The trailblazing actress, director, and producer Penny Marshall died of complications from diabetes on Monday evening at the age of 75. A spokeswoman for the family said she passed peacefully in her Hollywood home. Marshall’s family released a statement saying, “Our family is heartbroken over the passing of Penny Marshall.”

Whether it was using physical comedy to portray the unfiltered tomboy Laverne DeFazio in the hit ABC sitcom Laverne & Shirley or directing beloved films like Big starring Tom Hanks, Marshall had an unforgettable way of working her way into audiences’ hearts.

After studying psychology for a couple of years in college, Marshall opted to fly out to Los Angeles where her brother, Garry Marshall, was working as one of the writers for The Dick Van Dyke Show. Penny started auditioning for commercials and landed a few–one as the “homely” girl opposite Farrah Fawcett in a shampoo commercial.

Marshall was turned down for the part of Gloria Bunker on the popular sitcom All in the Family but was able to grow her career with roles mostly from her legendary brother’s productions. She played a secretary named Myma on The Odd Couple–a part that lasted four years. A few years later, she appeared as a regular on The Bob Newhart Show. And as Garry was the creator of the hit television show Happy Days, in 1975, Penny was cast as a wise-cracking brewery girl alongside Cindy Williams. The comedic duo was set to go on dates with the characters Fonzie and Richie Cunningham, and as it turned out, Marshall and Williams were such a hit with the studio audiences, they were given their own spin-off. The show would be called Laverne & Shirley, and Garry was the co-creator.

Garry told Penny, “I’m not giving you the job because I’m nice; I’m not that nice.” But he would also go on to shape his sister’s career in more way than one; he encouraged her to direct. Indeed, Penny did go on to direct four episodes of Laverne & Shirley, which served as a great career-boosting experience for the funny woman.

The iconic Laverne & Shirley sitcom featured two roommates who worked as bottle-cappers in Shotz Brewery in Milwaukee. By the third season, it was the most-watched TV program. It ran eight seasons, and Marshall went on to receive three Golden Globe nods for best actress in a television series.

But the Bronx native proved to be just as popular and talented behind cameras as she was in front of them. During the 1980s, she turned her interests to directing films, and her directorial debut was the spy action comedy Jumpin’ Jack Flash starring Whoopi Goldberg. Next, she directed the fantasy comedy Big in 1988 starring Tom Hanks which ranks as the first film directed by a woman that grossed over $100 million in the U.S. box office. Two years later, Marshall directed the drama Awakenings which was nominated for three Oscars including one for best film. Marshall’s love of sports–and baseball in particular–lead her to direct A League of Their Own starring Geena Davis and Tom Hanks about an all-female baseball team. Marshall’s other films include The Preacher’s Wife starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston and Riding in Cars with Boys starring Drew Barrymore.

“I wouldn’t have a career if it wasn’t for my brother,” Marshall once reflected during an interview with Archive of American Television. “Let’s be honest. He’s the one who pointed me in this direction. He got me parts.”  All in all, she hoped she’d made people laugh and entertained them. David Lander, the actor who played Squiggy in Laverne & Shirley, said both Garry and Penny had that “Marshall magic.”

News of Marshall’s passing led to an outpouring of responses.

Cindy Williams enjoyed a friendship with Marshall which lasted over 30 years. Williams said, “What an extraordinary loss. My good friend, Penny Marshall is gone–one in a million. Utterly unique, a truly great talent. And, oh what fun we had! Can’t describe how I’ll miss her.”

Marshall’s ex-husband, Rob Reiner, tweeted, “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.”

Happy Days actor and renowned movie director Ron Howard wrote, “She was funny & so smart. She made the transition from sitcom star to A-List movie director with ease & had a major impact on both mediums. All that & always relaxed, funny & totally unpretentious. I was lucky to have known & worked with her.”

We’ll never forget you, Penny Marshall. Rest in peace.

 

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