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New York Film Academy (NYFA) Remembers The Life and Achievements of Actress & Trailblazing Director Penny Marshall

Filmmaker, producer, and actress Penny Marshall has died at the age of 75. In addition to being a three-time Golden Globe nominee for her starring role on sitcom juggernaut Laverne & Shirley, Marshall was a groundbreaking director for Hollywood, helming such films as Big, A League of Their Own, and Academy Award for Best Picture nominee Awakenings.

Marshall, born Carole Penny Marshall in 1943, was the daughter of tap dance instructor Marjorie Marshall and Tony Marshall, a film director and producer. She was born and raised in the Bronx, New York, and originally attended the University of New Mexico, where she studied psychology and math.

In 1967, as a divorced, single mother, she moved to Hollywood, where her brother Garry Marshall had established a burgeoning career as a television writer. In 1971, she married actor and filmmaker Rob Reiner. During this time she found various small roles acting for television and film, but in 1972 American audiences started to take notice of her as Myrna Turner on The Odd Couple.

Her most prominent role in television came in 1976 as Laverne in the Happy Days spin-off, Laverne & Shirley. The beloved sitcom was a ratings hit and lasted 178 episodes. She continued to appear in various television roles up until 2016 — including a guest appearance on the first-ever produced episode of The Simpsons — with her final role on the most recent remake of The Odd Couple.

Penny Marshall

While her popularity as an actress cannot be understated, it was her role as a director that proved to be most influential for breaking traditional Hollywood gender norms. In 1986, she directed the action comedy Jumpin’ Jack Flash, starring Whoopi Goldberg. But it was two years later when Marshall would break records with the fantasy comedy Big, starring Tom Hanks as a 13-year-old boy trapped in an adult man’s body.

The film has since become one of the 1980s’ most famous films, helping propel Hanks into superstardom and still making Best Of lists to this day. With a domestic box office of $116 million, Penny Marshall became the first woman to ever direct a film that grossed over $100 million, a feat that paved the way for other successful filmmakers like Nora Ephron, Patty Jenkins, and Ava DuVernay.

Marshall followed Big with Awakenings, starring Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams, and based on Oliver Sacks’ renowned memoir. The film received positive reviews and was an Academy Award for Best Picture nominee, but it was her next movie that may be best remembered: 1992’s A League of Their Own. Both a drama and comedy, the period film tells a fictionalized account of a true story — the advent of a professional women’s baseball league. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was instituted in the 1940s as many American men, including professional baseball players, were fighting overseas in World War II.

The film starred Geena Davis and Tom Hanks, and was an instant hit with critics and audiences alike. It was the second of Marshall’s films to gross over $100 million at the box office, and, in 2012, it was preserved by the Library of Congress after being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Marshall followed A League of Their Own with three more features, including Renaissance Man starring Danny DeVito, The Preacher’s Wife starring Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington, and Riding in Cars with Boys starring Drew Barrymore. She also produced and appeared in numerous films and televisions shows throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

Her brother Garry was a guest of the New York Film Academy in 2012, where he sat in on an AFA Acting for Film class with Acting Chair Lynda Goodfriend, who, decades earlier, he’d cast in his show Happy Days as Lori Beth. Speaking with NYFA students, Garry went into detail about his long and prolific career, and made sure to mention the many times he collaborated with his sister. Garry Marshall passed away in 2016.

Entertainment seems to run in the Marshall family. Scott Marshall — Penny’s nephew and Garry’s son — is a filmmaking and cinematography instructor at NYFA’s Los Angeles campus, and has acted in several film and television roles as well as directed short films and features.

Penny Marshall

Cindy Williams, television star and the Shirley to Penny Marshall’s Laverne, has also spoken with New York Film Academy students. At a Q&A in 2015, she shared several insights and stories with students, and recounted the first time she and Penny Marshall appeared as Laverne & Shirley in an episode of Happy Days. The two characters proved so popular that they quickly received their own show.

The New York Film Academy is deeply saddened by the loss of a multi-talented Hollywood icon and groundbreaking filmmaker who set an example for many future women directors to come. Rest in peace, Penny Marshall.

Ten Iconic Films Written by Screenwriting Legend William Goldman 

William Goldman, one of Hollywood’s most influential screenwriters for several decades, passed away early November 16, at the age of 87. 

In addition to writing several famous (and infamous) major motion pictures across a wide variety of genres, Goldman cemented himself as an authority of Hollywood screenwriting when he published Adventures in the Screen Trade in 1983. In the book, Goldman not only shared with readers his mastery of all things writing — story, dialogue, character — but his incisive, honest look at Hollywood’s modern studio system in the 60s and 70s, and what it would eventually evolve into over the next few decades. 

