Penny Marshall, Filmmaker And 'Laverne & Shirley' Star, Dies At 75

Dec 18, 2018
Originally published on December 18, 2018 5:20 pm

Updated at 4:20 p.m. ET

Penny Marshall, who became a household name as Laverne in the TV sitcom Laverne & Shirley and went on to direct several popular movies, has died at the age of 75.

Marshall died Monday night at her Los Angeles home from complications of diabetes, family publicist Michelle Bega tells NPR.

Marshall was born in the Bronx and studied in New Mexico before briefly marrying and having a child, then setting out for a career in show biz. As she explained in her memoir, My Mother is Nuts, her journey to Hollywood took her through small-town productions of Oklahoma and a Head and Shoulders shampoo commercial with Farrah Fawcett before she made it on the networks.

In the early '70s, Marshall got her start on shows like The Odd Couple and The Bob Newhart Show. She built her fame co-starring with Cindy Williams in Laverne & Shirley, the popular sitcom created by her older brother, Garry Marshall (also the co-creator of The Odd Couple).

Marshall played tough-talking Laverne DeFazio, to Williams' ever-optimistic Shirley Feeney. The two women were roommates in Milwaukee working as bottle-cappers in a brewery. Their escapades — packed with physical humor — made the show a hit; the Happy Days spinoff series led the Nielsen ratings for two years running.

Laverne & Shirley was also where Marshall began her career as a director, directing several episodes of the show.

In the late '80s, Marshall made the leap from small-screen actress to big-screen director.

Among other hits, she directed Big, starring Tom Hanks as a boy in a man's body, and A League of Their Own, based on the true story of a women's professional baseball league in the 1940s.

Then, as now, film directing was a male-dominated field. In 1992, NPR reported that women made up just 10 percent of the membership of the Directors Guild, even as successful movies like Marshall's drew attention — Big was the first film from a female director to top $100 million at the box office.

Director Ava DuVernay remembered Marshall on Twitter on Tuesday, thanking her "for the trails you blazed. The laughs you gave. The hearts you warmed."

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the body that awards the Oscars, also remembered Marshall on Twitter, calling her "one of the greats."

In life, Marshall was never nominated for an Oscar — not even when her film Awakenings was in the running for best picture.

Marshall's work on Laverne & Shirley was also never recognized with an Emmy nomination, as The Hollywood Reporter notes with astonishment.

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