Sunday, July 24, 2016

Garry Marshall: In Memoriam

By Ed Garea

Garry Marshall not only created the classic sitcoms Happy DaysThe Odd CoupleLaverne and Shirley, and Mork and Mindy, but also directed a string of hit movies, including The Flamingo Kid, BeachesPretty WomanRunaway Bride, and The Princess Diaries. He died on July 19 at a hospital in Burbank, California, from complications of pneumonia after suffering a stroke. He was 81. 

Marshall was the classic American success story, born Garry Kent Marshall in the New York City borough of The Bronx on November 13, 1934. His mother, Marjorie Irene (née Ward; 1908-1983), was a tap dance teacher who ran a tap dance school. His father,  Anthony Wallace Marshall (1906–1999), was a director of industrial films who later became a producer – as Tony Marshall – on some of his son’s television programs. 

He was of Italian descent on his father’s side and German, English and Scottish on his mother’s. His father changed the family’s last name from "Masciarelli" to "Marshall" before Garry was born. Marshall attended DeWitt Clinton High School and matriculated at Northwestern, where he wrote a sports column for The Daily Northwestern, penning a controversial column suggesting that Northwestern leave the Big Ten Conference. 

After graduation, he began his career as a joke writer for comedians including Joey Bishop. He later joined the writing staff of The Tonight Show With Jack Paar. He also worked for the New York Daily News as a copy boy in 1959 followed by a stint as a sports statistician in 1960. In 1961, he moved to Hollywood, where he teamed with Jerry Belson, writing for The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Joey Bishop Show, The Danny Thomas Show, and The Lucy Show.

Marshall and Belson struck out on their own as creator/producers for Hey, Landlord, which lasted one season (1966–67). In 1970, they adapted Neil Simon’s play The Odd Couple for ABC and scored a substantial hit. Over the course of its five-season run, the show drew three Emmy nominations for Outstanding Comedy Series. Stars Jack Klugman and Tony Randall won individual Emmys for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series – Klugman twice (1971 and 1973) and Randall once (1975). 

In 1971, Marshall wrote the pilot for Happy Days, which was aired in 1972 as a segment of ABC’s comedy anthology series Love, American Style called “Love and the Happy Days.” George Lucas asked to view the pilot before deciding to cast the segment’s star, Ron Howard, in American Graffiti, which was released in 1973.

The success of American Graffiti, in turn, led to ABC picking up Happy Days for its 1974 schedule. The series began slowly, but steadily expanding its audience, becoming the No. 1 show on television during the 1976-77 season, No. 2 in 1977-1978 and No. 4 the following year. Henry Winkler, who played Arthur “the Fonz” Fonzarelli became a pop culture icon; his leather jacket eventually winding up in the Smithsonian. 

In 1977, as the show searched for new ideas, the gang visit Hollywood, where Fonzie accepts a challenge to jump over a shark while on water skis. This decision later gave rise to the phrase “jumped the shark,” which was used to describe a show clearly past its prime and running on fumes. However, that is a misnomer for Happy Days. While the quality declined   that happens with nearly all long-running TV shows  and actors came and went, the ratings were still strong for years after that episode. It didn't go off the air until 1984.

While at the height of its success, Happy Days spawned two spinoffs. One was Laverne and Shirley (1976-83), starring Cindy Williams, who appeared in American Graffiti, along with Marshall’s sister Penny, who was Myrna Turner, Klugman's character's secretary on The Odd Couple TV show. The other was Mork and Mindy (1978-82), which made a star out of its lead, Robin Williams. Mork made two appearances on the show.

Marshall made his directorial debut in 1967 on his series Hey, Landlord and also helmed episodes of The Odd CoupleHappy DaysMork and Mindy, and Laverne and Shirley. The first feature film he directed was the comedy Young Doctors in Love (1982), a spoof of the long-running TV soap opera General Hospital, starring Sean Young and Michael McKean. A bit of trivia: Before making the film, he met actor Hector Elizondo during a pick-up basketball game. The two became fast friends and Elizondo then appeared in every Marshall movie.

His second film was The Flamingo Kid (1984), which he scripted from a story by Neal Marshall. A coming-of-age comedy starring Matt Dillon as a recent high school graduate who learns important life lessons while working during the summer as a cabana boy, it drew critical raves and decent box office. 

Marshall’s next venture was the comedy-drama Nothing in Common (1986) starring Tom Hanks as a successful ad man whose world falls apart when his mother, Eva Marie Saint, leaves his father, Jackie Gleason. Hanks now finds himself juggling his life to meet the needs of his parents, especially his father, who he realizes he never really knew. Though the critics weren’t as crazy about this as The Flamingo Kid, it still did decent business at the box office thanks to its star power. Marshall followed it with another modest success, the screwball comedy Overboard (1987), starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.

Marshall’s first taste of success came with the 1988 tear-jerking chick flick, Beaches, starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey. The critics panned it, but the audience loved it, as it racked up a domestic gross of $57 million with an even more successful afterlife on home video. 

