Penny Marshall, the actor and director best known for her role in “Laverne and Shirley” and for directing “Big,” “A League of Their Own” and several other films, has died at the age of 75, her family says. In a statement, Marshall’s family said she passed away on Monday.
“Our family is heartbroken,” Marshall’s family said in a statement. “She was a comedic natural with a photographic memory and an instinct for slapstick.” A spokesperson for Marshall’s family told The Los Angeles Times that she died peacefully due to complications from diabetes. Her death was made public on Tuesday.
Marshall was born October 15, 1943, in the Bronx, New York, as the daughter of Marjorie Marshall, a tap dance teacher, and Tony Marshall, a film director and producer. Her late brother, Garry Marshall, was also an actor, director and TV producer, and her sister, Ronny Hallin, is a TV producer. She is also survived by her daughter, Tracy Reiner, who is an actress.
Carole Penny Marshall got her start in show business when she was only 3, as she followed in her mother’s footsteps as a tap dancer. She also later taught tap at her mother’s school. Marshall studied at the University of New Mexico, until she got pregnant with her daughter, Tracy, and married her first husband, Michael Henry, in 1963. They divorced two years later. She was remarried in 1971 to director Rob Reiner. They divorced in 1981. Her daughter is an actress who uses the name Tracy Reiner.
After acting in commercials and appearing in small roles in film and on TV, Marshall got her first recurring role as Myrna Turner on “The Odd Couple,” which was directed by her brother. She then appeared on “Happy Days” with Cindy Williams, leading to the spinoff, “Laverne & Shirley.” Marshall started as Laverne DeFazio on the hit show from 1976 to 1983.
“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 Los Angeles 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.’“
Marshall parlayed her on-screen success into a role behind the camera. She directed Tom Hanks in “Big” in 1988, becoming the first woman in history to direct a film that grossed more than $100 million at the box office. Marshall also directed “A League of Their Own,” “Awakenings, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “The Preacher’s Wife,” and “Riding in Cars With Boys.” She gave Mark Wahlberg his first film role in “Renaissance Man,” and later produced “Cinderella Man,” “Bewitched,” and the TV show, “According to Jim.”
Marshall told The Los Angeles Times she struggled with insecurity. “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,'” she told the newspaper. “With directing, I know people on movie sets want leadership, but I don’t exude that captain-of-the-ship image. I’d get on the phone with [‘Big’ producer] Jim Brooks and apologize all the time and say, ‘I’m no good at this.’”
Brooks told the newspaper, “Penny has an iron will, which is a thing that almost everybody misses. You can’t do the job she’s done and have it be dictated by insecurities. Penny has great creative instincts and a real openness to the creative process. She would talk to her actors very honestly and I think that made her actors trust her.”
Marshall was a huge basketball fan and was a season-ticket holder for the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, often seen courtside at games dressed head-to-toe in team gear. She was close friends with the late Carrie Fisher and was godmother to her daughter, Billie Lourd.
She survived brain and lung cancer in 2009, according to TMZ.
Marshall’s family said in a statement, “Our family is heartbroken over the passing of Penny Marshall. Penny was a tomboy who loved sports, doing puzzles of any kind, drinking milk and Pepsi together and being with her family. As an actress, her work on ‘Laverne & Shirley’ broke ground featuring blue-collar women entertaining America in prime time. She was a comedic natural with a photographic memory and an instinct for slapstick. We hope her life continues to inspire other to spend time with family, work hard and make of their dreams come true.”
She is survived by her sister, Ronny, her daughter, Tracy Reiner, and her three grandchildren, Spencer, Bella and Viva. Details about her memorial service have not been finalized.
Ronny Hallin told Page Six her sister was “ready to go.” The TV producer added, ““She always said, ‘I had a great life.’ Penny was great — I loved her.” Hallin told Page Six that her sister would say, “No matter how many movies I direct, I’ll always be Laverne.” And, Hallin said, “it was fine with her.”