Penny Marshall's legacy: A look back at her best film and television contributions
American actress and director Penny Marshall, who died at the age of 75 on Monday, left behind an extensive film and television legacy including featuring on some of the most popular shows of the 1970s, most memorably Laverne & Shirley and Happy Days. Later in her career, Marshall transitioned to directing, overseeing hits like Big and A League of Their Own. Click through to see some of Marshall's most memorable contributions to film and television.
The Odd Couple (1972-74)
Penny Marshall first caught the attention of audiences for her role as Oscar Madison’s (Jack Klugman) secretary Myrna on The Odd Couple, a series which her brother Garry Marshall executive produced. Marshall featured on the show for four years, and her final episode featured her character marrying her boyfriend Sheldon, portrayed by then real-life husband Rob Reiner. Her siblings Garry and Ronny also guest starred as Myrna’s siblings for a truly meta episode.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1974-76)
After the midseason cancellation of Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers, which featured Marshall, producers James L. Brooks and Allan Burns brought her over to their other hit series, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Alongside Mary Kay Place (The Big Chill), Marshall portrayed Mary Richards’ (Mary Tyler Moore) new neighbor when Mary moved into a new apartment in a high-rise. Marshall was Paula, while Place played Sally Jo.
Happy Days (1975-79)
Marshall debuted her most famous character Laverne DeFazio opposite Cindy Williams as Shirley Feeney on brother Garry Marshall’s hit series Happy Days. On the Nov. 11, 1975, episode titled “A Date with Fonzie,” Marshall and Williams were introduced as Laverne and Shirley as potential dates for Fonzie (Henry Winkler) and Richie (Ron Howard). The characters were so well-received Garry decided to spin them off into their own show, but they also appeared on five more episodes of Happy Days.
Laverne & Shirley (1976-1983)
A spin-off of Happy Days, Marshall starred opposite Cindy Williams in her most famous role as Laverne DeFazio. With their monogrammed sweaters and deep friendship, the two became instant cultural icons. Marshall famously devised the idea for their iconic script letter monogrammed sweaters to help audiences keep track of who was who. Laverne was a tough-talking tomboy with Brooklyn roots and Italian immigrant parents. Set in the late 1950s in Milwaukee, the series followed two friends and roommates, Laverne and Shirley, who work as bottle-cappers at the fictitious Shotz Brewery. The series ran for eight seasons on ABC (the last without Williams) and even relocated its setting to Burbank, Calif., beginning in the sixth season. Marshall earned three Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress in a Television Series, Comedy or Musical for her work on this series. With encouragement from her brother Garry, Marshall also made her directorial debut on the series, directing four episodes over the course of its eight seasons.
Mork & Mindy (1978)
Marshall guest-starred on the pilot episode of another Happy Days spin-off, Mork & Mindy, yet again as Laverne. When Mork (Robin Williams) comes to earth in the 1980s, he explains to Mindy he's visited Earth several times before and plugs into her mind to show her. In one of these flashbacks, he comes to Earth to learn about human dating and turns to Happy Days' Fonzie for advice who sets him up on a date with Laverne.
Marshall’s second feature after 1986’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash was one of her most successful directorial efforts. Costarring Tom Hanks and Elizabeth Perkins, the film follows 12-year-old Josh (Hanks) who wishes to “be big” and wakes up to discover he aged to adulthood over night. The sweet romantic comedy was met with critical acclaim and earned Oscar nominations for Hanks and Best Original Screenplay. Marshall helped oversee the creation of one of cinema’s most beloved scenes where Hanks performs “Heart and Soul” and “Chopsticks” on a foot-operated electric keyboard in FAO Schwartz. Big was a major achievement for Marshall as the first female-directed film to gross over $100 million in the U.S.
Based on the 1973 Oliver Sacks memoir of the same name, Awakenings tells the story of Malcolm Sayer (Robin Williams) who discovered the beneficial effects of the drug L-Dopa and used it to revive catatonic patients who survived the 1917-28 epidemic of encephalitis lethargic. The film was Marshall’s most feted film when it came to awards – it was nominated for Best Picture in 1991, as well as Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor for Robert De Niro, who portrayed one of the awakened patients, Leonard.
