Penny Marshall wanted to make us laugh and cry. Mission accomplished.
I can still hear Penny Marshall’s voice echoing from my childhood.
“Aw, come on, Shirl!” I must have been seven or eight when my older brother and I laughed ourselves silly over episodes of Laverne and Shirley. As the hilarious Laverne Defazio, Penny Marshall’s Bronx accent and outgoing personality offered me a window to a world outside of my Pacific Northwest upbringing—and I loved her for it. She was raw. She was real. And she was funny.
The consensus from people who knew Penny Marshall in real life is that she was kind and smart and a natural comedienne. Her ex-husband Rob Reiner wrote on Twitter, “She was born with a funnybone and the instinct of how to use it.” Clearly.
She was a trailblazer, becoming the first female director to gross $100 million at the box office.
I feel like the somewhat simple character of Laverne did not adequately prepare the world for the behind-the-scenes powerhouse Penny Marshall would become. (I was a kid blurring the lines between actor and character, what can I say.) But her work in the traditionally male-dominated directing world is where she shone in the latter half of her life.
Her directorial debut, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” starring Whoopi Goldberg, was pretty entertaining as I recall. But her next film, “Big” starring the beloved Tom Hanks, knocked it out of the park. Funny and touching, the film hit all the right notes, as evidenced by its record-breaking box office success and iconic scenes that are now staples in pop culture.
“A League of Their Own” is still one of my favorite movies of all time. A film is a product of hundreds of people of course, but there’s a reason directors get the kudos. Marshall was brilliant behind the camera, tapping into both our hearts and our funnybones, creating that perfect balance of emotions that makes you want to watch her movies over and over and over again.
She said, “I want you to laugh and cry. That’s what I do.” Mission accomplished.
Her comedic beginnings often make us think of humor when we think of Penny Marshall, but she was equally adept at tapping our tears. Did you see “Awakenings”? Oof. Like most good comedians, Marshall had a bead on the range of human emotion and it showed in her work. She was a genius at making us laugh and making us cry.
The news of her passing has brought a deluge of praise from those who knew her and worked with her. Check out this initial parade of celebrity tributes on Twitter, starting with her ex-husband, Rob Reiner.
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.
— Rob Reiner (@robreiner) December 18, 2018
#RIPPennyMarshall 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. https://t.co/pf2kfIkCH4
— Ron Howard (@RealRonHoward) December 18, 2018
“I’m terribly sad to hear the news about Penny passing. My heart goes out to Tracy Reiner and her family. Penny brought so much joy to so many and will be sorely missed. I will be forever grateful to her for letting me be a part of A League of Their Own.” Geena Davis
— GeenaDavisInstitute (@GDIGM) December 18, 2018
I got to stay up late-after Happy Days-2 watch Laverne & Shirley. So sad 2 learn that Penny Marshall has passed. Sitting on a sit-com set 40 years later, thinking about milk & pepsi, rodeo-doh-doh-doh & so many of her brilliant moments. Love to her family, friends & our town… pic.twitter.com/imFiGVSw3T
— Sean Astin (@SeanAstin) December 18, 2018
Sad to hear of Penny Marshall’s passing. a great comedienne a terrific director and a dear friend.
— Billy Crystal (@BillyCrystal) December 18, 2018
I always loved this picture because it was my way of emulating the great Penny Marshall. I’m sad to read she has passed. Director, producer and actress who had the humor, wit and fortitude to stand equally with the boys in Hollywood. Goodbye Penny, we will miss you. RIP pic.twitter.com/gqa9w3TEOh
— Marlee Matlin (@MarleeMatlin) December 18, 2018
Penny Marshall was a sweet woman. I was very fortunate to spend time with her. So many laughs. She had a heart of gold. Tough as nails. She could play round ball with the best of them. Always All love, D
— Danny DeVito (@DannyDeVito) December 18, 2018
Rest in peace, Penny. Thanks for the laughter and the tears.