Today we learned that Penny Marshall has passed away at 75. Penny Marshall may be most well-known to older folks as Laverne from the sitcom “Laverne & Shirley.” Movie fans will also know her as the director of the Tom Hanks-starring hit “Big” among other classics.
Simpsons fans. however, will have a special place in their hearts for her portrayal of Lucille Botzcowski, aka Ms. Botz, The Babysitter Bandit, from the season 1 episode “Some Enchanted Evening.” At a time when many stars wouldn’t appear on a cartoon, let alone a show on the upstart Fox network, Marshall took a guest-starring role as one of the series’ first villains. She did a great job voice acting a notorious crooked babysitter who robs the Simpson’s home while Homer and Marge go out for a romantic night alone.
Penny Marshall was born in NYC in 1943, and grew up in an entertainment industry family. Her brother Garry had a hand in creating “Happy Days,” which indirectly inspired George Lucas’ film “American Graffiti.” Penny got her start in show business acting in commercials before landing guest spots on “That Girl,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” and a recurring role on “The Odd Couple” TV series.
In 1975, Marshall and Cynthia Williams were introduced on “Happy Days” as friends of The Fonz and subsequently spun off into their own series, “Laverne and Shirley,” which was set in Milwaukee in the same late 50s time period as its parent show. The series followed the adventures of the eponymous bosom buddies and their oddball friends. It is sometimes noted for its queer subtext: two single women well into adulthood who rarely dated, and treated each other as life partners. The show ran for eight seasons, changing locations and losing Williams by the end.
“Laverne and Shirley” were a background gag in season 8’s “Simpson Spinoff Showcase” as a poster Troy McClure walks past.
Marshall’s directing career began with the comedy-action film “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” starring Whoopi Goldberg. She went on to helm some of the best, most thoughtful comedies, of the 1990s, including “Big,” “A League of Their Own,” “Awakenings,” and “Renaissance Man.” The Simpsons made a handful of references to her films over the years, including this gag from “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy:”
Penny Marshall was smart, funny, and talented. She is a small part of The Simpsons, but a huge part of the story of contemporary film comedy. She will be missed.