Penny Marshall

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Penny Marshall
Publicity photo for Laverne & Shirley (1976)
Carole Penny Marshall

(1943-10-15)October 15, 1943
DiedDecember 17, 2018(2018-12-17) (aged 75)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park
EducationWalton High School
  • Actress
  • director
  • producer
Years active1968–2018
  • Mike Henry
    (m. 1963; div. 1966)
  • (m. 1971; div. 1981)
ChildrenTracy Reiner

Carole Penny Marshall[1] (October 15, 1943 – December 17, 2018)[1][2] was an American actress, director, and producer. She is best known for her role as Laverne DeFazio on the television sitcom Laverne & Shirley (1976–1983), receiving three nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy for her portrayal.

Marshall made her directorial debut with Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986) before directing Big (1988), which became the first film directed by a woman to gross more than $100 million at the U.S. box office. Her subsequent directing credits included Awakenings (1990), which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, A League of Their Own (1992), Renaissance Man (1994), The Preacher's Wife (1996), and Riding in Cars with Boys (2001). She also produced Cinderella Man and Bewitched (Both in 2005), and directed episodes of the television series According to Jim and United States of Tara.

Early life[edit]

Carole Penny Marshall was born in the Bronx, New York City, on October 15, 1943,[3] to Marjorie Irene (née Ward), a tap dance teacher who ran the Marjorie Marshall Dance School, and Anthony W. Marshall (né Masciarelli), a director of industrial films and later a producer.[4] She had a brother, actor/director/TV producer Garry Marshall; and a sister, television producer Ronny Hallin. Penny's birth name, Carole, was selected because her mother's favorite actress was Carole Lombard. Her middle name was selected because her older sister Ronny, wanting a horse, was saving pennies; their mother chose the middle name in an attempt to console Ronny.[5]

Penny's father was of Italian descent, his family having come from Abruzzo,[6] and her mother was of German, English, and Scottish descent;[7][8] Marshall's father changed his surname from Masciarelli to Marshall before she was born.[9][10] Religion played an odd role in the Marshall children's lives. Garry was christened Episcopalian, Ronny was Lutheran, and Penny was confirmed in a Congregational Church, because "[Mother] sent us anyplace that had a hall where she could put on a recital. If she hadn't needed performance space, we wouldn't have bothered."[11]

She grew up at 3235 Grand Concourse, the Bronx, in a building which was also the childhood home of Neil Simon, Paddy Chayefsky, Calvin Klein, and Ralph Lauren.[12] She began her career as a tap dancer at age three, and later taught tap at her mother's dance school. She graduated from Walton High School, a public girls' high school in New York and then went to University of New Mexico for 212 years where she studied math and psychology. While at UNM, Marshall became pregnant with daughter Tracy Reiner (née Tracy Henry), and soon after married the father, Michael Henry, in 1963. The couple divorced three years later in 1966.[13] During this period, Marshall worked various jobs to support herself, including working as a choreographer for the Albuquerque Civic Light Opera Association.[14] In 1967,[15] she moved to Los Angeles to join her older brother Garry, a writer whose credits at the time included TV's The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–1966).


Marshall with Cindy Williams in a publicity photo for Laverne & Shirley, 1976

Marshall first appeared on a television commercial for Head and Shoulders beautifying shampoo. She was hired to play a girl with stringy, unattractive hair, and Farrah Fawcett was hired to play a girl with thick, bouncy hair. As the crew was lighting the set, Marshall's stand-in wore a placard that read "Homely Girl" and Fawcett's stand-in wore a placard that said "Pretty Girl". Fawcett, sensing Marshall's insecurity about her looks, crossed out "Homely" on the Marshall stand-in placard and wrote "Plain".[16]

Marshall and Billie Hayes were the only actresses to audition for the role of Witchiepoo for H.R. Pufnstuf, produced by Sid and Marty Krofft. Marshall thought that she was not right for the part, and Hayes got the role.[17]

In 1968 Marshall accepted an offer from her brother to appear in a movie he had written and was producing, a comedy called How Sweet It Is! (1968). She landed another small role in the biker film The Savage Seven (1968), as well as a guest appearance on the hit television series That Girl, starring Marlo Thomas.[18] Marshall was considered for the role of Gloria Bunker Stivic on All in the Family, but lost the part to Sally Struthers.[19]

In 1970, Garry Marshall became the executive producer of the television series The Odd Couple. The following year, Marshall was added to the permanent cast to play a secretary, Myrna, and held the role for four years. In Marshall's final appearance on The Odd Couple, her character married her boyfriend, Sheldn ("they left the "o" off the birth certificate", she explains), played by Rob Reiner, her real-life husband.[18] The episode included Marshall's real-life siblings, Garry and Ronny, as Myrna's brother and sister.[20]

While she was on The Odd Couple, Marshall played small roles in TV movies such as Evil Roy Slade (1972), starring John Astin and Mickey Rooney (and produced by brother Garry); The Crooked Hearts (1972) starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Rosalind Russell, in which she played a waitress; The Couple Takes a Wife, starring Bill Bixby; and Wacky Zoo of Morgan City (1972).

