Penny Marshall, beloved actress of the hit show Laverne & Shirley, has passed away from diabetes complications at age 75. She passed in her home in Hollywood Hills, California, on December 17, 2018.
Penny was born Carole Penny Marshall on October 15, 1943, in the Bronx in New York. Her older sister Ronny and and older brother Garry both eventually became filmmakers, and her father was an industrial film director. Penny’s mother was a tap dance teacher.
Penny’s entertainment career startied in 1968 when she played in How Sweet It Is! thanks in part to her brother Garry Marshall, who produced and wrote the screenplay for the film. How Sweet It Is! starred Debbie Reynolds and James Garner, while Penny was billed as an unnamed tour girl.
Penny’s TV debut came in 1970 when she landed the part of Oscar Madison’s secretary in “The Odd Couple.” She also appeared a few times on The Mary Tyler Moore Show as Mary Richards’ neighbor, Paula Kovacks.
In 1971 Penny married Rob Reiner. She was working on a few writing projects with her writing partner, Cindy Williams, when Penny’s brother Garry needed two women to date Fonzie and Richie Cunningham on Happy Days. Cindy and Penny had such great chemistry and audience appeal on Happy Days that a spin-off was created just for them, and Laverne & Shirley was born.
Laverne & Shirley was groundbreaking in that it featured two working-class women leading a show in the 1970s (the show was set in the 1950s and 60s). Penny and Cindy’s chemistry, physical comedy, and knack for slapstick made the show successful from 1976 to 1983. Laverne (Penny Marshall) played a tough-talking tomboy, and Shirley (Cindy Williams) played her perky, but less outspoken, best friend.
The show ended in 1983 when Cindy Williams was pregnant with her first child and the studio wanted her to work the week she was scheduled to deliver. Cindy and the studio couldn’t reach and agreement and she left the show.
Laverne & Shirley continued through the rest of season eight, but when Penny Marshall was asked to do a ninth season, she asked that ABC move production from Los Angeles to New York. The studio was unwilling to move production and the show was canceled in 1983.
Penny and Rob Reiner’s marriage ended in 1980, and Penny went on to have a successful directing career. She was the first woman to direct a film grossing more than $100 million with Big in 1988, and then she became the first woman to direct two films grossing over $100 million with A League of Their Own in 1992. She also directed Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986), and Awakenings (1990).
In 2010, Penny fought a brain tumor and lung cancer and had to go through radiation. When she wasn’t acting or directing, she enjoyed needlepoint, jigsaw puzzles, and shopping for antiques. She is survived by her sister, Ronny; her daughter, Tracy Reiner; and her three grandchildren, Spencer, Bella, and Viva.
She will be missed by everyone familiar with her life and work.
Watch the original opening for Laverne & Shirley below!
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.