“Penny Marshall was authentic. What you saw is what you got. When we first met I was a young writer on the Paramount lot and she was a huge star, but didn’t act like one. She was humble.
“Penny was a master of physical comedy. I marveled at an episode of Laverne & Shirley where she played a nurse struggling to change a bed with a corpulent patient in it. She tugged on a sheet that wouldn’t budge, slid all the way under the bed and halfway across the floor. Penny executed this gag with the skill of Chaplin.
“Penny choreographed much of her slapstick on the show, often telling the writers to simply create a predicament and she’d do the rest. This inventiveness was an early indicator of directing prowess.
“Penny was frank. When she saw an old friend who’d put on a dangerous amount of weight, she drolly asked in that inimitable voice whether he’d ‘heard of something called a salad?‘ Another time, when an A-list actor approached her at a party, asking why he’d never been cast in her films, Penny said ‘because I hear you don’t know your lines or show up on time.’ The star left slack-jawed.
“Penny was a tough lady who knew how to take care of herself, but also took care of others — family, friends, coworkers. She was charitable, but never publicized her good deeds. After 9/11, she gave a lot of time and money towards rebuilding as well as first responders. And unlike other celebrities, Penny was able to move through tough areas of town. This street cred was proven by gang members who called out ‘Laverne’ whenever she walked past. She was a working-class hero.
“Penny smoked like a chimney. You could smoke meats in her living room. Nonsmoking laws didn’t apply to her as she’d light up in restaurants and nobody dared stop her.
“Penny had one of the first boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts upon their arrival in California. She had all the best pizza parlors on speed dial and never lost an eBay auction for a Beanie Baby. She was fun and unpretentious.
“And Penny was a peerless friend. After I’d done her a favor, never expecting anything in return, she relentlessly pursued me like a mafia don, insisting I name some wish. Penny knew everybody, so I asked whether she could get Michael Caine to autograph his autobiography and some Harry Palmer posters. She went to work on it, giving me regular updates like ‘I saw him at a party, he’s happy to do it’ until she accomplished this task with the doggedness of a process server.
“One time Penny left a message on my answering machine, mumbling for two minutes, and I had no idea what she said. Nonetheless I laughed. Today was the first time she made me cry. Word is she passed peacefully and was ready to leave. Selfishly, we weren’t.”