Who’s going to help Shirley make her dreams come true now?

Even without “Laverne & Shirley,” Penny Marshall – who died Monday  at 75 of complications from diabetes, family spokeswoman Michelle Bega confirmed – would count as Hollywood royalty. She was the sister of late TV mogul Garry Marshall and the ex-wife of Rob Reiner, which ties her to two great comedy traditions.

More importantly, on her own she became one of the most successful female film directors of all time, with hits such as “Big,” “Awakenings” and “A League of Their Own”  to her credit.

Yet for millions of Americans, she remains Laverne DeFazio, the gravel-voiced, gangly Milwaukee brewery worker with the tough act, soft heart and the big “L” on her sweater. Easily riled and easily hurt, Laverne was the more down-to-earth realist to Shirley Feeney’s (Cindy Williams) boo-boo-kitty-loving idealist. They were vastly different but shared the same dream in their 1950s-set blue-collar sitcom: to find true love and a way out of that basement apartment.

It was a role Marshall was born to play, and not just because her brother was the show’s producer (though that family tie, and the corresponding hints of favoritism, eventually caused backstage problems with Williams).

Marshall revealed she was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2010 but said two years later she was in remission. 

Marshall spent much of the ’70s perfecting her comedy skills, starting off as Oscar’s woebegone secretary Myrna on “The Odd Couple,” another Garry Marshall series. After a somewhat similar stint as Mary’s new neighbor on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” she made a 1975 guest appearance with Williams on “Happy Days,” and a classic character was born.

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