Penny Marshall, director of ‘Big’ and ‘A League Of Their Own’, dies aged 75

The Laverne & Shirley star beame one of the top-grossing female directors in Hollywood

Penny Marshall: the first woman to direct a movie that grossed more than $100m. Photograph: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Penny Marshall: the first woman to direct a movie that grossed more than $100m. Photograph: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

 

Penny Marshall, the nasal-voiced co-star of the slapstick sitcom Laverne & Shirley and later the chronically self-deprecating director of hit films such as Big and A League of Their Own, died Monday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 76.

Her publicist, Michelle Bega, said the cause was complications of diabetes.

Marshall became the first woman to direct a feature film that grossed more than $100 million when she made Big (1988). That movie, a comedy about a 12-year-old boy who magically turns into an adult starring Tom Hanks, was as popular with critics as with audiences. Hanks received his first Oscar nomination for his performance.

Four years later she repeated her box-office success with A League of Their Own, a sentimentally spunky comedy about a wartime women’s baseball league with an ensemble cast that included Madonna, Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell and Hanks.

In between, she directed Awakenings (1990), a medical drama starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. Awakenings, based on a book by Oliver Sacks, was only moderately successful financially, but De Niro received an Academy Award nomination.

A writer for Cosmopolitan magazine once commented that Marshall “got into directing the ‘easy’ way – by becoming a television superstar first.” That was a reference to her seven seasons (1976-83) as Laverne DeFazio, the brasher (yet possibly more vulnerable) of two young roommates on the hit comedy series Laverne & Shirley, set in 1950s and 1960s Milwaukee.

In Hollywood, Marshall had a reputation for instinctive directing, which could mean endless retakes. But she was also known for treating film-making as a team effort rather than a dictatorship. “I have my own way of functioning,” she told The New York Times in 1992. “My personality is, I whine. It’s how I feel inside. I guess it’s how I use being female, too. I touch a lot to get my way and say, ‘Pleeease, do it over here.’ So it can be an advantage – the anti-director.”

Carole Penny Marshall was born on October 15th, 1942, in the Bronx, New York, and grew up there. Her father, Anthony, was an industrial film-maker, and her mother, Marjorie (Ward) Marshall, taught dance. The family name had been changed from Masciarelli.

Marshall attended the University of New Mexico. There she met and married Michael Henry, a college football player. They had a daughter, but the marriage lasted only two years, and Marshall headed for California, where her older brother, Garry, had become a successful comedy writer.

She made her film debut in The Savage Seven, a 1968 biker-gang drama, and had a small part the same year in How Sweet It Is!, a romantic comedy starring Debbie Reynolds and James Garner. Marshall got her big break in 1971, when she was cast in the recurring part of Jack Klugman’s gloomy secretary, Myrna Turner, on the sitcom The Odd Couple.

That same year she married Rob Reiner, who was then a star of the hit series All in the Family. He adopted her daughter, but they divorced in 1979.

Marshall’s two films after A League of Their Own” – Renaissance Man (1994) and The Preacher’s Wife (1996) – were not as well received. Riding in Cars With Boys (2001), starring Drew Barrymore, was the last film Marshall directed. Her final screen appearance was on the new version of The Odd Couple, in a November 2016 episode.

Her daughter Tracy Reiner is an actress; one of her first roles was a brief appearance in her mother’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash, which starred Whoopi Goldberg.

Marshall is also survived by her older sister, Ronny, and three grandchildren.

Rob Reiner paid tribute to his former wife, saying on Twitter: “I loved Penny. I grew up with her. She was born with a great gift. She was born with a funnybone and the instinct of how to use it. I was very lucky to have lived with her and her funnybone. I will miss her.”

Robert De Niro, who appeared in Awakenings, said: “Penny will be missed. May she rest in peace.”

Bette Midler also remembered Marshall, saying: “The Marshall family grieves again as the great #PennyMarshall dies at age 75. What an extraordinary family they were and continue to be, and how much love and sympathy my family and I send their way. The end of an era.”

A League of Their Own star Geena Davis said Marshall “brought so much joy”.  “I'm terribly sad to hear the news about Penny passing, My heart goes out to Tracy Reiner and her family. Penny brought so much joy to so many and will be sorely missed. I will be forever grateful to her for letting me be a part of A League of Their Own.”

Tom Hanks also paid tribute to the film-maker  on Twitter: “Goodbye, Penny. Man, did we laugh a lot! Wish we still could. Love you. Hanx.”

Actor Olivia Munn described Marshall as “one of the most important trailblazers”.  “Her comedic talents brought success and  fame, but she truly broke the mold with her directing – Big, Awakenings, A League of Their Own – becoming the first woman to direct a movie that grossed $100+ mil. Rest in love, PM,” she wrote on Twitter. – New York Times, AP

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