Goodbye, Old Friend.

Source: Wikipedia

Friendship must have been very important to Penny Marshall. The first thing I thought of when I read about her passing was, of course, Big, which, until I read about her passing, I thought was her first film. In fact before reading that she was gone I could only think of two of her films off the top of my head: Big and A League Of Their Own. I didn’t realize that I’d seen and enjoyed several other films of hers, including Jumpin’ Jack Flash, which was her directorial debut, until reading one of several remembrances.

Anyway I didn’t think of the famous piano scene in Big but rather the scenes between Tom Hanks, as Josh, and Josh’s friend Billy, played by Jared Rushton, who’s still a child and who, even as Josh starts to take on real adulthood, remains his anchor. The scene where Josh and Billy take Josh’s first paycheck to the bank and ask for “Three dimes, a hundred dollar bill and 87 ones,” then gorge on junk food is exactly what you’d expect a couple of kids to do, but it’s the chemistry between Hanks and Rushton, who don’t just seem like a couple of kids but a couple of friends, that makes it work. Robert DeNiro was briefly considered for the role of the adult Josh and he and Rushton spent an afternoon shooting hoops together, just getting to know each other, and I assume Hanks and Rushton did the same. And David Moscow, who played the young Josh, and Jared Rushton would become real friends, hanging out together even after the movie was done. That, to me, is more meaningful and makes the film more important than the fact that Marshall was the first woman director to have a film gross more than $100 million. Financial success is great but the emotional impact lasts long after all the money gets splurged.

It’s the sort of thing I always hope for with most films I watch—that the actors who portray friends onscreen are friends offscreen too, although I know it rarely happens. Still it’s nice to know that it does happen sometimes, and that it happened in Big and in other Marshall films.

In fact for any of us who grew up on ‘80’s sitcoms it’s also nice to know that the reason Marshall and her Laverne & Shirley co-star Cindy Williams worked so well on-screen is because they got along so well off-screen.

And Marshall’s early sitcom success followed by such a great career as a director completely undermines the saying that there are no second acts in American lives. She had an amazing second act. There was a genuine warmth and interest in people that ran through all her films, from Awakenings to Riding In Cars With Boys, and I keep coming back to Jumpin’ Jack Flash which is less of a spy story than it is about the need to connect with another person—even through a computer screen, and that’s why, even behind the camera, she felt like a friend.

Hail and farewell Penny Marshall.

 

18 Comments

  1. Jay

    Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna stayed lifelong friends after A League. An odd pairing for sure, so it has to be real.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I kept thinking about Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna, but didn’t look for any confirming information. I remember hearing that Marshall encouraged them to hang out together, and I like to think that’s how their friendship happened–they were kind of forced into it.

      Reply
  2. BarbaraM

    R.I.P. to an extremely funny and talented woman.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      She was extremely funny and talented and I think I only really appreciated that when I heard of her passing, but, as is so often the case, we have a wonderful body of work to look back on.

      Reply
  3. mydangblog

    She really broke a lot of ground for women as a director–she will be missed.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      She did break ground and she also made some great films. And I really like how honest and open she was.

      Reply
  4. Allison

    I really, really liked her. One of my “favorite” scenes in Big is the first night adult Josh is staying alone in the hotel and he’s terrified. Tom Hanks plays it perfectly. I don’t like it, because it’s so real. But I love it because it is so real.

    And I adore A League Of Their Own – I bawl when the poor girl who can’t read is standing there like a deer in headlights.

    She was amazing. She will be missed.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Marshall really knew how to blend the real, the whimsical, and the comedic. Her comedies are so grounded and that’s what I think makes them so long-lasting.
      And, yeah, that scene with the girl who can’t read is one of my favorites in A League Of Their Own. That, like that scene in Big with Josh sitting in his hotel room, was so perfectly real.

      Reply
  5. Bryce Warden

    I loved Laverene & Shirley!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I did too–I’m ashamed to say I’d mostly forgotten about it although I remember tuning in every night, and one year in college I house-sat for a professor whose cat was named Boo Boo Kitty. Looking back it really was a fun show and in interviews Penny Marshall seems like she was Laverne, which makes it even better.

      Reply
  6. Kristine @MumRevised

    Women can give an entirely different perspective to relationships on and off screen. RIP

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Penny Marshall’s films are great on their own but they’re also a very good argument for more women in the director’s chair.

      Reply
  7. Tom

    A sterling tribute, my friend! Hey, I don’t say that lightly … I feel we are friends, even off-camera. The hijinx we perform here may be for public consumption but in real life we’re just as lame. 😁

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I feel we’re friends too–that’s part of the magic of the internet; it brings people together and can make friends of people who’ve never even met. The only question is, which of us is the schlemiel and which is the schlimazel?

      Reply
      1. Tom

        I kinda feel like we would be more “Lenny and Squiggy” than “Laverne and Shirley.” 😉

        Reply
        1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

          Yes, that’s us–Lenny and Squiggy. And if anyone asks I’m Squiggy.

          Reply
  8. Ann Koplow

    You feel like a friend to all, Chris, and so did Penny Marshall. I’m going to re-watch “Big” and “A League of Their Own” and watch “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” for the first time, thanks to this wonderful tribute.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Penny Marshall really made some wonderful films, and I hope you’ll enjoy “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. Rewatching it now really makes me think about how much it, like all her other films, is ultimately about friendship.

      Reply

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