celebrity that you’ve grown up watching. With Penny Marshall at least she has left an amazing amount of entertainment as her legacy.
The lights will be dimmed in the Vault auditorium.