After spending her entire childhood in the Bronx, Marshall "wanted to get out," following graduation from Walton High School in 1960. She ventured west to the University of New Mexico, where she studied math and psychology, and enlisted friends and teachers to help her lose her thick Bronx accent."Obviously, they failed," she later quipped in her distinctive New York cadence.In the past 10 years, Marshall has directed six major films, two of which (Big and A League of Their Own) have topped 0 million at the box office. Vance, who plays the preacher in the movie, recalls that, at times, “we all felt the need to put our arms around her and ask, ‘Are you okay?“Not many male directors can say they’ve done that,” observes longtime pal Carrie Fisher. It’s the kind of movie that fans and detractors agree Marshall really knows how to make: a heart-yanking, life-affirming crowd-pleaser. Last winter’s shoot was plagued by blizzards in New York and an unseasonable warm spell that made soup of an ice-skating set in Maine. ’ She almost had walking pneumonia.” Whitney Houston, who has the title role, says, “Penny has the stamina of a horse. She was the strongest of us all.” At times, though, the world seemed to be crashing down around her movie. Y., an apartment-building fire across from the church where she was filming killed two children.They’d made their peace, but it had been a combative relationship, one Marshall handled with dark humor.
Armed with a Pepsi, a Marlboro and a mobile phone, Marshall announces that she might have to rush to a sound studio at any moment, so she’ll be taking every call. She collects compulsively—she forced friends to surrender change when she went on a recent coin-collecting kick—but gives just as compulsively.
“We might have to move,” the 53-year-old director warns, cigarette angling from her lip. “There’s a room in her house called The Mall,” says Elliot Abbott, an executive producer of her new film, The Preacher’s Wife, “where she keeps an inventory of future gifts.” On this particular November morning, though, Marshall is all business.
It’s not just that she is trying to complete Preacher’s Wife, a fable about a minister who loses faith in his ability to make a difference.
In 2009, Marshall's agent denied reports that Marshall was battling cancer.
Though multiple tabloid outlets reported that her health was failing, she did not speak publicly about her alleged illness.