Penny Marshall Leaves Behind An Unparalleled Legacy

When Penny Marshall passed away yesterday at the age of 75 she left behind a legacy that many of the current generation may not know of. They didn’t grow up watching her on TV playing the wisecracking Laverne DeFazio, or come out of a movie theater feeling good about the film she directed that they’d just watched. Whether they know who she is or not though, Marshall’s career helped inspire the youth of yesterday into becoming the successful people they are today.

When Laverne first appeared on an episode of Happy Days in 1975, her character was such a hit that they had her come back for more. Eventually her character, and her best friend Shirley Feeney got a spin off show of their own which ran for eight seasons. It was a rare thing to see independent women on television, let alone one that didn’t need help from men to get along, and Laverne quickly became a role model because of that. She had a fashion sense that helped define her (including the monogram L on her shirts), but it was her toughness and ability to crack a joke that made her an idol. Marshall herself became an idol as well thanks to her iconic role. And after the show ended, she moved onto what can arguably be said was her more important role. That of a movie director.

Marshall’s first film was 1986’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash, a comedic film starring Whoopi Goldberg. It may not have been her best work, but it helped get her foot in the door for something, ahem, bigger. 1988’s Big went on to make $151 million at the box office, which made Marshall the first female director to have a film break the $100 million mark. Tom Hanks also got his first ever Oscar nomination thanks to that film. From there she had a string of hits, including Awakenings (which received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, making it only the second Best Picture nominee to be directed by a woman at that time), A League of Their Own (and to think nobody thought a sport’s movie about women could ever work) and The Preacher’s Wife. Marshall was not just a female director, but an A-list movie director as well. 

Penny Marshall helped pave the way for women in both TV and movies, both behind the camera and in front of it. Her legacy is one that will continue to inspire and drive people to succeed, and one that will always be looked upon fondly. 

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