Marshall, Penny: Hollywood Actress (Laverne & Shirley) and Director (Oscar-Nominated Awakenings) Dies at 75

Penny Marshall, who starred with Cindy Williams in the hit ABC comedy Laverne & Shirley and then became a successful film director, died on Monday night at her Hollywood Hills home due to complications from diabetes. She was 75.

Marshall was the first woman to direct a film that grossed more than $100 million, the first woman to direct two films that made more than $100 million, and she was only the second woman director to see her film Oscar-nominated for best picture.

“Laverne & Shirley” ran from 1976-1983, an enormous success for ABC. It was the No. 3 show on television in 1975-1976, No. 2 in 1976-1977, and No. 1 in 1977-1978 and 1978-1979.  It became a pop culture phenom, spawning ancillary revenues from merchandising, a record album, and animated series based on the show.

Marshall began her directing career by helming several episodes of “Laverne & Shirley.”

Though she lacked real film experience, she replaced Howard Zieff as director on her feature directorial debut, the Whoopi Goldberg vehicle “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” which grossed a respectable $30 million in 1986, but was disliked by critics.

Marshall’s second outing, the 1988 sentimental comedy “Big,” was much more successful–and enjoyable. Among many merits, it scored a subtle, delightful, Oscar-nominated performance from Tom Hanks, and hauled $151 million worldwide, reportedly becoming the first film directed by a woman to cross $100 million.

Her third film, “Awakenings,” starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, and based on the Oliver Sacks book, reeled in $52 million and drew three Oscar nominations — including best picture and best actor for De Niro.

The movie was only the second directed by a woman that was nominated for best picture. Randa Haines’ “Children of a Lesser God” was the first, in 1986.

“A League of Their Own,” set in the world of women’s baseball during World War II, and starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, and Rosie O’Donnell, made$132 million worldwide, including $25 million overseas.

The movie was selected in 2012 for inclusion in the National Film Registry, and it spawned a short-lived TV adaptation.

Marshall then made the critical flop, “Renaissance Man,” which starred Danny DeVito as a reluctant instructor in the U.S. Army. ”

She made sort of a comeback with “The Preacher’s Wife,” starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston in a remake of the 1947 Christmas classic, “The Bishop’s Wife,” starring Cary Grant and Loretta Young. The movie was a moderate success, grossing $48 million.

After five years, Marshall returned with her final film, 2001’s “Riding in Cars With Boys,” starring Drew Barrymore, which drew mixed to negative reviews and about $35 million worldwide.

More recently directed two episodes of the ABC sitcom “According to Jim” in 2009.

In the 2010 TV movie “Women Without Men,” she starred along with Lorraine Bracco, Dyan Cannon, and Roseanne Barr

She also helmed two episodes of Showtime’s “United States of Tara” in 2010 and 2011.

Marshall also produced films, including some of her directing projects as well as Ron Howard’s “Cinderella Man,” starring Russell Crowe, and Nora Ephron’s adaptation of “Bewitched,” both in 2005.

Laverne & Shirley

The show, which premiered in January 1976, scored in the ratings immediately. Within months of the series’ debut, Marshall and Williams were asked to record an album, “Laverne & Shirley Sing.” They sang one song from the album, a cover of the Crystals’ hit “Da Doo Ron Ron,” on a float during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade that November.

An animated series, “Laverne & Shirley in the Army,” ran in ABC’s Saturday morning lineup in 1981, with Marshall and Williams voicing the characters.

After 13 episodes, an animated Fonzie (voiced by Henry Winkler) and his dog were added, and the product was wedded to the animated version of “Mork & Mindy” to create “The Mork & Mindy/Laverne& Shirley/Fonz Hour.”  The show inspired a line of tie-in merchandise, including Laverne, Shirley, Lenny, and Squiggy dolls, a board game, puzzles

Marshall and Williams also made crossover appearances, back on “Happy Days,” where they’d started; on the 1978 pilot of “Mork & Mindy” together with Winkler’s Fonzie; and on the brief Garry Marshall-show “Blansky’s Beauties” in 1977.