Penny came from a family of show business professionals, including her father, Tony Marshall, a director and producer, as well as her older brother, Garry Marshall, who had found success early in life as a comedy writer, and her sister, Ronny Hallin, who worked as a producer and casting director.
Marshall’s career began in front of the camera, as she found fame playing Laverne DeFazio on the Happy Days spin-off Laverne & Shirley, for which she received three Golden Globe nominations.
However, in the early ’80s, Marshall got the opportunity to step behind the camera and ended up directing several episodes of her hit sitcom. After working as a director on several TV projects, she made the transition into film with her 1986 comedy Jumpin’ Jack Flash, starring Whoopi Goldberg.
ET spoke with Marshall ahead of the film’s release, where she opened up about the move from actress to filmmaker.
“I’d been approached to direct for many years now,” Marshall shared. “I didn’t say, ‘Choose me to direct.’ They seemed to feel I could.”
“I of course first took it as an insult that they didn’t want me to act anymore, but that’s just me,” she added with a laugh.
Marshall later admitted to ET at a special screening of the action comedy that she was “nervous about an industry screening” but added earnestly, “I hope it goes well.”
Things certainly went well for Marshall’s career after her directorial debut. Two years later, she was tapped to direct Tom Hanks in the 1988 comedy classic Big, which went on to earn two Academy Award nominations — both for Hanks’ performance and for Best Original Screenplay — and universal critical acclaim.
“Some of it’s Tom, some of it’s me, some of it’s written, some of it happened by magic,” Marshall told ET in 1988, referring to the film’s wild popularity. “I think it’s a collaborative effort, even though they say the director is in charge.”
With Big, Marshall became the first female director to helm a film grossing over $100 million, and the pair re-teamed several years later for the 1992 baseball classic A League of Their Own, another commercial and critical success.
In the wake of her death, due to complications from diabetes, there was a massive outpouring of tributes, memorials, condolences and memories shared by some of the biggest names in Hollywood whose lives were impacted by Marshall’s kindness and friendship. Watch the video below for more on the celebrated film and TV star’s indelible legacy.