Penny Marshall stopped wearing heels around the same time she became a film director.

“When you’re directing, your shoes are the most important thing,” she told Closer. “You gotta find shoes that are comfortable. I have more Chuck Taylors than you can imagine, in every color. I have Adidas. I have Pumas. I have spangled ones to match my dress-up stuff.”

In showbiz, where a star’s looks and image are everything, Penny stood out for being down to earth and unapologetically herself.

With heart, gumption and impeccable comic timing, she became a beloved TV star on Laverne & Shirley and, later, one of the world’s most popular and successful female directors.

“I don’t like horror, and I don’t do superheroes,” Penny said. “Call me crazy, but I like to tell a story.” Penny’s own story started in New York, where her dad made industrial films and her mom taught dance. “My mother was a tap-dancing teacher, so I had to dance all my childhood,” she explained.

Penny credited her mother and older brother Garry, who would go on to direct Pretty Woman, among other films, as the wits of the family.

She didn’t think she was funny and had no thoughts about show business growing up. “I wanted to get married,” Penny said. “My thing in high school was to be a secretary. I just wanted someone to love me and to have kids.”

But a young marriage to her daughter Tracy’s father only lasted three years. Penny moved west with her baby, following in the footsteps of brother Garry, who had become a writer on The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Even with connections, finding work as an actress proved difficult and humiliating. Penny was labeled “homely girl” in a Head & Shoulders commercial opposite Farrah Fawcett in 1972.

“I grew up believing an actress is supposed to be beautiful,” said Penny, who struggled to overcome her insecurities about her appearance. “After I saw myself in a Love, American Style segment, I cried for three days.”

In the end, beauty didn’t matter. Penny’s self-effacing humor and down-to-earth persona struck a chord with viewers. She became a fan-favorite as Oscar’s gloomy secretary Myrna on The Odd Couple.

In 1975, a guest appearance she and her writing partner Cindy Williams made on Happy Days led to their own series, Laverne & Shirley.

“She was just brilliant,” Cindy tells Closer. “I admired her before I even knew her. I just said, ‘I like that girl. I’d like to be friends with her.’”

The series wrapped in 1983, and Penny turned her talents toward directing. “Man, did we laugh a lot!” gushed Tom Hanks, who starred in her first huge hit, 1988’s Big.

In 1990, Penny became only the second woman to helm a film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar with Awakenings, a drama starring Robert De Niro. The movie, about a man in a catatonic state who miraculously wakes up, seemed a huge departure for the comedian, but Penny shrugged off the risk.

“I’ll try anything,” said the star, who died in 2018 at age 75 from complications of diabetes. “What are they gonna do, kick me out of show business?”