The actor collaborated with the filmmaker on two iconic projects.
Penny Marshall, beloved actress and director of Big and A League of Their Own, has passed away at the age of 75.
She died peacefully in her home in the Hollywood Hills from “complications due to diabetes”, a spokesperson for the Marshall family said in a statement.
Marshall rose to fame as an actress on Mork & Mindy and, later, Laverne & Shirley. But it was her work as director on hits including Big and A League of Their Own with Tom Hanks, The Preacher’s Wife with Denzel Washington and the Drew Barrymore-starring Riding in Cars With Boys that cemented her position as one of the most important filmmakers of recent years. Her final project, an in-depth documentary about basketballer Dennis Rodman, is currently in post-production and slated for release in 2019.
Of all her many films, A League of Their Own is her trailblazing feminist masterpiece. Set in 1943, it tells the (mostly) true story of a female professional baseball league formed in the absence of male players during World War II.
The Rockford Peaches comprise stalwart catcher Dottie (Geena Davis), her sister and enthusiastic batter Kit (Lori Petty), vivacious dancer Mae (Madonna) and best friend, nightclub bouncer and resident wise-cracker Doris (Rosie). Marshall’s daughter Tracy Reiner played Betty, a relief pitcher. The team is managed by Jimmy (Tom Hanks), whose initial reticence is replaced by real affection for his spirited players.
The movie was a huge hit when it was released in 1992, turning Hanks – courtesy of his iconic line “There’s no crying in baseball!” – into a huge star. Hanks, who also starred in Marshall’s Big, shared a tribute to his two-time collaborator on social media. “Goodbye, Penny,” Hanks wrote. “Man, did we laugh a lot! Wish we still could. Love you. Hanx.”
Davis, Hanks’ co-star in A League of Their Own, shared this: “I’m terribly sad to hear the news about Penny passing. My heart goes out to Tracy Reiner [Marshall’s daughter] and her family. Penny brought so much joy to so many and will be sorely missed. I will be forever grateful to her for letting me be a part of A League of Their Own.”
Petty and O’Donnell also shared Twitter messages. “Simply heartbroken,” O’Donnell’s tweet read, while Petty’s contained crying emojis and the line “you’re my best friend.”
Marshall’s ex-husband, filmmaker Rob Reiner, wrote on Twitter: “I loved Penny. I grew up with her. She was born with a great gift. She was born with a funnybone and the instinct of how to use it. I was very lucky to have lived with her and her funnybone. I will miss her.”
Viola Davis shared this: “RIP Penny Marshall!! Thank you for what you contributed to us girls. Grateful to have worked with you. Rest well you great Broad!!!”
While Ava DuVernay, who credited Marshall with paving the way for female directors, added “Thank you, Penny Marshall. For the trails you blazed. The laughs you gave. The hearts you warmed.”
In 2017, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of A League of Their Own, Davis, O’Donnell and more shared some hilarious memories from the set of the film. Davis revealed that her “audition”, if we can even call it that, involved throwing a baseball to Marshall in her backyard.
“[She] wanted to make sure I could throw a ball, so that happened,” Davis said told USA Today. “I threw the ball to her, completely got it to her, she caught it, and said ‘OK’. That was the whole audition.”
According to Marshall, Davis’ throwing skills were actually quite rare. Some 2,000 actresses came to the audition but couldn’t pass Marshall’s ball test.
Davis – who would later narrowly miss qualifying for the American Archery team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics – and O’Donnell were both naturally gifted athletes. Some of the film’s most memorable moments, like O’Donnell throwing two different balls to two catchers at the same time, weren’t staged. Neither was the moment when Davis caught a ball with her arm behind her back, nor the scene in which Davis lands a difficult catch while doing the splits.
“Penny asked if I could do a split,” Davis recalled. “I said to put it later in the shooting schedule to give me time to work up to it. It’s hard to learn that quickly. But I did.” In order to prepare for the scene Davis sat in a hot tub so that her limbs could ‘loosen’ up.
But once in the splits, Davis ran into some trouble. “The thing I did not do was get up from it. My character does a Chuck Berry split and then hops right back up,” David said. “There was no popping up happening. I was stuck there and had to be helped up.”