Few can forget Penny Marshall as the memorable Laverne DeFazio, and Cindy Williams as Shirley Feeney, skipping down the sidewalks of Milwaukee in the TV comedy, “Laverne & Shirley,” which debuted in 1976. But the indelible role might never have come about without some help from Marshall’s big brother.
Garry Marshall, who was then a writer for “Happy Days,” penned his sister and actress Cindy Williams into an episode of the show, where the two played dates for Ron Howard and Henry Winkler’s characters. The duo became an instant hit and soon had their own ABC show. During the comedy’s seven-year run, Marshall received three Golden Globe nominations for best actress.
Born in 1943 in the Bronx, N.Y., the daughter of a tap dancer teacher and a director, Marshall attended the University of New Mexico before moving to Hollywood. She made her debut in the 1968 film “How Sweet it Is!” starring Debbie Reynolds and James Garner. Her big TV break came in 1970 with her role as Oscar Madison’s secretary, Myrna Turner, on “The Odd Couple.” She appeared in several episodes of “Happy Days” before moving on to “Laverne & Shirley.”
She embarked on the next phase of her career in the mid-1980s, directing the comedies “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (1986) and “Big” (1988), the first female-directed feature film to gross more than $100 million in the U.S. Marshall also directed 1990’s “Awakenings” and 1992’s “A League of Their Own.”
“Penny has an iron will, which is a thing that almost everybody misses,” said “Big” producer James Brooks in a June 8, 1988, L.A. Times article. “You can’t do the job she’s done and have it be dictated by insecurities. Penny has great creative instincts and a real openness to the creative process. She would talk to her actors very honestly and I think that made her actors trust her.”