As one of Hollywood’s top-grossing female filmmakers behind hits like A League of Their Own and Big, she made a mark in the industry that was only matched by her brother, the late director-producer Garry Marshall, who helmed Overboard, Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries franchise. He died at age 81 in 2016.
Both had remarkable, longstanding careers across film and TV that spanned multiple decades. Both famously defined how TV’s best sitcoms and film’s favorite romantic comedies would look, sound and feel like. And both left an indelible impression on Hollywood, friends and fans alike.
But for all their successes onscreen, the two were the rare brother-sister duo (or any family combination for that matter) that seemingly rose above all the typical Hollywood drama to maintain one of the most beloved and unbreakable family bonds, even if there was tension not always seen.
“My brother gave me a life,” Penny told nephew Scott, her brother’s son who was interviewing her for ET in 2016. “It's not many people who have a brother who gives them a life. He gave me a life and I appreciate it and I tried to not let him down.”
Growing up in The Bronx, New York, the two both made their way to Hollywood, picking up small jobs here and there before Garry teamed up with Jerry Belson and the pair developed The Odd Couple for television. It was on that show that Garry brought Penny, who was still a budding actress after making her film debut in How Sweet It Is, on to play Oscar’s secretary, Myrna, for four years.
From there, their two careers would be intrinsically linked. In 1975, Garry created Happy Days, on which Penny had a small role as Laverne DeFazio before landing the spinoff, Laverne & Shirley, which Garry also created.
“It was the toughest show, or project I ever did, was Laverne & Shirley,” Garry told NPR in 2012, “mostly because it's my sister, and you can't hide from your sister.” Further explaining how it made things tough on their relationship, he said that "she was Laverne and she was in the number one show. And it was difficult for me, because I do, as I said in the book, pride myself on being able to make people happy. And the one person I couldn't seem to make happy was my sister, Penny, on Laverne & Shirley.”
Despite whatever tensions or disagreements he and Penny (or the rest of the cast) may have had on set, co-star Cindy Williams insisted to ET in 2015 that it was like “an Italian family at a dinner table on Sunday and somebody doesn't pass the celery properly."
Ultimately, the show would last for eight seasons -- “It was a show about happiness and in the end that was everyone's goal,” Williams added -- while Garry continued to make hit after TV hit.
Soon after dominating the small screen, the brother-sister pair made the jump to film, where they continued to work together. Garry had a small role as Walter Harvey in one of Penny’s biggest hits, A League of Their Own, while the siblings appeared as a married couple in 1993’s Hocus Pocus.
While Garry had a prolific film career, writing and directing films up until his death, Penny only helmed a handful of hit movies, leaving most of it behind after 2001’s Riding in Cars With Boys. Outside of producing a few features and directing some episodes of TV, Penny mostly had small onscreen roles, including Garry’s New Year’s Eve and Mother’s Day, before she turned to writing her memoir, My Mother Was Nuts, and living a comfortable life in New York City.
Despite her distance from Hollywood, she told Vulture in 2012 she would still help Garry out when he needed it. “He’s worked with a lot of people. And then there’s some that I’ve introduced him to,” she said, recalling how she helped him land Robert De Niro in New Year’s Eve. “I told Garry you have to talk to him quietly. You don’t yell it out like you can with Tom and Robin. ‘C’MON OVER TO YOUR LEFT MORE.’ You have to be quiet with Bobby D.”
As for any insistence that she return to filmmaking, Penny explained that Garry was supportive of her decision and never urged her to get behind the camera. “He was happy, he sent me flowers,” she said. “He calls me daily.”
In 2016, Garry died a few months before Penny's best friend, Carrie Fisher. Aside from writing about him in her book, she rarely spoke publicly about his death. In November, when the CBS reboot of The Odd Couple paid tribute to Garry, Penny appeared on the show and spoke to ET about her late brother.