“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight! Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!” Penny Marshall was known to most as Laverne DeFazio on the 70’s sitcom Laverne & Shirley. Laverne was a tough broad. She was kindhearted, independent, a tomboy, and hilarious. I was a shy and timid young girl just like Shirley (but without the hot boyfriend, Carmine). Laverne was an idol for me during those teen years. She was funny and tough and spoke her mind – all things that I wanted to be able to do.
Penny Marshall was born Carole Penny Marshall in the Bronx on October 15, 1943. Her dad was a director/producer and her mom was a tap dance teacher. Penny was the younger sister of the great Garry Marshall. Her first acting gig was in a shampoo commercial with Farrah Fawcett. Can you imagine already being insecure about your looks and then having to act with Farrah Fawcett? To make matters worse, Penny played the role of the homely girl with the crappy hair in the commercial while Farrah was the pretty girl with the beautiful hair.
Penny’s brother Garry was the creator and writer for Happy Days. He cast his sister and Cindy Williams in an episode where they played Fonzie and Richie’s dates. The girls were such a hit that Garry decided to create the spin-off Laverne & Shirley. The sitcom ended after eight wonderful seasons and Marshall moved on to directing.
Penny Marshall directed some episodes of Laverne & Shirley and a few other sitcoms before moving onto the big screen. Her first big film was Jumpin’ Jack Flash with Whoopi Goldberg. She got this gig because the original director dropped out. I wonder how that fed into her insecurities. I wonder if she felt like second choice or second best. If there was any self-doubt on her part, it should have been short-lived as she had a string of hits right afterward.
Marshall directed Big (one of my favorite movies) which starred Tom Hanks. Big was the first movie directed by a woman to gross over $100 million. Right on, sistah! Other directing hits for Penny Marshall include A League of Their Own, Awakenings, and The Preacher’s Wife. She was a bad ass.
I wish she knew how important she was and how so many people loved her and looked up to her.
Laverne DeFazio was my idol when I was a young girl. Penny Marshall was my idol as an adult.