Penny Marshall: A pioneer for women in film

Penny Marshall was a pioneer for women filmmakers. The actress, director and producer died December 17, leaving behind a lifetime of memorable work.

After a directorial debut on television with a 1979 episode of the short-lived sitcom Working Stiffs followed by four episodes on her own hit series, Laverne and Shirley, Marshall shifted to feature films with the 1986 comedy-romance-thriller Jumpin’ Jack Flash followed by the 1988 comedy starring Tom Hanks as a teenager-turned-grown-man – Big. With nearly unanimous critical acclaim, Marshall’s second feature currently stands at a 97 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It made her the first female filmmaker to direct a movie grossing more than $100 million.

Building her career from a foundation in comedy, Marshall went on to direct films of various genres with the Robert DeNiro biographical drama Awakenings, the Danny DeVito dramedy Renaissance Man, the Whitney Houston fantasy The Preacher’s Wife and the Drew Barrymore indie drama, Riding in Cars with Boys. 

One of Marshall’s many indelible marks in cinema and trailblazing efforts for women came in 1992, with Geena Davis in the lead role as baseball player Dotty Hinson in A League of Their Own. Set in the middle of WWII, the film tells the fictional story of two who join the wartime All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (a real-life organization that lasted all through the 1940s). Celebrating its 25th anniversary last year, Geena Davis, who founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, told Parade Magazine, “It’s had a tremendous impact on girls playing sports. That’s what I hear constantly: ‘I play sports because of that movie.’  

Marshall’s range of work continues its impact, with her 2019 documentary Rodman (now in post-production) which tells the story of NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman. Her producing credits also include (but not limited to): Calendar Girl (1993), Getting Away with Murder (1996), With Friends Like These … (1998), Risk (2003) and Cinderella Man (2005). Current producing credits include The Land of No Return (pre-production) and Between the Pipes (pre-production) written by Angie Bullaro, when a female hockey player has the opportunity to play with the Tampa Bay Lightning, based on the true story of the first and only woman to play in the NHL. 

© Brigid K. Presecky (12/18/18) FF2 Media

Featured photo: Penny Marshall directs Tom Hanks in Big (1988) (Photo credits:

Middle photo: Penny Marshall directs Madonna in A League of Their Own (Photo credits:

Bottom photo: Penny Marshall (IMDb)

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Brigid Presecky began her career in journalism at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. In 2008, she joined FF2 Media as a part-time film critic and multimedia editor. Receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Bradley University, she moved to Los Angeles where she worked in development, production and publicity for Berlanti Productions, Entertainment Tonight and Warner Bros. Studios, respectively. Returning to her journalistic roots in Chicago, she is now a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and certified Rotten Tomatoes Film Critic.
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