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TV sitcom star, director Penny Marshall dead at 76

Los Angeles

PENNY Marshall, the nasal-voiced co-star of the slapstick sitcom "Laverne & Shirley" and later the chronically self-deprecating director of hit films like "Big" and "A League of Their Own", died Monday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 76.

Her publicist, Michelle Bega, said the cause was complications of diabetes. Marshall became the first woman to direct a feature film that grossed more than US$100 million when she made "Big" (1988).

That movie, a comedy about a 12-year-old boy who magically turns into an adult (Tom Hanks), was as popular with critics as with audiences.

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Hanks received his first Oscar nomination for his performance. Four years later, she repeated her box-office success with "A League of Their Own", a sentimentally spunky comedy about a war-time women's baseball league with an ensemble cast that included Madonna, Geena Davis, Rosie O'Donnell and Hanks.

In between, she directed "Awakenings" (1990), a medical drama starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. "Awakenings", based on a book by Oliver Sacks, was only moderately successful financially, but De Niro received an Academy Award nomination.

A writer for Cosmopolitan magazine once commented that Marshall "got into directing the 'easy' way - by becoming a television superstar first".

That was a reference to her seven seasons (1976-83) as Laverne DeFazio, the brasher (yet possibly more vulnerable) of two young roommates on the hit ABC comedy series "Laverne & Shirley", set in 1950s and 60s Milwaukee.

In Hollywood, Marshall had a reputation for instinctive directing, which could mean endless retakes. But she was also known for treating filmmaking as a team effort rather than a dictatorship. "I have my own way of functioning," she told The New York Times Magazine in 1992.

"My personality is, I whine. It's how I feel inside. I guess it's how I use being female, too. I touch a lot to get my way and say, ' em Pleeease /em , do it over here.' So, it can be an advantage - the anti-director." NYTIMES