By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the news that Penny Marshall died earlier this week from complications with Diabetes. Like many my age, I grew up with reruns of Laverne and Shirley on my local UHF channel. While my parents were watching the news and game shows, I was laughing away at the bumbling, ever funny, Laverne played by Penny Marshall. It was a great lesson in comedy.
She was probably one of the greatest comediennes of her time but never won the big prize. She was nominated for three Golden Globes but never a winner, losing to Carol Burnett in 1978 and Linda Lavin in 1979 and 1980. (If you don’t know who that is, don’t feel bad. I had to Google her name, too.)
While her comedic performances are at the level of Jerry Lewis, Jim Carrey and Robin Williams, her directing talents were even better. She had this knack for weaving real comedy into heartfelt stories. Ones that can make you laugh one second and touch your heart the next. Few people had that talent and Penny Marshall was a genius at it. It shines through in one of the best baseball movies ever, A League of Their Own.
A League of Their Own had only two Golden Globe nominations: Geena Davis for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical and Madonna for Best Original Song - Motion Picture. Here’s some perspective: Honeymoon in Vegas was nominated for a Golden Globe Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical and A League of Their Own wasn’t. Pathetic. And as for the Academy Awards? No nominations.
Big was another amazing film directed by Penny Marshall. Also starring Tom Hanks, Marshall does a wonderful job of getting the best out of Tom by placing him in perfect situations for him to shine. I’m sure after years of being in front of the camera, she knew how to give her actors exactly what they needed. What works the best about this piano clip is the timing. It’s perfect.
Big got two Academy Award Nominations that year. Tom Hanks for Best Actor and Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. At least the Golden Globe gave it a Best Picture nomination but it lost to Working Girl. But again, no love for Penny Marshall. (Side note: Big was the first movie directed by a woman to gross $100 million at the U.S. Box office. That was 1988.)
Ms. Marshall is able to open a door and give us a tour to the inside of the human soul. Her movies are not huge and dramatic. Instead they are calm but moving. You don’t know where they suck you in, but at some point they make you feel better about improving the lives of others. Here’s a clip from her movie Awakenings. If you haven’t seen this movie, rent or download it. It’s a masterpiece.
This got the most nominations seeing it’s the most dramatic of her movies. It received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture (given to the producers), Robert DeNiro for Best Actor and Steven Zallian for Best Screenplay. Robin Williams got a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. No love for Penny Marshall.
She hired some amazing talent: Tom Hanks, Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro and got them to create masterful performances. Made movies that are historic and loved by millions. Made the world laugh as an actress. But never received a Golden Globe or an Oscar. How immensely sad.
But they’ll be no crying today. Instead, let’s celebrate Penny Marshall and thanks her for giving us a glimpse of humanity covered in laughs and comedy.