In 1974, James L. Brooks and Allan Burns cast Marshall as Janice Dreyfuss, sister-in-law to Paul Dreyfuss (played by actor Paul Sand) in the series Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers. It aired on CBS-TV Saturday nights beginning September 14, 1974. Despite good reviews and decent ratings, it was canceled mid-season. Brooks and Burns, along with studio head Grant Tinker, were so impressed with Marshall's comedic talent that the following season, they hired Marshall and actress Mary Kay Place to play Mary Richards' new neighbors (Paula and Sally Jo) on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.[21]

Garry Marshall, creator and then part-time writer for Happy Days, cast Marshall and Cindy Williams to guest appear on an episode of the show. The installment, titled "A Date with Fonzie",[22] aired on November 11, 1975, and introduced the characters Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney (played by Marshall and Williams, respectively). In that episode, Laverne and Shirley were a pair of wisecracking brewery workers who were dates for Fonzie (Henry Winkler) and Richie (Ron Howard). The pair were such a hit with the studio audience that Garry Marshall decided to co-create and star them in a successful spinoff, Laverne & Shirley (1976–1983).[23]

The characters of Laverne and Shirley appeared in five more episodes of Happy Days. In 1982 at the beginning of Laverne & Shirley's eighth season, Williams left the show due to her pregnancy. Marshall continued with the show, but it was canceled after that season's final episode aired in May 1983.[24]

In 1983, while still filming Laverne & Shirley, Marshall resumed working with James L. Brooks when she guest starred on Taxi in a cameo appearance as herself. In the Taxi episode "Louie Moves Uptown,"[citation needed] Marshall is turned down for residency in a new high-rise condominium in Manhattan. The Laverne & Shirley episode "Lost in Spacesuits"[citation needed] is referred to in the scene.

Marshall would again work with Brooks, now a co-producer for the animated series The Simpsons, when she lent her voice to Ms. Botz, a.k.a. Ms. Botzcowski, the "babysitter bandit," on the first produced episode of The Simpsons,[25] making her the first official guest star to appear on the show.

Marshall also played a cameo role as herself on the HBO series Entourage. She also made a cameo appearance alongside her brother Garry in the Disney Halloween-themed movie Hocus Pocus as husband and wife. She was reunited with her Laverne & Shirley co-star, Cindy Williams, on a November 2013 episode of Sam & Cat.[26][27][28]

Directing career[edit]

Marshall in 1988

With the encouragement of her brother, Marshall became interested in directing.[29] While starring on Laverne and Shirley, she began her directing career with four episodes of that show.[30]

In 1979, she directed several episodes of the short-lived sitcom Working Stiffs, starring Michael Keaton and James Belushi. She soon moved on to theatrical films; her first film was going to be Peggy Sue Got Married (which at that point was scheduled to star Debra Winger in the leading role). Marshall and the writers of the film, however, had creative differences, and Marshall left the project, with Winger also leaving out of loyalty to Marshall.[31]

Marshall was soon given the directorial job of the crime comedy Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986) starring Whoopi Goldberg after the original director dropped out of the project.[29] She also gave her daughter Tracy and her brother Garry roles in the film. Marshall described her leap into directing feature films as very hard to learn, likening it to "cramming four years of college into one semester."

