Published On: Sat, Jan 5th, 2019

Saying Goodbye to Penny Marshall, the ‘Big’ Female Director of Hollywood

Penny Marshall, born October 15, 1943, died at the age of 75 at her home, Hollywood Hill, California. 2018 was not kind to us as many celebrities died in this year. Penny was one of them who was a resolute woman who made it to the writes up of history, through her breakthrough as a star actress and her countless triumph as a filmmaker.


Marshall, born 1943 in the Bronx, New York City, New York, was a daughter to Marjorie (ward) Marshall, a tap dance teacher, and Anthony Marshall, a director, and producer. Her father was of Italian origin while her mother was of German, English and Scottish descent. Much of her childhood revolved around her mother’s tap dance job, which she joined at the age of three. As time passed, she learned the tap dance and also taught at the same school.

At the age of 14, she was a member of “The Marshelletes” group, which won the grand prize during their appearance on Ted Moocks. The Marshelletes tap dance was an incredible group. The tap dancers were famous for winning 3 times in the TV variety shows. Penny Marshall went on and joined the University of New Mexico for a period of two and a half years after graduating from Walton High School. At the university, she majored in psychology and math.

Early Career

Marshall started her career from a humble setting as a tap dancer. She then found herself at a beauty shampoo ad appearing as the “before girl” alongside Farrah Fawcett as the “after girl.” In the commercial, Marshall played the role of the girl with unattractive hair. Farrah Fawcett, on the other hand, played the girl with nice, bouncy hair.  

Penny Marshall did not stop at that point as an actress. In 1968, Garry, Marshall’s brother, gave her a hand in her career. He recruited her to play on his film ‘How Sweet It Is’. It was during the same year that she got some small roles in a number of films including ‘That Girl’ a television series which featured Marlo Thomas, ‘The Savage Seven’, and ‘All in The Family’.

Around 1972, Garry gave her a role in ‘The Odd Couple’ role which also stirred her siblings, Garry and Ronny. She played the role of secretary, Myrna. It was in this film that she played Reiner’s wife. The relationship between the two developed even off the screen. Other small acting roles from different movies did follow. The Crooked Hearts was one of the movies she managed to do some few roles.

In 1976 she was a cast in a memorable role as Laverne DeFazio on ‘Happy Days’ She showcased her comic and voice-ascent talent which made her an iconic star till date. In the “Laverne & Shirley” sitcoms, Marshall played her role as a goofy Laverne DeFazio opposite Cindy Williams. With this eight-season film, she was able to earn three nominations at the Golden Globe award. However, the show was later own canceled in 1983.

Photo courtesy of Fathom Events

Career Peak

Penny Marshall had an interest in directing. She, therefore, consulted her brother, Garry, who gave her go-advice to the directing career. She took her chances by directed some episodes of ‘Laverne & Shirley,’ from then, her career as a filmmaker and director took a successful path. To further build her directing career, she first worked on short sitcoms including ‘working Stiff’ featuring Michael Keaton and James Belushi. She gave her daughter, Tracy, and brother, Garry; some acting roles while directing Whoopi Goldbg-starrer ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash. She was given the directing role in Whoopi Goldbg-starrer ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash after the film lost the first director.

In the mid-1980’s she was considered a groundbreaking female director because of her film ‘Big’. It was phenomenal as it became the first film (directed by a woman) to gross over $100million at the box office. ‘Big’ was followed by ‘Awakenings’ starring Robin Williams, receiving the best picture and best actor Oscar nomination. The movie placed Marshall second place after Randar Haines one of the Oscar nominees. ‘A League of their own’ (1992) starring the Tom Hanks was the next film. Marshall gave her ex-husband, Rob Reiner, and her daughter some roles to act in the movie.

Other successful films that followed include ‘The Preachers wife’, from which she won an award in the Women of Vision Awards, ‘Renaissance man’ and ‘Riding in Cars with Boys’. Even though she never did much of acting after taking the directing career, she still made some appearance in various movies and series like the Disney movie, ‘Hocus Pocus’ as the wife, the 1993 repeated show ‘Odd Couple’ as Myrna, ‘The Simpson’ as the criminal babysitter and the 2016 reboot series as Patty. Her career onwards was tremendous.


