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Penny Marshall's Parents Told Her She Was 'A Mistake' — She Also Had an Unplanned Child at 19

Karabo Baloyi
Jun 12, 2022
06:20 A.M.
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Penny Marshall, best known for her role in the hit series "Laverne & Shirley," experienced a lot of challenges before reaching fame. Penny's best-selling memoir chronicled some of her worst experiences as a child. Here's how she faced and overcame some of those tough experiences.


Penny Marshall became a household name when she starred as Laverne in the sitcom "Lavene & Shirley." Despite her fame, she remained private about her upbringing until she released her best-selling memoir titled "My Mother Was Nuts: A Memoir."

In her memoir, Penny detailed her and her parents' upbringing. Penny's mother, Marjorie, was an only child. Marjorie grew up to be an accountant. She played the piano and taught herself to dance from the Broadway musicals her father took her to see.

Actress Penny Marshall poses for a portrait in 1979 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images



Marjorie Met Penny's father, Anthony "Tony" Masciarelli, at NYU. Anthony was an athlete who majored in advertising and changed his last name from Masciarelli to "Marshall" to better his career prospects.

Penny's parents, Marjorie and Anthony, had unconventional reasons for tying the knot. Marjorie wasn't concerned about Anthony changing his name; she was focused on Anthony's ability to draw and write and assumed that he could be a good provider.

Similarly, Anthony believed that Marjorie was born to a wealthy family that would give him access to a life of privilege. As it turned out, both of them had the wrong assumptions.


Penny Marshall as she appeared on the 1970's series, "Laverne & Shirley," which starred Penny Marshall as Laverne DeFazio. Source: Getty Images

Anthony and Marjorie got married in 1932, but they didn't have anything in common. They weren't affectionate with one another throughout their marriage.


Penny even recalled that the most romantic thing she could remember Marjorie saying about Anthony was that he fell asleep during their honeymoon.

Penny Marshall and Charles Grodin in 1979 in New York City. | Source: Getty Images


Two years into their marriage, Marjorie and Anthony welcomed their first child, Garry. In 1938, their second child, Ronny, was born. Marjorie enjoyed being a mother, even after the family had to cut costs and move to a two-bedroom apartment in the Bronx.

As Anthony's business grew and the children grew up, his marriage with Marjorie became relatively peaceful. Anthony worked long hours, and Marjorie built her dance school Marjorie worked hard to showcase her students' talent everywhere she could.

Penny Marshall and Dan Aykroyd in 1980 in New York City. | Source: Getty Images



In 1943, Marjorie found out she was pregnant with Penny, and at that moment, the family's peace abruptly ended. Marjorie was happy to have Garry and Ronny, but she hadn't planned for a third child.

When Marjorie was a child, her mother showered her with praise and compliments, and Marjorie hated it. She swore to act differently with her own children.

Marjorie was also a sarcastic woman, but Penny didn't understand that aspect of her mother's personality as she grew up. Marjorie often teased Penny about her teeth: "She used to tell me that my buckteeth could open a Coke bottle. She was like that," Penny said.


Penny Marshall appearing on the series "Laverne and Shirley" in November 1, 1979. | Source: Getty Images

Marjorie also lived for her dancing school, and Penny had to bear the brunt of her parents' dislike for one another. Her parents constantly reminded her that she was unwanted. She said:


“My brother and sister were planned. I was not planned. I was a mistake and told I was a mistake.”

Penny Marshall & Cindy Williams as Laverne & Shirley. | Source: Getty Images


Penny's parents being so hard on her and her siblings meant that all three of them needed to develop a sense of humor to cope. The three siblings would laugh when Marjorie would be sarcastic about someone else.

Penny recalled that she and her siblings became successful in their respective fields partially because of the humor they developed from their parents' harshness. Penny even thanked them in her memoir, adding that although she knew she was an accidental child, everything worked out for her eventually.


Actors Penny Marshall and Jack Nicholson at the SAG and AFTRA Actors On Strike in 1980 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images


When Penny decided to go to college, she chose to go to New Mexico. Her mother, Marjorie, was not astute in Geography and believed that New Mexico was close to New York, which made it easier for Penny to move so far away.

While in New Mexico and during her sophomore year, Penny met Michael Henry. Michael was on a football scholarship but didn't make the travel team, which left him depressed. "I felt bad, as since I already had sex once, we did it. I didn't think anything beyond that I liked a football player," Penny recalled.

A month later, Penny discovered that she was pregnant. However, it was 1963, and there no legal abortions available to women. Penny decided to face the consequences of her decisions and keep the baby.


Penny Marshall with daughter Tracy Reiner. | Source: Getty Images

She thought she would rather move to Amarillo and have the baby alone. However, Michael offered to marry her instead, and this didn't solve all their problems.


Penny and Michael were both young when she was pregnant. Michael only got $100 monthly from his scholarship, and Penny decided to quit college, and she got a job as a secretary. Michael was a supportive father to their daughter Tracy. But that, unfortunately, didn't save their marriage.

Penny and Michael got divorced when their daughter, Tracy, was still a child. Michael moved to Colorado and married someone else. Penny also married someone else, Rob Reiner, several years after her divorce from Michael.

Director/actress Penny Marshall and daughter/actress Tracy Reiner at The Hollywood Show held at The Westin Hotel LAX on January 24, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images


Rob raised Tracy as though she was his own. While Penny was raising Tracy, she landed a role in the sitcom “Laverne & Shirley." This was her big break which changed her life forever. Penny later realized that her decision to keep her daughter was one of her best decisions:

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

Tracy grew up and had three children, Spencer, Bella, and Viva, whom Penny constantly doted on. "My family is well, and that's what's important. In my opinion, life is more important than show business," Penny said.


Penny Marshall and Rob Reiner in 1970 in New York City. | Source: Getty Images

Following Penny's success in "Laverne & Shirley," she transitioned to a career behind the camera and was equally successful as when she was in front of it. Sadly, she died in 2018 at the age of 75 due to complications from diabetes.

Penny earlier suffered from brain and lung cancer in 2009, but she beat it and went into remission in 2012. Penny was survived by her older sister, Ronny, her daughter, Tracy, and her three grandchildren, Spencer, Bella, and Viva.