While on set all day, she spent her nights planning out the rest of the film, trying to get it finished on time. Marshall also added that Whoopi Goldberg would take her aside and calm her down if she was looking exhausted that day.[32]

In 1999, Marshall's Parkaway Productions company was transferred from Universal to Sony. Jessica Cox was hired to run the company in 2000.[33]

Marshall directed several successful feature films from the mid-1980s onwards, including Big (1988) starring Tom Hanks (the first film directed by a woman to gross over US$100 million), Awakenings (1990) starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, A League of Their Own (1992) with Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell, and The Preacher's Wife (1996) starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. In 1991, she was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award.[34]

In 2010 and 2011, Marshall directed two episodes of the Showtime series United States of Tara. Women in Film and Video presented her with the Women of Vision Award in 2013.[35] Marshall planned on developing a biopic on Effa Manley, but it never materialized.[36]

Personal life[edit]

While at college, Marshall met Michael Henry, a football player, and left school at age twenty to marry him in 1963.[37] They had one daughter named Tracy in 1964 (now Tracy Reiner). The marriage lasted three years.[15]

On April 10, 1971,[38] Marshall married actor and director Rob Reiner, who later adopted Tracy. Her marriage to Reiner ended in 1981. The couple had five grandchildren.[39]

Following her divorce from Reiner, Marshall dated actor Larry Breeding, who had made guest appearances on Laverne & Shirley. Marshall suffered a personal loss when Breeding was killed in a car accident in 1982. [40]

Marshall had a brief relationship with singer Art Garfunkel in the mid-1980s, and he credits her with helping him through his depression.[41]

In 2010, it was reported that Marshall had been diagnosed with lung cancer that had metastasized to her brain, but two years later she was "fine now".[42] Following her recovery she published a memoir, My Mother Was Nuts.[18]


Marshall died in Los Angeles on December 17, 2018, at the age of 75. According to her death certificate, her death was attributed to cardiopulmonary failure, cardiac arrest, and diabetes mellitus type 1.[43][44][45]

Marshall was cremated and her ashes are interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles. An 'L', like those her Laverne character wore, is emblazoned at the bottom of her headstone.[46]



Central themes in Marshall's films[edit]

Marshall's films tend to address contemporary issues in society such as coming of age, women’s accomplishments, and oppression of the mentally disabled.[52] For instance, the oppression of the mentally disabled is well elaborated in the film Awakenings. The film unites two big stars in a story about the plight of mentally disabled individuals and how a person who is not living with any life-threatening condition gets to learn a lesson about humanity after spending time with a mentally disabled person.[53][54] Achievement of women has been elaborated well in the film A League of Their Own, a film that stars two blood sisters joining the women’s baseball league during World War II. In that time, many men in professional leagues joined the armed forces.[55] The movie exposes exciting victories and personal conflicts on the field, while, at the same time, building sisterhood and strong bonds among teammates.


Year Title Director Executive
1986 Jumpin' Jack Flash Yes No
1988 Big Yes No
1990 Awakenings Yes Yes
1992 A League of Their Own Yes Yes
1994 Renaissance Man Yes Yes
1996 The Preacher's Wife Yes No
2001 Riding in Cars with Boys Yes No


Acting roles[edit]

Year Film Role Notes
1968 The Savage Seven Tina [59]
1968 How Sweet It Is! Tour Girl [59]
1970 The Grasshopper Plaster Caster [59]
1970 Where's Poppa? Courtroom Spectator Uncredited
1975 How Come Nobody's on Our Side? Theresa aka Capers[60]
1979 1941 Miss Fitzroy Uncredited[61]
1985 Movers & Shakers Reva Cameo[62]
1988 She's Having a Baby Herself Uncredited
1991 The Hard Way Angie [63]
1993 Hocus Pocus The Master's Wife Uncredited[64]
1995 Get Shorty Herself Cameo[65]
1998 The Emperor's New Clothes:
An All-Star Illustrated Retelling of the Classic Fairy Tale
The Imperial Lady-in-Waiting #2 Voice[66]
1999 Special Delivery
2000 High Fidelity Funeral Attendee Uncredited
2004 Stateside Lt. Chevetone Uncredited[61]
2005 Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World Herself Cameo[67]
2007 Everybody Wants to Be Italian Teresa the Florist [68]
2007 Alice Upside Down Mrs. Plotkin Direct-to-video film[69]
2007 Blonde Ambition Bolo Executive [65]
2011 New Year's Eve Herself (segment "Ahern Party")
2014 Going to America Herself – Famous Director
2015 Staten Island Summer Dolores
2015 Scooby-Doo! and Kiss: Rock and Roll Mystery The Elder Voice, Direct-to-video film[70]
2016 Mother's Day Narrator Voice[71]



Year Title Notes
1979 Working Stiffs 1 episode: "The Preview Presentation"
1979–1981 Laverne & Shirley 4 episodes: "Squiggy in Love", "The Duke of Squigman", "The Dating Game", "But Seriously, Folks"[59]
1987 The Tracey Ullman Show 1 episode
1993 A League of Their Own 1 episode: "Dottie's Back"[72]
2009 According to Jim 2 episodes: "The Yoga Bear", "Physical Therapy"[59]
2010–2011 United States of Tara 2 episodes: "Explosive Diorama", "Wheels"[59]

