Penny Marshall was best known in front of the camera as Laverne, as in Laverne & Shirley. The popular Happy Days spin-off ran for eight seasons on ABC, from 1976-1983. Back then, Americans were watching just a few channels and Penny Marshall became a name nearly everyone knew.
But I'll remember her best for the work she did behind the camera. Quite simply, Penny Marshall directed some of the biggest hit movies of the 80s and early 90s. Following the final season of Laverne & Shirley, she came back in 1986 with her directorial debut in Jumpin' Jack Flash. The comedy starred Whoopi Goldberg; and while it was not her best work (just 26% positive on Rotten Tomatoes), the movie made money and she was given another shot at directing.
She made the most of it, directing Tom Hanks in the screen classic Big. The movie is about a child who wakes up one morning only to find he's become a full grown man (Hanks), but still with the mind of the child. The movie was funny, tender; and with Penny Marshall's direction, we really felt we were seeing the adult world through the eyes of a scared little boy. It was one of those laugh and cry kind of movies, and it's her best work.
Penny Marshall directed two more of my favorite movies, Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams in Awakenings -- about a group of seemingly catatonic patients who are given a new drug that does wonders; and A League of Their Own, the true story of an all-female professional baseball league. All of these movies had a big heart, and big humor, and that's what I'll remember about Penny Marshall.
Her family also noted that she gave Mark Wahlberg his first acting job. Not bad, either.
Female directors were a rare thing in the 80s, even more rare than they remain today. Penny Marshall entered this "man's" world and thrived, gave us a woman's perspective on the movies, and created some great movie memories for us.
Penny Marshall was 75.
["Laverne & Shirley" Publicity Photos from ABC; Big movie poster from 20th Centruy Fox, via Wikipedia]