Remembering Penny Marshall: Our chat with her

The late actress-director spoke of ‘Laverne & Shirley’ and Whitney Houston

It was 2012, “Laverne & Shirley” was being honored at the TV Land Awards, and we got to speak with “Laverne.”

Penny Marshall would become a successful feature-film director, but for many of her fans, she always will be Laverne DeFazio — friend and comedic conspirator of Shirley Feeney (played by Cindy Williams) – in the hugely popular series co-created and produced by Marshall’s brother Garry.

On the occasion of her passing, here’s a look back at that conversation, which involved her remembrance of another late talent … whom she had directed in “The Preacher’s Wife,” now making the cable rounds as it does every holiday season:

Penny Marshall deems the death of Whitney Houston a “very sad” loss.

“She was a great girl, and we got along fine,” the television star turned movie director says about guiding the singer-actress through the 1996 musical drama “The Preacher’s Wife” opposite Denzel Washington. “She sang beautifully, but like a baseball player doesn’t pitch every day, you had to schedule certain things at certain times. You have to take the actors into consideration.”

Marshall also took the use of Houston’s vocal talents seriously: “I went to her mom’s church in Newark (N.J.) and I went to Denzel’s church out here (in Los Angeles), and we auditioned choirs. I had never done anything with music of the current time, because most of the movies I did were period pictures. ‘Awakenings’ was, certainly ‘A League of Their Own’ was, and so was ‘Riding in Cars With Boys.’”

Laverne & Shirley: Penny Marshall
Image Source: Paramount Home Entertainment

With “Big” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” also on her resume, Marshall cut her directing teeth on several episodes of the classic ABC sitcom “Laverne & Shirley.” “Laverne & Shirley” was run by Marshall’s brother Garry, who would become a noted movie director himself (“Pretty Woman,” “Beaches”), and she says pretty much anyone who worked on the show had the opportunity to direct.

“It’s hard to do a series,” she reflects. “You do a show a week, and sometimes, we didn’t love the dialogue so much … so we found physical ways around it. It became about behavior.”

Marshall has been directing television again, with Showtime’s “United States of Tara” and ABC’s “According to Jim” among those credits. “All they do is watch monitors now,” she says. “They don’t know everything that’s in front of an audience. We didn’t have video feeds back then. It was, ‘”A” camera, you got it? “B” camera, you got it? “C” camera, you got it? Fine.’ And they’d tell you the truth.”

Calling the shots on more TV shows isn’t out of the question for Marshall. “I don’t do vampires, I don’t do car crashes, and I don’t do people in big metal outfits,” she reasons. “That’s what they spend the money on now in features, and with any movie you want to do, you have to shoot them fast and they don’t pay enough. I’d rather direct television.”

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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