Garry Marshall Called Working With Penny on 'Laverne and Shirley' His "Worst Show Experience"

Kayla Keegan
Garry Marshall Called Working With Penny on 'Laverne and Shirley' His "Worst Show Experience"

From Good Housekeeping

  • Garry Marshall's accomplishments are being celebrated during ABC's special tribute The Happy Days of Garry Marshall on Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET.
  • Garry and his famous sister, Penny Marshall, became an iconic duo in the TV and film industry, most notably working on the Happy Days spinoff Laverne and Shirley together.
  • Here's a closer look at Garry and Penny's sibling and career relationship.

Garry and Penny Marshall are still regarded as one of the most powerful sibling duos in Hollywood history. The late brother and sister enjoyed great success together — Garry as a renowned TV producer and director and Penny as an actress and barrier-breaking director.

From the start, the two stuck together. Though Penny had been told she was "unattractive" early on in her Hollywood career, as reported by The Washington Post, Garry had faith that someday his younger sister would prove all her critics wrong.

“She’d come home in tears,” Garry told The New York Times in 1992. “I said: ‘They’ll learn to like you. They just don’t understand you yet. They will someday.'”

Photo credit: ABC Photo Archives

First came success for Garry, who paired up with Jerry Belson to adapt Neil Simon's play The Odd Couple to a TV show in 1970 after working on The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Lucy Show, and more in the '60s. Realizing his sister's talent, Garry brought Penny onto The Odd Couple to play Myrna for four years. From there, Penny, whose film debut was in the 1968 comedy How Sweet It Is!, which Garry produced, started to see more and more success.

"My brother gave me a life," Penny told Entertainment Tonight in 2016. "It's not many people who have a brother who give them a life. He gave me a life and I appreciate it, and I tried to not let him down."

The two continued to work with each other while gaining more notoriety. Garry went on to create the ever-popular sitcom Happy Days and, eventually, the spin-off Laverne and Shirley, which Penny starred in (and directed four episodes of).

Photo credit: Gregg DeGuire

On this project, however, Penny and Garry went through a particularly tumultuous phase due to creative strife. According to what Garry told NPR, Penny had all sorts of ideas on how to improve the Laverne and Shirley (which became the top-rated show in its '77-78 season). While Garry once admitted that her suggestions did make the sitcom better, their relationship became more difficult to navigate as the show's success grew.

"It was the toughest show, or project I ever did, was Laverne and Shirley," he recalled. "Mostly because it's my sister, and you can't hide from your sister."

He continued: "Suddenly, she was Laverne and she was in the number one show. And it was difficult for me, because I do ... 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 and Shirley."

Talking to The New York Times Magazine in 2012, Garry also reiterated the toll Laverne and Shirley took on his relationship with his younger sister: "That was my worst show experience. The ’70s were druggy years on a lot of shows. It was just a mess, but of course I still talk to her. I don’t think you can tell your family that you can’t come in the house."

Photo credit: Ron Galella

What's more, in the book Happier Days: Paramount Television’s Classic Sitcoms, 1974-1984, author Marley Brant details further on-set friction between Penny and her co-star, Cindy Williams. Cindy reportedly felt that her character, Shirley, was getting slighted and even walked off the set one day.

In 2015 though, Cindy claimed that despite off-camera disagreements, everyone was dedicated to making the audience laugh on the sitcom.

"It's like an Italian family at a dinner table on Sunday and somebody doesn't pass the celery properly," Cindy joked to ET. "There’s always going to be arguments."

Photo credit: Mirek Towski

Regardless of their time working on Laverne and Shirley, it's clear both Garry and Penny had tremendous love for one another before their respective deaths — Garry died on July 19, 2016 from complications of pneumonia following a stroke; Penny died on December 17, 2018 due to complications of diabetes.

“I wouldn’t have a career if it wasn’t for my brother," Penny said in an interview for the Television Academy Foundation. "Let’s be honest, he’s the one who pointed me in this direction."


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