GARRY MARSHALL, ‘PRETTY WOMAN’ DIRECTOR AND A TV AND FILM COMEDY MASTERMIND
If one were to count up the number of times any American — or maybe anyone anywhere — laughed in the last half-century, the person responsible for more of those laughs than anyone else might well be Garry Marshall, who died at 81 on Tuesday in Burbank, Calif.
It would be difficult to overstate Mr. Marshall’s effect on American entertainment. His work in network television and Hollywood movies fattened the archive of romantic, family and buddy comedies and consistently found the sweet spot smack dab in the middle of the mainstream.
Indeed, Mr. Marshall was one of the forces directing that mainstream, working with A-list stars from the 1960s (Lucille Ball and Danny Thomas, among others) into the early years of the 21st century (Anne Hathaway, for instance, whom he directed in the coming-of-age-as-royalty film “The Princess Diaries”).
Beginning in the ‘60s, his television work alone included writing scripts for the well-remembered, star-driven comedies “Make Room for Daddy” (with Mr. Thomas), “The Lucy Show” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” In 1970, with Jerry Belson, a frequent early writing partner, he adapted Neil Simon’s play “The Odd Couple” into the ABC television series of the same name, starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman as the mismatched roommates, the neatnik Felix and the slob Oscar.
Mr. Marshall went on to create, in 1974, “Happy Days,” a fondly nostalgic parody of middle-American life in the 1950s and early ’60s featuring a roster of stereotypical young people, including Ron Howard as Richie, the straight arrow, and Henry Winkler as the rebellious, leather-jacketed charmer known as the Fonz.
(The lawyer Martin Garbus, who was a friend of Mr. Marshall’s from their early teens, and who confirmed the death, said in an interview that he was the model for Richie and that the other characters in the show were generally based on Mr. Marshall’s friends from the Bronx, though “Happy Days” was set in Milwaukee.)
A hit in itself, the show begat other hits. One featured the charmingly innocent, logorrheic space alien Mork, from Ork, played by Robin Williams, who appeared in a “Happy Days” episode in early 1978 and became the central character in “Mork & Mindy,” a show created by Mr. Marshall with Joe Glauberg and Dale McRaven. They set Mork down in Boulder, Colo., where he befriends a young woman, played by Pam Dawber, who patiently teaches him the ways of earthlings and eventually marries him.
“Happy Days” lent another long-running show, “Laverne & Shirley,” both a setting and its main characters. Created by Mr. Marshall with Lowell Ganz and Mark Rothman, it was about a pair of blue-collar single women — Laverne DeFazio, played by Mr. Marshall’s younger sister Penny, and Shirley Feeney, played by Cindy Williams — who work at a brewery. They had been introduced to the “Happy Days” audience when they went on a double date with the Fonz and Richie.
“Garry Marshall had a feel for Everyman, blue-collar comedy that matched exactly the young, blue-collar audience that made up the base of ABC’s appeal,” Bill Carter, the former longtime television reporter for The New York Times and now a commentator for CNN, said in an email. “He was the dominant figure in the rise of that long downtrodden network to a run of ratings supremacy in the 1970s. It was the first time ABC had ever ascended to the top of television.”
Mr. Marshall began directing movies in the 1980s. Several were high-concept star vehicles that dealt with mismatched pairs: “Nothing in Common” (1986), a reconciliation story with Jackie Gleason and Tom Hanks as cantankerous father and resentful son; “Overboard” (1987), which proposes that a meanspirited heiress with amnesia (Goldie Hawn) can be persuaded to believe she is the wife of a carpenter (Kurt Russell); and, most famously, “Pretty Woman” (1990), a Cinderella tale — and a gigantic hit — set in contemporary Los Angeles, about a hooker with a heart of gold (Julia Roberts) and her Prince Charming, a ruthless corporate raider (Richard Gere).
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Garry Marshall, ‘Pretty Woman’ Director, Dies at 81; a TV and Film Comedy Mastermind
Mr. Marshall’s work in TV and movies fattened the archive of romantic, family and buddy comedies and found a sweet spot in the middle of the mainstream.
GARRY MARSHALL, TV, FILM LEGEND
Andrea Mandell, USA TODAY
Hollywood actor, director, writer and producer Garry Marshall has died at the age of 81.
Hollywood actor, director, writer and producer Garry Marshall is gone at age 81.
The comedy giant died at 5 p.m. PT Tuesday from complications of pneumonia following a stroke at a hospital in Burbank, Calif., his representative Michelle Bega confirmed to USA TODAY.
A beloved figure in show business, Marshall leaves behind a legacy as a hitmaker on television and in films, a comedian with impeccable delivery, and a warm personality to those he encountered.
He was born in the Bronx to a tap dance teacher and an industrial film director. “My mother was special, she gave us our humor,” Marshall recalled in an interview with USA TODAY in April. “I remember her saying, ‘Never be boring.You gotta entertain people.’ And at 16 years old, I didn’t know what boring meant. I said, ‘What is boring, Ma?’ She said, ‘Your father,’ ” he said, chuckling.
Marshall broke into showbiz in the late 1950s as a joke writer, eventually earning his way to becoming a writer on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. In 1970, Marshall adapted his first TV hit, The Odd Couple, from a play with writing partner Jerry Belson. He went on to create sitcoms Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley (which starred his sister, Penny Marshall) and Mork & Mindy (which introduced the world to Robin Williams).
In the ’80s, Marshall turned his talents to feature films, finding his first hit with The Flamingo Kid (1984), followed by Overboard (1987) and Beaches (1989).
The hits kept coming, from 1990’s Pretty Woman (which propelled Julia Roberts to stardom), 1999’s Runaway Bride and 2001’s The Princess Diaries (which made Anne Hathaway a household name).
Then came the celebrity-filled, holiday-themed comedies: 2010’s Valentine’s Day, 2011’s New Year’s Eve and this year, Mother’s Day.
He was also a memorable actor, starring in ’90s films such as Soapdish and A League of Their Own and serving as micro-managing network president Stan Lansing on TV’s Murphy Brown. More recently, he appeared on episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Bojack Horseman and Hot in Cleveland.
The spirit on Marshall’s set is all about family, he told USA TODAY recently. Longtime friend Hector Elizondo was in 18 films of Marshall’s films; in Mother’s Day, Marshall’s wife, Barbara, had a cameo. Roberts starred in four films for her director. Kate Hudson’s family was entwined with his — not only did she star in Marshall’s Raising Helen (2004) but also yelled “Action!” from Marshall’s lap as a kid when her mother, Goldie Hawn, starred in Overboard.
“On Mother’s Day, I had Kate’s son (Bingham) on my lap when Kate was acting,” Marshall told USA TODAY. “It’s all circles. I know the family. I see them grow.”
He remained prolific, having recently finished a rewrite of Pretty Woman for the Broadway-bound musical. “He loved telling stories, making people laugh, and playing softball, winning numerous championships,” read a statement sent by his rep. “Even at age 81, he had a record this year of 6 – 1 pitching for his team.”
Funeral services will be private, and a memorial is being planned for his birthday on Nov. 13.