Penny Marshall is an American actor, director, producer, and author. She is best known for playing Laverne DeFazio on the spin-off series to Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, from 1976 to 1983, and  was subsequently nominated three times for a Golden Globe. A successful director and producer, her film Big, starring Tom Hanks, was the first film directed by a woman to gross in excess of $100 million at the U.S. box office. Using her comedic talent, she most recently wrote a memoir, My Mother Was Nuts, in 2012. Part of an entertainment family, her brother, Garry Marshall, was a prolific film director and television writer, known for creating Happy Days and co-creating Laverne & Shirley (He later went on to direct The Princess Diaries  and Pretty Woman).


Marshall was born Carole Penny Marshall on October 15, 1943 (now age 72) on Grand Concourse in the Bronx, New York to Marjorie Irene Ward and Anthony “Tony” Masciarelli (her father changed his last name to Marshall shortly before she was born). She is not the only famous person to have lived on this street as a child; Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Neil Simon all grew up here. Her mother was tap dance teacher, running the Marjorie Marshall Dance School, while her Italian-born father was a director of industrial films. In an interview with uInterview, Marshall described her father as dull, having got all of her humor—and sarcasm—from her mother. She is the sister of the late film director Garry Marshall, and producer Ronny Hallin. Each child was confirmed in a different religious sect (Garry Marshall was christened Episcopalian, Ronny was Lutheran, and Penny in a Congregational Church) so that their mother could make use of the rehearsal space and hold recitals. Marshall has stated in her memoir that, “”[M]other sent us anyplace that had a hall where she could put on a recital. If she hadn’t needed performance space, we wouldn’t have bothered [with religion].” Marjorie Marshall believed that all children should grown up with the experience of entertaining, teaching Marshall the fundamentals of physical movement at a young age, and her children performed at churches, telethons, and even appeared on The Jackie Gleason Show in 1955. Marshall did not want to be a dancer, however; considered the “bad one” in her family, she was highly rebellious, from walking on the ledge of her apartment building to sneaking into movies. A less-than-par student, she attended the University of New Mexico to study math and psychology, a school she jokes, that “accepted anyone from out of state.” In actuality, Marshall revealed to Newsweek that the move all the way to New Mexico was a surprise, her mother believing that the state was, “near New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and New England.” While in her junior year of college, Marshall became romantically involved with student and football player Michael “Mickey” Henry. A month later, Marshall was pregnant. With abortion still illegal in 1963, she decided to have the baby, later born Tracy Reiner, a successful actress in her own right. Marshall briefly married Henry, who helped support the baby while she worked as a tap dancer and secretary.

After their amicable divorce a few years later, Marshall moved to Los Angeles to become an actress, reuniting with her comedy-writer brother and producer sister.

Penny Marshall Bio: EARLY TV ROLES

Marshall’s early success was tied to the work of her brother Garry and sister Ronny. Her first minor film role was alongside Debbie Reynolds in How Sweet It Is!, a movie Garry Marshall was working on. Marshall also appeared in commercials, very often playing characters with dowdier appearances. She infamously did a dandruff commercial with Farrah Fawcett, playing the part of “plain girl” to Fawcett’s “beautiful girl.” She also auditioned for the role of Witchiepoo on the children’s series H.R. Pufnstuf.

Her first big television break came playing a recurring role as Myrna Turner on The Odd Couple, Oscar Madison’s secretary. Garry Marshall penned the show and later appeared alongside her sister, playing Turner’s fictional brother. Marshall’s final appearance on the show had her marrying boyfriend Sheldn, who at time was played by her then-husband, actor-director Rob Reiner. Following The Odd Couple, Marshall was cast as Mary Richard’s neighbor, Paula Kovacks, on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, for two episodes. She was personally hired by studio head Grant Tinker, after he saw her comedic talent in the short-lived series Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers.


Marshall’s next big break came from her brother, the creator/part-time writer of the now-classic sitcom Happy Days. Needing a pair of smart aleck girls to serve as dates for Fonzie (Henry Winkler) and Richie (Ron Howard), Marshall was cast as brewery worker Laverne DeFazio, roommate to Shirley Feeney (played by Cindy Williams). They were so successful in their roles—leading to appearances in five move episodes—that Garry Marshall convinced the studio to create a spin-off series, now the well-known sitcom hit, Laverne & Shirley.

The spin-off ran from 1976 to 1983, with Marshall appearing on the show until the final episode, despite co-star Cindy Williams leaving a year earlier due to her pregnancy. She has been especially candid about tense moments while on-set, notably her feuds with Williams. Marshall blames the hostility on her dislike of William’s then-husband, musician Bill Hudson, who came on as a producer. “I didn’t like her husband very much, because he got in the way,” she confessed to uInterview. “She thought he was being protective… but I talked to her last night and we’re fine.” The show was the most-watched American television program by the time it reached its third season, and lasted for five more.


When Laverne & Shirley ended in 1983, Marshall soon found herself with a lack of good roles. It was then that she decided to turn her attention to off-camera work, having directed four episodes of the sitcom at the encouragement of her brother. Marshall told the Huffington Post that her foray into directing wasn’t necessarily done with an eye towards gender inequality, but rather out of simple adventurousness. “I didn’t knock on their door and say, “Can I please do this?” … I was naïve and went, “Okay, they asked me, so I’ll try it.” That’s about it. It’s insecurity with an amazing amount of fearlessness. It comes from The Bronx, I guess.”

Marshall’s first debut as a feature film director came with the Whoopie Goldberg movie Jumpin’ Jack Flash in 1986. The film wasn’t a smash success, currently holding a 28% on Rotten Tomatoes, but it paved the way for Marshall’s future directorial success, Big, starring Tom Hanks. Critically acclaimed and a box-office success, Marshall became the the first female director to gross over $100 million.

Marshall has developed a broad range as a director, helming the Robert DeNiro drama Awakenings, which earned her an Academy Award nomination, as well as the A League Of Their Own, a fictionalized tale about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (the film features her own daughter, Tracy Reiner, as Betty “Spaghetti” Horn).

Marshall has been honored with the Women in Film Crystal Award and Women of Vision Award for her work.

On what excites her as a director, she candidly revealed to uInterview that she hates waiting around, especially for the lights, instead enjoying when she can do behavioral work with actors, recalling the physical comedy she once did on Laverne & Shirley.


Marshall has been married twice; she split from Rob Reiner in 1981, as tensions in the marriage grew while on Laverne & Shirley. She is also had a relationship with singer Art Garfunkel in the 1980s, once traveling with him across Europe. She has one daughter and three grandchildren, Spencer, Viva and Bella.

She is a collector of sports memorabilia and loves basketball; she holds season tickets to both of Los Angeles’ pro basketball teams, the Lakers and the Clippers. Often, she goes with Steven Spielberg, with whom she maintains a friend/mentor relationship.

In 2009, Marshall struggled with lung cancer that was rumored to have metastasized to her brain, but through treatment it has since gone into remission. She recalls the scare humorously, saying, “I’m the only [cancer patient] who gains weight — 60 pounds — and I got hard nails. That’s it; strange side effects. And no pain whatsoever. And luckily I have friends and they saw me through it.”


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