A photo of Penny Marshall

I’d like to say thank you to Penny Marshall for making America smile in a time when we need more laughter. With Penny Marshall’s death, I feel as if a part of me has died as well because her character Laverne Defazio is sketched in my memory. 

Her death brought back childhood memories. I remember my parents weren’t wealthy, but my dad was middle-class. Marshall’s show aired when Gerald Ford was president and when my father worked for International Harvester making products in New Jersey. 

My parents weren’t rich but managed to have a large television. During the mid 70s, you had three major channels: ABC, NBC and CBS, which covered everything from news to family programming. “Laverne and Shirley” came on Tuesday nights right after “Happy Days,” from which the show spun off. 

What I loved about Laverne and Shirley was that they were funny without being gross or vulgar. You could identify with the characters, especially if you lived in New Jersey; every block had a Carmine Ragusa and liberals like Penny Marshall. The conservative on the show would always fight with a bleeding heart, but there was no personal animus. There were things that united us then, even as race, gender and gay rights were splitting the Democratic coalition at the seams.

I eventually became a Reagan Democrat. I grew up in a two-parent household and was opposed to career-oriented women. I thought women not being devoted to their kids was selfish. I was devoutly Christian and patriotic. I hated leftist radicals such as Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, and hearing any other view but American greatness and capitalism got me into many fist fights. But my views evolved.

Penny Marshall was a pioneer. There were many men like me that were closed-minded about feminism, but because of her, I accept gay rights and feminism and will gladly vote or pull the lever for a gay person or woman that shares my values. She opened doors but rarely bragged about what she achieved, which I admire and respect about her. 

As she passes on to the other side, thank you, Penny Marshall, for the laughs here on Earth!