Poor Penny Marshall has passed at age 76. She was a highly significant actress-turned-director who had her hand in and mattered a great deal for roughly 30 years, give or take. As a director Marshall was a respected craftsperson who understood emotion and knew how to deliver it in just the right way when the script and the casting were right. By any measure she was pitching cultural fastballs right into the mitt of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, and she counted as a producer into the mid aughts.
Marshall’s first TV series breakthrough gig was playing Jack Klugman‘s secretary, Myrna Turner, on the ABC sitcom of The Odd Couple (’79 to ’75). Then she and Cindy Williams became costars in their own right when Laverne and Shirley became a hit series from ’76 to ’83. Marshall collected three Golden Globe noms for Best Actress during that seven-year run.
She mattered even more when she became a director, initially with the so-so Jumpin’ Jack Flash (’86) but especially with the triple sockaroonie Big (’88), which was pretty much her peak achievement, in part because it was the first woman-directed film to gross more than $100 million.
She also directed Renaissance Man (’94), The Preacher’s Wife (’96), and Riding in Cars with Boys (’01). Marshall also produced Cinderella Man (’05), which I admired, and Bewitched (’05), which I hated with a passion.
Three years ago I posted this list of the best female-directed films so far — Big was ranked eighth. I should probably re-think and reshuffle this:
1. Zero Dark Thirty (d: Kathryn Bigleow)
2. The Babadook (d: Jennifer Kent)
3. The Hurt Locker (d: Kathryn Bigelow)
4. Boys Don’t Cry (d: Kimberly Peirce)
5. Lost in Translation/Somewhere (d: Sofia Coppola)
6. Orlando (d: Sally Potter)
7. Winter’s Bone (d: Debra Granik)
8. Big (d: Penny Marshall)
9. American Psycho (d: Mary Harron)
10. The Piano (d: Jane Campion)