I learned so much about Penny Marshall while reading My Mother Was Nuts that my awareness and appreciation of her talent has grown. I must say, I wish I had Penny as a friend.
From early in her life, she lived by a few valuable rules: always try hard, play by the rules, tell the truth, help your friends, don’t get too crazy, and have fun. As she began her groundbreaking career as a director in film and TV, she learned another important rule from her brother, Garry Marshall: how she could “give someone a life.”
Born October 15, 1943, in the Bronx, New York, Carole Penelope Marshall was the third child of Marjorie and Anthony. Penny’s father was of Italian descent, and he changed his last name from Masciarelli to Marshall before Penny was born.
Her mother was a dancer and entertainer, and gave dancing lessons in her own school, the Marjorie Marshall Dance School. It was clear to Penny at an early age that her mother hated her husband and found her independence in teaching other people’s children to dance. She had 360 students over the years, and according to the book, she was beloved by 359 of them. Penny was the hold out.
Dancing did give Penny confidence and eventually put her on the stage of the Ted Mack Amateur Hour with a group of students from her mother’s school. Penny found her acting start on the stage and in bit parts on TV shows like That Girl. Garry was the producer of the hit sitcom Happy Days and cast Penny in five episodes as Laverne before he wrote and launched a spin-off. Penny went on to become Laverne DeFazio in the popular sitcom Laverne & Shirley, which ran from 1975 to 1983. She received three Golden Globe nominations for her performance.
Penny was married and divorced twice, the second time to actor Rob Reiner who has also become a successful director and producer. While Laverne & Shirley was the No. 1 sitcom on TV, Rob was working on the No. 2 sitcom, All in the Family. It made for an interesting social and home life.
During this time, Penny began to make history behind the scenes as the first woman director of a feature film and the first woman to direct a film that grossed over $100 million, not once, but twice. Over the course of a decade’s time, she directed Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Big, A League of Their Own, Awakenings, Renaissance Man, The Preacher’s Wife, and Riding in Cars with Boys.
Penny’s path as an actress and director is impressive, and it led her to connections and lifetime friendships with a long line of names we all know. But who knew she had such a long and wonderfully romantic adventure with Art Garfunkel? The name-dropping in this book is amazing—her personal Rolodex is an impressive collection of Who’s Who from the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond. Her loyalty and devotion to her friends, and they to her, is truly inspiring.
Throughout this memoir, Penny talks frankly as if she’s sitting next to you. She tells it as it happened—the good, the bad, and the weird; the successes and the struggles; all the fun she’s had and that she still wants five more minutes.
My Mother Was Nuts is available from Amazon for a list price of $26.