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Penny Marshall Gave Birth at 19 - Her Husband Wanted a Baby Boy While Her Mother Hid the Child’s Real Age

Junie Sihlangu
Feb 04, 2022
10:40 P.M.
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Penny Marshall and her boyfriend, Michael Henry, became parents when she was just a teenager. After marrying Penny, he started talking to his ex-girlfriend, and things went downhill.

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According to the late Penny Marshall's September 2012 article for Newsweek, she started dating Michael Henry during her sophomore year at college in 1963. He was there via a football scholarship, she fondly called him Mickey, but he sadly failed to make the travel team and was depressed.

She felt terrible for him, and they ended up having sex, which was the second time she tried the act. However, a month later, Penny missed her period and went to see a doctor and discovered she was pregnant!

Penny Marshall on the set of "Laverne & Shirley" on December 18, 1975, and her with Tracy Lee Reiner on the same set in an episode that would air on November 8, 1979 | Photos: ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty Images

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The star was only 19 at the time, and her boyfriend was a year younger. During that time, abortion was illegal in the US, and the couple hadn't even discussed birth control before sleeping together.

Penny decided to keep the baby by herself, but Michael surprised her by suggesting they get married! The couple tied the knot during the same weekend that John F. Kennedy was shot.

Penny Marshall at the celebration of black cinema hosted by Broadcast Film Critics Association on January 7, 2014, in West Hollywood, California | Photo: Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images

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While they spent their honeymoon in a motel, the only thing covered in the news was Kennedy's funeral, and Penny felt that set the tone for their marriage. The couple, being so young, also had no money.

WELCOMING BABY TRACY LEE

Michael only received around $100 monthly from his scholarship, and his wife was still in school. However, to make ends meet, Penny eventually quit college and took a job as a secretary.

Penny Marshall at the 13th annual Harold & Carole Pump Foundation Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 9, 2013, in California | Photo: Vincent Sandoval/Getty Images

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In July that year, the couple became parents, with the actress admitting that they had no idea what they were doing but went ahead anyway. Penny knew nothing about labor, just like Michael's mother, and the actress' mother couldn't remember her own births.

After her water broke, she referenced a book to find out what she needed to do; and it advised her to call a doctor. The doctor told her she didn't need to rush to a hospital just yet.

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Penny's mother opened a pull-out couch, spread newspaper on it, and the pair watched television until her contractions grew stronger and more frequent. The mother-daughter pair started timing the contractions until the star decided to go to a hospital.

Michael, who was working in construction, was informed, and at the hospital, Penny was assigned a bed. The actress's husband came and went as she labored for twenty hours with no sign of the baby.

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Nurses told her to shower or walk around as she waited for the baby to come. Having not eaten since the previous day, the actress became hungry and fought her husband for food.

However, the nurse could only offer her Jell-O because she had gas. The following six hours saw Penny struggling through more contractions and having nurses checking her until she hit one of them because she'd had enough!

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Their daughter was eventually welcomed on July 7, 1964, weighing in at seven pounds, fourteen ounces, and twenty-two inches. The little girl had a full head of dark hair and Michael's eyes.

The star's husband had wanted a baby boy, but after inspecting his daughter, he'd fallen in love. Michael was sure he didn't want to give her a bird name like Robin, and Penny recalled a girl from camp that she liked named Tracy Saturn – so they called their child Tracy Lee Henry.

Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams on the set of the TV series "Laverne & Shirley" circa 1976 | Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

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Penny had to stay at the hospital for nearly a week, and when she and her husband got to take Tracy Lee home, their studio apartment seemed even more diminutive. The "Laverne & Shirley" star emptied a dresser drawer for the child to sleep in, which became her nursery.

Michael was great at being a father and played his part in bringing up little Tracy Lee. Penny recalled to Newsweek how he would wake up to tend to their daughter in the middle of the night and got up with the little girl in the morning before going off to college.

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ASSISTANCE FROM FAMILY

Penny and her husband moved to a cheaper but bigger two-bedroom apartment closer to Michael's school at the end of summer. After staying with the newborn for seven weeks, the actress returned to work.

Luckily for the young couple, Michael's grandmother didn't mind watching her granddaughter while her parents went to work. Penny's mother also wanted to spend time with her one-year-old granddaughter.

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However, she didn't like that Tracy Lee could talk as much as she did when the child was only one, and complete sentences too! Penny's mother pretended the child was six months younger so that people in the building wouldn't know her daughter got pregnant before marriage.

REALIZING THE TRUTH

Michael had had enough with his wife's family and New York when Christmas came around since he originally lived in Albuquerque. Being a Jehovah's Witness also meant he didn't celebrate the holiday.

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When he finally returned to his wife and child, Penny found a flower receipt and confronted him. Michael confessed he'd sent them to his ex-girlfriend, and his wife couldn't understand how he could do that but not buy Tracy Lee birthday and Christmas gifts because the celebrations were pagan.

The couple argued a lot until the actress realized she wouldn't end up with Michael. She acknowledged that they'd come together because they were trying to do the right thing but weren't ready for it yet.

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The following summer, Penny reprised her role as Ado Annie in a theater production of "Oklahoma!" Being away from home for over a month finally encouraged the couple to get a divorce since they were living separate lives and didn't want to end up hating each other.

The separation was amicable, and Michael didn't want anything from his ex-wife. Divorcing ended up being the best decision that the pair took, and Penny's life flourished!

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LIFE AFTER MICKEY

The actress married actor and producer Rob Reiner, and her daughter came to stay with them, and he adopted her. At that point, Penny was also working on "Laverne & Shirley."

The actress [Penny Marshall] confessed that she loved and enjoyed her three grandchildren.

The star's marriage to Reiner ended in divorce, and that's when she found out she was pregnant again. Being single, the "My Mother is Nuts" author chose to abort the child.

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Even though she chose abortion the second time around, Penny was glad it was illegal to do it when she was pregnant with Tracy Lee. She wrote in her Newsweek essay:

“What I thought was a major, life-changing mistake that could have given me a scarlet A ended up giving me a wonderful family.”

Her daughter gave her a grandson, Spencer, and then married again and welcomed two girls, Viva and Bella. The actress confessed that she loved and enjoyed her three grandchildren.

Penny shared that what was important to her was that her family was doing well. The "A League of their Own" star explained that she felt life was more important than the world of show business.  

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