‘Tremendously blessed’: Courtney B. Vance fondly recalls making ‘The Preacher’s Wife’ with Penny Marshall

Penny Marshall, left, pauses with Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington at the premiere of “The Preacher’s Wife.”
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“When we love someone, we are really loving God,” says Courtney B. Vance’s character in the movie “The Preacher’s Wife.”

The 1996 movie featured Vance as a reverend who mends his personal and professional life with a little help from a holiday angel. Whitney Houston stars as his spouse, and Denzel Washington plays the heaven’s sent; Gregory Hines, Jenifer Lewis, Loretta Devine and Lionel Richie are also among the cast.

Directed by Penny Marshall, this music-infused remake of the 1947 film “The Bishop’s Wife” hit a few high notes. Its score nabbed an Oscar nomination, and its soundtrack became the bestselling gospel album of all time.


“‘The Preacher’s Wife’ is one Christmas picture that actually is in the spirit of the season,” wrote Times film critic Kevin Thomas of the holiday release. “It’s warm, sentimental, amusing yet serious, bringing fantasy to bear upon the painfully real.”

On learning Tuesday that Marshall had died the night before, Vance recalled how “tremendously blessed” he was to work with her.

“The experience of working with Penny on that film was anything but typical, and marked the beginning of a long, beautiful friendship filled with lots of memories, joy, and laughter,” he said in a statement to The Times. “You see, Penny was funny. I mean, absolutely hysterical! Laughter was always a big part of being in her world.

“One of my fondest memories that is vintage Penny was, rather than shoot an ice skating scene from ‘The Preacher’s Wife’ in New York City, where we were already on location, and in one of the coldest winters on record, Penny decided to pick up the entire cast and crew to take us to Maine,” Vance recalled.

“It was 20 [degrees] below when we arrived, but ironically shot up to 60 degrees the next day. Yet it wasn’t the weather that drew Penny to Maine. The place where we set up was home to some of the best antique shopping — a favorite pastime for Penny — and everyone had a wonderful time on that trip.


“That was my friend, Penny Marshall, a woman who loved her life and all the people who were a part of it. And we loved our Penny.”


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FROM THE ARCHIVES: Penny Marshall settles into directing and shifts from comedy to drama with 1990’s ‘Awakenings’

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