A League of Their Own (1992)
As a director, Marshall is perhaps best remembered for A League of Their Own, a fictionalized account of the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which existed from 1943 to 1954. Marshall was inspired to make the film after viewing a 1987 documentary of the same name about the women’s baseball league. Marshall contacted the documentary’s creators Kelly Candaele and Kim Wilson to collaborate on a screenplay with Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz, helping shepherd the project to the screen. The film starred Geena Davis as heroine Dottie Hinson, Tom Hanks as drunken baseball manager Jimmy Dugan, Madonna as center fielder Mae Mordabito, and Rosie O’Donnell as third base player Doris Murphy in her feature film debut. Featuring many scenes of ballplay, the movie was famous for resulting in numerous bruises and injuries that were actually seen onscreen. It also gave birth to the iconic line, “There’s no crying in baseball.”
Hocus Pocus (1993)
Family ties were strong in the Marshall family and this brief scene in Hocus Pocus was a chance to see brother and sister onscreen in an offbeat pairing. When the Sanderson sisters go out trick-or-treating hunting for children, they encounter a house with a man dressed as the devil, whom they refer to as “Master,” portrayed by Garry Marshall. Penny plays his wife, credited only as “The Master’s Wife,” a hard-drinking, curler-wearing nag in a funny send-up of the brother and sister’s long onscreen relationship.
The Preacher's Wife (1996)
Marshall remade the 1947 Christmas classic The Bishop’s Wife, starring Cary Grant, David Niven, and Loretta Young, with this 1996 update, The Preacher’s Wife. It stars Denzel Washington as a witty and debonair angel, Dudley, and Whitney Houston as the titular preacher’s wife. Washington developed and produced the project, but Marshall was essential to bringing the film plagued with delays and on-set accidents to completion. The soundtrack from the film went on to become the best-selling gospel album of all time.
Riding in Cars with Boys (2001)
Marshall directed her final feature film in 2001 with this biographical film based on Beverly D’Onofrio’s autobiography of the same name. D’Onofrio co-produced the film, though many plot details diverge from her book. The film tells the story of Beverly (Drew Barrymore) and her journey from teen mother to a memoirist with a master’s degree. Marshall later said in her 2012 autobiography My Mother Was Nuts that she stopped directing after this because of Hollywood’s turn towards action-driven, violent films away from the kind of movies "with heart" she preferred. However, she did go on to produce 2005’s Cinderella Man and Bewitched.
Marshall guest-starred as herself in the first season episode of Bones, "The Woman at the Airport." When Bones and Brennan travel to Los Angeles to investigate a case, they cross paths with Marshall when Bones (Emily Deschanel) has a TV appearance with her. Marshall is interested in adapting Bones' book for the big screen.
Marshall memorably appeared in a 2012 episode of Portlandia ("Feminist Book Store 10th anniversary"), as Barbara. Marshall's character stopped by feminist bookstore Women & Women First to help Toni (Carrie Brownstein) and Candace (Fred Armisen) commemorate the shop’s 10th anniversary. Naturally, hilarity ensued.
Marshall guest-starred on this short-lived Fox sitcom based loosely on comic John Mulaney's life. She portrayed Tutti, one half of a lesbian couple with Lorraine Bracco, who were friends with Mulaney's neighbor Oscar (Elliot Gould).
The Odd Couple (2016)
Following Garry Marshall’s 2016 death, the reboot of The Odd Couple paid tribute to the director and television producer with a Nov. 7 episode, “Taffy Days,” featuring actors from many of his hit shows, including his sister Penny. Garry had guest-starred once as Oscar’s (Matthew Perry) father, Walter. In this special guest star appearance, Penny portrayed Patty, Walter’s former business partner, in tribute to her brother and even wore a cursive “P” on the lapel of her coat in homage to Laverne & Shirley, which Garry also created. This marked Marshall's final onscreen appearance.