His rounded, honest view of the system that gave him great success was both cynical and appreciative, from the ground level as well as a bird’s eye view from the top, where he laid out and accepted both the good and the bad of the massive and powerful industry that produced an artistic medium he very much loved. 

Here are just some of the films he contributed to the Hollywood canon:

Misery

Director Rob Reiner and producers of the 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Misery, in which a psychotic fan ties her favorite author to her bed and forces him to keep writing, felt like they needed to dial back the horror of the book to make the film more palatable for mainstream audiences. In the novel, the character played by Kathy Bates severs the foot of the author played by James Caan, rendering him unable to escape.

What screenwriter William Goldman came up with as a solution was perfect, and became an iconic Hollywood moment. Rather than sever his foot, Goldman had Bates smash Caan’s ankles with a sledgehammer – less bloody and less gory, but somehow in its specificity, even more brutal to watch. Goldman was proving a valuable lesson in screenwriting: sometimes less is more.

Harper

Goldman had already finished the script to the hardboiled detective movie Harper, starring Paul Newman, but producers needed a scene to play over the opening credits. Goldman quickly came up with a simple, but poignant moment — the disgruntled PI getting ready in the morning, realizing he was out of coffee, and reusing an old filter from the trashcan. In one quick dialogue-less moment, Goldman established the get-it-done character of his protagonist before the opening credits had even finished rolling.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Goldman won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his work on this seminal western that paired together two of Hollywood’s most charismatic and popular leading men — Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The film highlights the genre-bending abilities Goldman seemingly wielded without breaking a sweat, going from comedy to thriller to drama to even musical from scene to scene without ever missing a beat. 

Chaplin

Chaplin was a star-studded biopic in 1992 that portrayed the life and career of silent film megastar Charlie Chaplin, and was one of that year’s most prestigious films, with a talented cast, incredibly high production values, and direction by Richard Attenborough. While it received mixed reviews, it was one of the first major dramatic roles for the young comic actor Robert Downey, Jr., who was nominated for his first Academy Award for his work.

A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far was also directed by Richard Attenborough, and was an epic World War II film with a large-for-its-time budget and loaded cast that featured stars from other Goldman films like James Caan and Robert Redford. In a genre overstuffed with classics, A Bridge Too Far managed to make a name for itself for its wide scope and intense battle sequences, especially since, unlike many of its brethren, it focused on a major historical loss for the Allied Forces.

Marathon Man

Marathon Man, like some of Goldman’s other screenplays, was adapted from a novel he wrote himself. As a book, and later as a film, it attracted the attention of producers and critics alike for its stark violence and themes of Nazi war criminals still existing in society decades after the end of World War II. A major casting coup for the gritty thriller was Sir Laurence Olivier as the antagonist, who earned an Oscar nomination for his efforts.

Maverick

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Marathon Man is Maverick, a big-budget western comedy adapted from the 50s television series of the same name. The film reunites Lethal Weapon’s director Richard Donner and star Mel Gibson (and a cameo from Danny Glover) at the height of their Hollywood powers and proved to be a definitive audience-pleasing popcorn movie in a year full of tough competition. 

The Stepford Wives

The science-fiction horror film The Stepford Wives challenged the norms of gender dynamics between husbands and wives and, when it was released in 1975, received only moderate success. It has however gained a solid cult status over the decades, and was even eventually given a big budget remake starring Nicole Kidman in 2004. The term “Stepford Wife” itself has now become slang for the type of doting, robotic homemaker featured in Goldman’s script.

The Princess Bride

“Anybody want a peanut?” 

That’s just one line out of dozens from the eminently quotable screenplay Goldman wrote for The Princess Bride, itself an adaptation of a novel he wrote with the same name. Ostensibly a comedy, the film also plays with genre, and has firmly rooted itself in the hearts of multiple generations of film and adventure lovers. Can you imagine a world without the line, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”??? 

Of course you can’t… it’s “”inconceivable!!!”

All the President’s Men

Goldman won his second Academy Award for the screenplay adapted from the book All the President’s Men, written by the journalists who uncovered the Watergate scandal. The film, which is still regarded by many as one of the greatest of all time, takes the real-life investigation of newspaper journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as they run up directly against a Nixon administration fighting to stay in power. Who would’ve thought its themes and even plot points of cover-ups and political corruption would be more resonant than ever forty years later? 

There are several other fantastic films written by William Goldman in his decades-spanning career, too many to list. Watching them all would not only be a great source of entertainment, but a Master Class in screenwriting from the man himself. 

RIP William Goldman – your contributions to cinema will not be forgotten.