I can still hear Penny Marshall's voice echoing from my childhood.
"Aw, come on, Shirl!" I must have been seven or eight when my older brother and I laughed ourselves silly over episodes of Laverne and Shirley. As the hilarious Laverne Defazio, Penny Marshall's Bronx accent and outgoing personality offered me a window to a world outside of my Pacific Northwest upbringing—and I loved her for it. She was raw. She was real. And she was funny.
The consensus from people who knew Penny Marshall in real life is that she was kind and smart and a natural comedienne. Her ex-husband Rob Reiner wrote on Twitter, "She was born with a funnybone and the instinct of how to use it." Clearly.
She was a trailblazer, becoming the first female director to gross $100 million at the box office.
I feel like the somewhat simple character of Laverne did not adequately prepare the world for the behind-the-scenes powerhouse Penny Marshall would become. (I was a kid blurring the lines between actor and character, what can I say.) But her work in the traditionally male-dominated directing world is where she shone in the latter half of her life.
Her directorial debut, "Jumpin' Jack Flash" starring Whoopi Goldberg, was pretty entertaining as I recall. But her next film, "Big" starring the beloved Tom Hanks, knocked it out of the park. Funny and touching, the film hit all the right notes, as evidenced by its record-breaking box office success and iconic scenes that are now staples in pop culture.
"A League of Their Own" is still one of my favorite movies of all time. A film is a product of hundreds of people of course, but there's a reason directors get the kudos. Marshall was brilliant behind the camera, tapping into both our hearts and our funnybones, creating that perfect balance of emotions that makes you want to watch her movies over and over and over again.
She said, "I want you to laugh and cry. That's what I do." Mission accomplished.
Her comedic beginnings often make us think of humor when we think of Penny Marshall, but she was equally adept at tapping our tears. Did you see "Awakenings"? Oof. Like most good comedians, Marshall had a bead on the range of human emotion and it showed in her work. She was a genius at making us laugh and making us cry.
The news of her passing has brought a deluge of praise from those who knew her and worked with her. Check out this initial parade of celebrity tributes on Twitter, starting with her ex-husband, Rob Reiner.
Rest in peace, Penny. Thanks for the laughter and the tears.