After directing The Lottery (1989), a short starring Bette Midler as a music teacher who loses her winning lottery ticket, Marshall hit the Hollywood lottery with the megahit Pretty Woman (1990), starring Richard Gere as a millionaire businessman who hires hooker Julia Roberts as an escort and winds up falling in love with her. Made on a budget of $14 million, the film grossed $178.4 million in the USA and $463.4 million worldwide. 

Marshall followed Pretty Woman with Frankie and Johnny, a adaptation of Terrence McNally’s play starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer that scored well with critics, but returned only $22.7 million against a budget of $29 million. But that was nothing compared with his next two films, the critical and commercial bombs Exit to Eden (1994) and Dear God (1996), which some critics said would have been better served as a TV movie. He managed to rebound with The Other Sister (1999), a modest financial success with Juliette Lewis as a mentally handicapped young woman and Diane Keaton as her mother.

Realizing what made him successful, Marshall reunited with his Pretty Woman stars Roberts and Gere for Runaway Bride (1999), about a reporter (Gere) whose latest assignment is writing a story about a woman he knows back home (Roberts) who keeps leaving her fiancés at the altar. Filmed on a $70 million budget, it grossed $309 million worldwide.

He followed this hit with another one: The Princess Diaries (2001), starring Anne Hathaway as Mia Thermopiles, a normal teenager who learns that she is the heir to the throne of a European country named Genovia and now must becomes used to a totally different lifestyle. The film was followed by a sequel, The Princess Diaries 2. The films made a star out of Hathaway and its sequel was also big hits for Marshall.

The films he later made were nowhere near the commercial or critical successes he had in the past. Georgia Rule (2007), starring Jane Fonda, Lindsay Lohan and Felicity Huffman, was a by-the-number weepie that turned a modest profit thanks to overseas grosses and home video sales. 

Valentine’s Day (2010) and its sequel New Year’s Eve (2011) were more commercially successful enterprises. Valentine’s Day, a story about three couples who break up and make up over the pressures of Valentine’s Day starred Julia Roberts, Anne Hathaway, Bradley Cooper, and Eric Dane. It returned a worldwide gross of $216.4 million against a budget of  $52 miillion. New Year’s Eve, which was the same story set against the backdrop of New Year’s Eve and starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Robert De Niro, and Halle Berry, returned $142 million against a budget of $57 million. Marshall’s last film, Mother’s Day, following the same formula and starred Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson and Jason Sudeikis, was released in April 2016. 

One facet of Marshall’s life that’s usually overlooked is he was also an actor with 83 roles to his name almost all of them uncredited or as a guest star. He played a U.S. recruiting officer in The Phony American (1961), with Christine Kaufman and William Bendix; an uncredited mafioso in Goldfinger (1964); a service station attendant in Fabian’s anti-drug Maryjane (1968); a plainclothes cop in the Dick Clark-produced Psych-Out for AIP in 1968; and chewing gum magnate Phil Harvey in the 1992 A League of Their Own (which he later reprised for the short-lived TV spinoff) for sister Penny Marshall, who directed. In television he had a recurring role as network head Stan Lansing on Murphy Brown (1994-1997) and Bernie in Father of the Bride (2004), besides numerous guest appearances and voice-overs for animated series,

Marshall even found time to pound the stage boards, appearing in Wrong Turn at Lungfish (co-written with Lowell Ganz), played L.A., Chicago and Off Broadway. The Roast, which he co-wrote with Jerry Belson, played Broadway in a production directed by Carl Reiner in 1980. In 1997, he and his daughter Kathleen founded the Falcon Theater in Burbank. Marshall also occasionally direct opera, including stagings of Jacques Offenbach’s The Grand Duchess, which opened the Los Angeles Opera’s 2005-2006 season, and Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love, which played at the San Antonio Opera in January 2008.

Over his career, Marshall received a plethora of honors: the American Comedy Awards’ Creative Achievement Award (1990); the Writers Guild of America’s Valentine Davies Award (1995); the Women in Film Lucy Award in recognition of excellence and innovation in creative works that have enhanced the perception of women through the medium of television (1996); the PGA’s Honorary Lifetime Membership Award and Lifetime Achievement Award in Television (1998); the American Cinema Editors’ Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year Award (2004); and the Laurel Award for TV Writing Achievement from the Writers Guild of America (2014).

He was inducted into the Academy of Television, Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame for his contributions to the field of television in 1997. In 2012, he was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters' Broadcasting Hall of Fame. He also has a star on the Walk of Fame. Northwestern University named a building specializing in radio/television/film production for him and his wife.

Marshall wrote two volumes of memoirs: Wake Me When It’s Funny (co-written with his daughter Lori in 1995), which recounted his first 35 years in Hollywood; and My Happy Days in Hollywood (2012).

Marshall is survived by his wife, Barbara, to whom he was married since 1963; son Scott, a film director; and daughters Lori, an actress and casting director, and Kathleen, an actress; a number of grandchildren; and sisters Penny Marshall, an actress and film director, and Ronny Hallin, a TV producer.

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