Marshall showed girls independence and success
When I was 9 years old, I couldn’t wait for Tuesday nights.
That’s when I’d get to spend the evening laying on a big foam pillow on the living room floor watching The Fonz, Jack, Janet and Crissy, Tony Danza and the guy who played Kenicke on “Grease.” If there was no homework and my mom wasn’t paying attention, I could learn how to be a cop from Starsky and Hutch. The very best part, though, was that I’d get to spend a half-hour with my favorite people on television: Laverne and Shirley.
When the 10 o’clock news came on and I was finally sent to bed, I went off thinking about how cool it would be to be a grown up without a set bedtime, one who could wear pencil skirts and heels every day and who could share a job and an apartment with her best friend. I drifted off to sleep plotting what I was going to do when it was my turn to do it my way and make all my dreams come true.
Penny Marshall’s Laverne DeFazio became a big part of my life at a time when kids planned their schedules around the TV Guide. Riding bikes until dark or playing Risk by the light of the front porch with the neighbor kids was just not an option on Tuesday nights. Laverne was funny when being funny on TV was a guy thing. In my world, girls didn’t grow up and share apartments with their best friends; they grew up and got married or went to school, got a job and lived with their parents.
I wanted that Laverne life. I didn’t necessarily want to work in a brewery, I wanted to be a reporter. And I didn’t want to live in Milwaukee, I wanted to live close enough to my family that I could come over for carne asada on Saturdays, tamales at Christmas and hanging with my family for no reason at all, although in the show Laverne lived downstairs from her dad’s pizza place.
In 1988, a few months after I went to college, Penny Marshall became the first woman to direct a motion picture that made more than $100 million with “Big,” the story of a boy who wished to be an adult and was transformed into one. Later, she directed “A League of Their Own,” another film that earned more than $100 million; this one was about a women’s professional baseball league. Before “A League of Their Own,” a lot of young women my age had no idea a women’s professional baseball league ever existed.
When famous people die, we remember watching their work. We focus on how they touched our lives by way of Hollywood. I never met Marshall, who died on Monday, but I am glad we got to watch her shine.
My husband, who is not only my roommate but also my best friend, remembers another story about Marshall. In a 1999 notebook item from the Chicago Tribune, Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said that when the Spurs were playing the Lakers, Marshall was yelling at him to put in guard Steve Kerr. He said he tried to talk about other things; he asked about her latest project, talked about her directing but she wouldn’t stop asking him to put in Kerr.
Four years later, Kerr saved the Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against Dallas with four second-half 3-pointers. The Spurs came back from a double-digit deficit to win the game and the series, then went on to win their second championship.
All that and a Spurs fan, too.