In her acting career, she managed to earn a three times nomination in Golden Globes from the film ‘Laverne & Shirley’. In between the 1980s and 1990’s she became the first female director to make a studio film that earned over $100 million in the US. ‘Big’ was a brilliant comedy film that took her directing career to another level.

At the Venice Film Festival, 1988, she was the winner in the children and cinema category with ‘Big’ film being recognized. In 1992, she won two awards; creative achievement award presented during American Comedy Awards and Best foreign film presented during Hochi Film Awards. During the Elle Women in Hollywood Awards (1997) she won the Icon award.

Her achievements even increased as she grew in the industry. In 1998 she won, at the Munich Film Festival. She was also featured in Yoga Awards where her film Awakenings was recognized for the winning award. The film, ‘Riding in Cars with Boys’ earned Marshall the Golden Swann Winner award in Cobourg Romantic Film Festival (2002). She was also the star in the Walk of Fame Awards. In 2013 Marshall earned a winning award at the Society of Camera Operators Awards.

Personal Life

Penny Marshall met her first husband, Michael Henry, a football player in the year 1963. She dropped out of the university at the age of 20 and got married to him, after which they had a daughter, Tracy. Their marriage didn’t go that well and so, they divorced after 3 years.

During her acting career, she met her second husband, Rob Reiner, an actor/director. He became officially her husband when they got married in 1971. In 1981 the two unfortunately divorced. She also had a short-term relationship with a singer, Art Garfunkel around the 1980’s. Since then she was never heard of being in a relationship.

At one point, around 2010, she was diagnosed with lung cancer believed to be connected to a brain tumor she had developed. She, however, stated that it was a remission. After surviving the ordeal, she went ahead and wrote a memoir ‘My Mother Was Nuts’. In the year 2012, she published the memoir in which she addressed some issues including her drug abuse case.

Aside from directing and acting, Penny Marshall loved needlepoint, jigsaw puzzles, and antique shopping. Marshall was a great and close friend to Carrie Fisher and a god-mother to Fisher’s daughter


Penny Marshall was a daughter to Marjorie Marshall and Tony Marshall (originally Masciarelli). Her successful career life in some special way is linked to her brother Garry Marshall, who unfortunately died in 2016. Aside from Garry, she also adored her sister Ronny Marshall. During her career, she had the opportunity to work with the two siblings.

Penny Marshall was married twice, first to Michael Henry, a football player than Rob Reiner an actor and film director.  From her first marriage, she had a daughter whom they named Tracy. She, later on, divorced Michael Henry in 1966 and got married again in 1971. Rob Reiner married her and gave Tracy his sir name ‘Reiner’ after adopting her. Her second marriage with the actor lasted 10 years. She was a grandmother to three.


The famous actor, filmmaker, writer, and director died at her home in Los Angeles, California on December 17, 2018. The main cause of death was heart failure contributed by diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. The news was heartbreaking to her family and friends. Her friends and former collogues took it to social media to express their condolence to the family especially her daughter, Tracy Reiner.

As a way of expressing their feeling the family said “Our family is heartbroken over the passing of Penny Marshall. Penny was a tomboy who loved sports, doing puzzles of any kind, drinking milk and Pepsi together and being with her family. As an actress, her work on Laverne & Shirley broke ground featuring blue-collar women entertaining America in prime time. She was a comedic natural with a photographic memory and an instinct for slapstick. We hope her life continues to inspire others to spend time with family, work hard and make of their dreams come true.”

She was definitely a role model to a number of female actors and directors around the globe.  Marshall left some footprints in the film industry and the world will forever remember her explicit roles.

Author: Colin Steinway

On the DISPATCH: Headlines  Local  Opinion

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter

* indicates required

About the Author

- Outside contributors to the Dispatch are always welcome to offer their unique voices, contradictory opinions or presentation of information not included on the site.

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these html tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



The Global Dispatch Facebook page- click here

Movie News Facebook page - click here

Television News Facebook page - click here

Weird News Facebook page - click here