>> Anita Gates, The New York Times
Published: 2018-12-19 09:34:19 BdST
Her publicist, Michelle Bega, said the cause was complications of diabetes. Marshall had in recent years been treated for lung cancer, discovered in 2009, and a brain tumor. She announced in 2013 that the cancer was in remission.
Marshall became the first woman to direct a feature film that grossed more than $100 million when she made “Big” (1988). That movie, a comedy about a 12-year-old boy who magically turns into an adult (Tom Hanks) and then has to navigate the grown-up world, was as popular with critics as with audiences.
The Washington Post said it had “the zip and exuberance of a classic romantic comedy.” The Los Angeles Times described it as “a refreshingly grown-up comedy” directed “with verve and impeccable judgment.” Hanks received his first Oscar nomination for his performance.
Four years later she repeated her box-office success with “A League of Their Own,” a sentimentally spunky comedy about a wartime women’s baseball league with an ensemble cast that included Madonna, Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell and Hanks.
FILE PHOTO: Holding replica plaques, Penny Marshall (2nd L), and Cindy Williams, who co-starred in the 1970s hit TV series "Laverne & Shirley" pose with (L-R) Henry Winkler, Ed Begley Jr. and Garry Marshall, following a rare two-star unveiling ceremony honouring them with the 2,258th and 2,259th stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Aug 12, 2004. REUTERS/Jim Ruymen/File Photo
A writer for Cosmopolitan magazine once commented that Marshall “got into directing the ‘easy’ way — by becoming a television superstar first.” That was a reference to her seven seasons (1976-83) as Laverne DeFazio, the brasher (yet possibly more vulnerable) of two young roommates, brewery assembly-line workers, on the hit ABC comedy series “Laverne & Shirley,” set in 1950s and ‘60s Milwaukee.
In Hollywood, Marshall had a reputation for instinctive directing, which could mean endless retakes. But she was also known for treating filmmaking as a team effort rather than a dictatorship.
That may or may not have been a function of her self-effacing personality, which colleagues and interviewers often commented on. But in 1992 Marshall confessed to The New York Times Magazine that she wasn’t completely guileless.
“I have my own way of functioning,” she said. “My personality is, I whine. It’s how I feel inside. I guess it’s how I use being female, too. I touch a lot to get my way and say, ‘Pleeease, do it over here.’ So it can be an advantage — the anti-director.”
That attitude was also an essential aspect of her humor. When Vanity Fair asked her to identify her greatest regret, she said, “That when I was a size 0, there was no size 0.”
Carole Penny Marshall was born on Oct. 15, 1943, in the Bronx, New York, and grew up there, at the northern end of the Grand Concourse. Her father, Anthony, was an industrial filmmaker, and her mother, Marjorie (Ward) Marshall, taught dance. The family name had been changed from Masciarelli.
FILE PHOTO: British singer Paul McCartney gets a kiss on the cheek by actress Penny Marshall at the 2009 Grammy Salute to Industry Icons event, honouring Clive Davis in Beverly Hills, California Feb 7, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo
She made her film debut in “The Savage Seven,” a 1968 biker-gang drama, and had a small part the same year in “How Sweet It Is!,” a romantic comedy starring Debbie Reynolds and James Garner.
Marshall continued acting, mostly playing guest roles on television series, until she got her big break in 1971, when she was cast in the recurring part of Jack Klugman’s gloomy secretary, Myrna Turner, on the ABC sitcom “The Odd Couple.” Her brother, a producer of the show, got her the job, but nepotism had nothing to do with it when viewers fell in love with her poker-faced humor and Bronx-accented whine.
That same year she married Rob Reiner, who was then a star of the hit series “All in the Family.” He adopted her daughter, but they divorced in 1979, when “Laverne & Shirley” and Marshall were at the height of their television popularity.
That series grew out of a 1975 episode of “Happy Days,” in which Laverne (Marshall) and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams), two fast blue-collar girls, turned up at the local hangout as blind dates for Richie Cunningham and Fonzie, the two lead characters.
When “Laverne & Shirley” ended in 1983, after considerable on-set conflict between the co-stars and a final season without Williams, it was the first time in 12 years that Marshall had not had at least a relatively steady job on a television series.
She began making a handful of films and television appearances. Then Whoopi Goldberg, a friend, asked her to take over for a director she wasn’t getting along with on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (1986), a comic spy caper. (Marshall had directed a few episodes of “Laverne & Shirley.”) The movie was far from an unqualified success, but it led to “Big.”
Marshall’s two films after “A League of Their Own” were not as well received. “Renaissance Man” (1994), starring Danny DeVito as an adman turned teacher of Army recruits, was savaged by critics and earned only about $24 million, considerably less than it cost to make, in the United States (in contrast, “Big” earned almost $115 million). “The Preacher’s Wife” (1996), a remake of the heartwarming 1947 fantasy romance “The Bishop’s Wife,” starred Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. Critics found it likable but weak, and it brought in just under $50 million domestically.
Marshall did not direct again until 2001. “Riding in Cars With Boys,” a saga of teenage motherhood starring Drew Barrymore, earned mostly positive reviews but was a box-office disappointment. It was the last film Marshall directed. Her farewell to television direction was a 2011 episode of the multiple-personalities series “United States of Tara.”
She devoted some time to producing, notably with the 2005 movie inspired by the classic sitcom “Bewitched,” and took on the occasional acting job, including a 2012 guest spot on the series “Portlandia” and voice-over narration in the film “Mother’s Day” (2016), directed by Garry Marshall, who died in 2016.
Her final screen appearance was on the new version of “The Odd Couple,” in a November 2016 episode that was a tribute to her brother, and featured cameos by stars from his many hit series.
In 2012 she published a best-selling memoir, “My Mother Was Nuts,” which began in her characteristically self-effacing way: “I’m not someone who’s had to deal with much personal drama outside of the usual: growing up with parents who hated each other, two marriages and divorces, the ups and downs of various relationships, raising a daughter and watching friends crack up and overdose. There was the cancer thing, too. As you can see, though, there’s nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that most people don’t go through, nothing that says, ‘Penny, you were lucky to get through that one.'”
Marshall, who lived in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles, is survived by her older sister, Ronny; a daughter, actress Tracy Reiner; and three grandchildren.
Critics sometimes accused Marshall of being overly sentimental, but she never apologized for that side of her work.
“I like something that tells a story or that tells me something I didn’t know,” she told The San Diego Union-Tribune in 1992 when asked about her taste in films. “It should have humor in it — or it should have heart.”
“And if it doesn’t,” she added, with what the reporter described as a sly grin, “I’ll make it have heart.”
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