The death of Penny Marshall has some of her early TV co-stars remembering their time working with her. Marshall, who died on Monday at age 75, may be best known for her television role as Laverne DeFazio on Laverne & Shirley, but she actually debuted the role of the Milwaukee beer bottle capper on the popular 1970s sitcom, Happy Days.
Marshall made her debut as Laverne on the November 1975 Happy Days episode “A Date With Fonzie,” and her character, alongside Cindy Williams’ Shirley Feeney, was popular enough to score a spinoff. Laverne & Shirley premiered on ABC on January 27, 1976, and went on to produce 178 episodes.
After Penny Marshall’s death was announced, Happy Days star Henry Winkler, who played Arthur Fonzarelli on the long-running sitcom, told TMZ he first met Marshall in 1974 while doing the Paul Sand pilot, Friends and Lovers. Winkler fondly recalled the first time he worked with Penny Marshall, revealing that he immediately knew she was “a very funny” and “wonderfully talented” woman.
“With Cindy Williams, they were together the modern Lucille Ball,” Winkler said.
“We always had an extraordinarily warm relationship. She did the Happy Days reunion that I helped produce in 2006. I have seen her over the years and she was a wonderfully talented woman.”
Happy Days alum Ron Howard also took to Twitter to pay tribute to Penny Marshall.
“She was funny & so smart. She made the transition from sitcom star to A List movie director with ease & had a major impact on both mediums. All that & always relaxed, funny & totally unpretentious. I was lucky to have known & worked with her.”
The other surviving Happy Days stars, including Anson Williams (Potsie Webber), Don Most (Ralph Malph), and Marion Ross (matriarch Marion Cunningham) also paid tribute to Penny Marshall.
“Penny was as courageous as she was talented, and broke down the wall for women directors. Penny will be missed, but her talent and inspiration is evergreen,” Anson Williams said, per Deadline.
Marion Ross said, “Our dear sweet Penny has gone up to see Garry. So, there will no doubt be happier days in heaven, just as they made every day happy for us here on earth.”
Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams appeared in three Happy Days episodes (“A Date with Fonzie”, “Football Frolics”, and “Fonzie the Superstar”), before earning their whirlwind spinoff just a few months later. Henry Winkler and Ron Howard later returned the favor by making several cameos on Laverne & Shirley and plugging the duo’s promo.
In an interview posted by the Television Academy, Penny Marshall revealed that her brother, Garry Marshall, helped orchestrate the Laverne & Shirley spinoff.
“Fred Silverman went to my brother and said, ‘Got any spin-offs?’ He didn’t, but he said, ‘Well, there’s these two girl bottle cappers in Milwaukee from Happy Days…’ ‘Good, let’s do it!’ That was around Thanksgiving. We went to work in December and Laverne & Shirley was on the air in January, the number one show on television.”
Marshall recalled that her brother approached her to take on the role of Laverne DeFazio while she and pal Cindy Williams were working on a satire for Francis Coppola’s Zoetrope magazine.
“My brother called,” Marshall told the Huffington Post.
“And he said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m writing.’ He said, ‘Well, there’s a part of these two girls who put out. Ask Cindy if she wants to do it and she could play opposite Ron [Howard] and you’ll play opposite Henry [Winkler]. If she doesn’t want to do it, you can play opposite either one of them.'”
Penny Marshall revealed that after she and Williams appeared on Happy Days “it became chaos” as the network scheduled to order a quick spinoff series.
You can see the debut of Penny Marshall’s character Laverne in the Happy Days scene below.