Acting roles[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1968–1969 That Girl Assistant Librarian / Joan Episodes: "Secret Ballot", "Fix My Screen & Bug Out"[59]
1969 My Friend Tony Janet Episode: "Computer Murder"
1969 Then Came Bronson Claire Episode: "The Runner"[73]
1970 Love, American Style Mary Agnes Episode: "Love and the Pick-Up" segment[59]
1970 Barefoot in the Park Episode: "In Sickness and in Health"
1970 The Wonderful World of Disney Mayor's Secretary Episodes: "The Wacky Zoo of Morgan City" (Parts 1 & 2)
1971 The Feminist and the Fuzz Liberation Lady Television film[74]
1971 Getting Together Mona Episode: "Those Oldies But Goodies Remind Me of You"[75]
1972–1974 The Odd Couple Myrna Turner 27 episodes[61]
1972 Evil Roy Slade Bank Teller Television film[76]
1972 The Super Janice Episode: "The Matchmaker"[77]
1972 The Bob Newhart Show Stewardess Episode: "Fly the Unfriendly Skies"[59]
1972 The Crooked Hearts Waitress Television film[77]
1972 The Couple Takes a Wife Paula Television film[77]
1973 Banacek Receptionist Episode: "The Greatest Collection of Them All"
1974–1975 Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers Janice Dreyfuss 14 episodes[59]
1974–1976 The Mary Tyler Moore Show Toni / Paula Kovacs Episodes: "I Was a Single for WJM", "Murray in Love", "Menage-a-Lou"[59]
1975 Let's Switch! Alice Wright Television film[78]
1975 Wives Connie Television film
1975 Chico and the Man Anita Cappuccino Episode: "Chico and the Van"[77]
1975 Saturday Night Live Herself Episode: "Rob Reiner"[61]
1975–1979 Happy Days Laverne DeFazio 5 episodes[59]
1976 Good Heavens Episode: "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"[79]
1976–1983 Laverne & Shirley Laverne DeFazio 178 episodes[59]
1977 Saturday Night Live Herself Episode: "Live from Mardi Gras"[61]
1977 Blansky's Beauties Laverne DeFazio Episode: "Nancy Remembers Laverne"[80]
1978 Mork & Mindy Laverne DeFazio Episode: "Pilot"[61]
1978 More Than Friends Matty Perlman Television film[77]
1979 Carol Burnett & Company Herself Episode #1.3[81]
1981–1982 Laverne & Shirley in the Army Laverne DeFazio Voice, 13 episodes[80]
1982 Mork & Mindy/Laverne & Shirley/Fonz Hour Laverne DeFazio Voice, 8 episodes (Laverne & Shirley with the Fonz segment)[61]
1983 Taxi Herself Episode: "Louie Moves Uptown"[61]
1984 The New Show Various Characters Episode #1.4[82]
1984 Love Thy Neighbor Linda Wilson Television film[83]
1985 Challenge of a Lifetime Nora Schoonover Television film[84]
1990 The Simpsons Ms. Botz Voice, Episode: "Some Enchanted Evening"[61]
1993 The Odd Couple Together Again Myrna Television film[73]
1996 Saturday Night Live Various Characters Episode: "Rosie O'Donnell/Whitney Houston"[61]
1998 Tracey Takes On... Herself Episode: "Hollywood"
1998 Nash Bridges Iris Heller Episode: "Skin Deep"
1999 Jackie's Back! Herself Cameo
2004 Frasier Celeste Voice, Episode: "Frasier-Lite"
2006 Campus Ladies Episode: "Webcam"[61]
2006 Bones Herself Episode: "The Woman at the Airport"[61]
2008 The Game Doris Fox Episode: "A Delectable Basket of Treats"[61]
2012 The Life & Times of Tim PR Executive Voice, Episode: "The Smug Chiropractor/Corporate Disaster"
2012 Portlandia Barbara Episode: "Feminist Book Store 10th Anniversary"[61]
2013 Sam & Cat Sylvia Burke Episode: "#SalmonCat"[26]
2014 Mulaney Tutti Episode: "Sweet Jane"[85]
2016 The Odd Couple Patty Dombrowski Episode: "Taffy Days", (final appearance)[58]


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External links[edit]