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We'll probably always first think of the late Penny Marshall as the brassy Laverne DeFazio on "Laverne & Shirley." But Marshall, who died Monday night at 75, proved to be even more amazing once she stepped behind the camera — as a director who warmed our hearts while breaking new ground for women.
Here are five reasons — including Laverne, of course — she helped make all her dreams (and ours!) come true:
"Laverne & Shirley"
In the spinoff of "Happy Days," which ran from 1976-83, Marshall played the Brooklyn-born, Milwaukee-residing brassy gal who loved drinking milk and Pepsi. It was Marshall's idea for Laverne to wear an oversized script "L" on her shirts and sweaters — in theory so people could tell her apart from her BFF/roommate, Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams), who was more of a Pollyanna. They frequently hung out with their upstairs neighbors Lenny (Michael McKean) and Squiggy (David Lander). In real life, Marshall's brother, Garry, was the creator of both "Happy Days" and "Laverne & Shirley."
"Jumpin' Jack Flash" (1986)
Marshall had acted since the late 1960s, but her brother, Garry (also a director of films like "Pretty Woman"), urged her to consider going behind the camera, too. After directing a few sitcom episodes, she took on the Whoopi Goldberg-starring "Jumpin' Jack Flash" in 1986, and gave her daughter, Tracy, and Garry roles in the movie. It grossed $30 million, which was considered a respectable hit, and launched her as one of the few regular female directors in Hollywood.
With an affinity for working with fellow former sitcom stars ("Big" lead Tom Hanks started out on "Bosom Buddies"), Marshall hit the big time directing the story of a preteen who wishes he was "big" and wakes up the next morning as a grown-up. A rarity as a comedy-tearjerker, "Big" also helped launch Hanks' feature career, proving he could play drama as well as humor, and earned him an Oscar nomination. It grossed $151 million worldwide; it was the first film directed by a woman to earn over $100 million at the domestic box office, per Variety.
Marshall, now on a roll, took on a different former sitcom star (in this case, "Mork & Mindy" vet Robin Williams) and gave him a dramatic role in a story based on the memoir by Oliver Sacks. Though it "only" grossed $52 million, it earned three Oscar nominations, including ones for best picture and best actor for Robert De Niro. It was only the second film directed by a woman nominated for best picture, and once again broke ground for women in film.
"A League of Their Own" (1992)
Hanks came back in a supporting role to bolster the story of a female professional baseball league during World War II, and met his match alongside star power like Geena Davis, Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell. Garry also had a role in this film, as the baseball franchise's dubious owner. It earned $132 million worldwide, and was selected in 2012 for inclusion in the National Film Registry. Plus, according to Davis, it inspired girls all over to take up the sport.
Marshall went on to direct other films, including "Renaissance Man" (1994), "The Preacher's Wife" (1996) and "Riding in Cars With Boys" (2001), but never quite achieved the solid run of success she had between 1986-1992. But we don't mind, because Marshall showed all of us that there really are second acts in American lives — and that she truly knew how to hit a home run.