Today we get to honor one of my all-time favorites in the celebrity world – Garry Marshall. By all accounts, whatever you read, he was hilarious, humble, and hard-working. He was known as a family man, always putting them first. Let’s learn a little bit about his life.
His Early Life
Garry Kent Marshall was born in The Bronx, New York on November 13, 1934, the son of Anthony Wallace Marshall, a director and producer of industrial films, and Marjorie Irene, a teacher who ran a tap dance school. His father changed his last name from Masciarelli to Marshall before Garry was born.
Marshall had a typical childhood which included “the usual bruised knees, runny nose, dead frogs and stolen bases.” But he said his formative years were primarily devoted to discovering girls, making people laugh, and learning to play drums. “When I was growing up, there were three drummers I admired: Gene Krupa, Max Roach, and this little girl drummer in my school who used to blow in my ear after practice.”
His brother is Ronny Marshall Hallin, a television producer; his sister is Penny Marshall, actress and director; and his brother-in-law for ten years was Rob Reiner, actor and director.
He decided to attend Northwestern University to major in journalism. After graduation, he was drafted into the Army and sent to Korea as part of the Special Services. He was able to write and produce shows which set him on a new career path once he returned to the United States. Discussing his service, he said, “The lowest musical experience of my life came when I was in the Army. I was a solo marching snare drummer and kept cadence for my battalion. One day while my battalion was marching, I was playing so badly that the Captain shot a hole through my drum with a .45 revolver.”
Garry moved to New York after the Army and met Fred Freeman. The two of them began writing together. To support himself while his writing career got underway, Garry supplemented his income playing drums and writing for the Daily News sports department.
His TV Production Career
Marshall began his career as a joke writer for comedians and became a writer for The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. He eventually secured a staff writing position on The Joey Bishop Show. There he met Jerry Belson in 1961, with whom he would go on to write two feature films, a Broadway play, and episodes for a variety of TV series including The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Lucy Show, and I Spy.
In 1963, he married Barbara and they would have three children.
Marshall and Belson’s first television series as creator-producers was Hey, Landlord, which lasted one season (1966–67).
Their next series was more successful. They adapted Neil Simon’s play The Odd Couple for television. Felix Unger and Oscar Madison are total opposites but best friends. Garry’s sister Penny would play Myrna in the show.
Marshall continued to borrow from The Odd Couple throughout his career. Over and over again he employed the comic device of coupling two distinctly different characters: the hip and the square on Happy Days, the earthling and the Orkan on Mork and Mindy, the rich and the poor on Angie, and, later, the businessman and the prostitute in the movie Pretty Woman.
Most of his hit television series were created and executive produced by him. Rather than forming his own independent production company, which had become standard procedure for producers at the time, Marshall remained at Paramount to make a succession of hit situation comedies for ABC. By the end of the 1978-79 season, four of the five highest-rated shows of the year were Marshall’s.
In the Norman Lear era, when series like All in the Family tackled social issues, Marshall focused on younger viewers with lighter, more escapist fare, most of it set in the supposedly simpler past. In an interview reprinted in American Television Genres (1985), Marshall recalled that, after producing the adult-oriented Odd Couple, he had been anxious to make shows “that both kids and their parents could watch.”
His philosophy to get younger viewers: “You have to do something silly to get their attention. Then I like to knock them off their chairs with laughter. I go for the gut. I want them to laugh hard. I don’t want them quietly staring at a bright, witty show.”
Happy Days debuted as a series in January of 1974, and by the 1976-77 season it was the most popular show on TV. Most people don’t realize this, but the show began as a skit on Love American Style, and I remember watching it when it aired the first time. The show was set in Milwaukee in the 1950s, focusing on a group of high school friends; the Cunningham family; and Fonzie, the cool guy in town.
Regarding Fonzie, Marshall said, “I knew that if I could get him over the garage, I could get him into the kitchen; he could become a member of the family.”
He worked with a variety of his family members throughout his career. His mother appeared in the Happy Days episode, Happy Days: Beauty Contest as “Mrs. Weiss,” the piano player.
Laverne and Shirley was a spin-off of Happy Days. Two friends, Brewery workers, get involved in various kinds of trouble. Marshall explained his idea for the show: “No one else on TV is doing early Lucy. The other ladies on sitcoms are classy – they’re well off, smart, and they dress well. Laverne and Shirley are definitely not classy. They’re blue collar workers who went to work right after high school. They’re decent people.”
Happy Days would produce two more shows in Joanie Loves Chachi that explored the life of Joannie Cunningham and Fonz’s nephew Chachi after high school as they tried to figure out their relationship and Mork and Mindy, a show starring Robin Williams and Pam Dawber about an alien living in Colorado.
In a future blog, we’ll dig a bit deeper into Marshall’s television shows.
His Acting Career
A la Hitchcock, Marshall turns up as an uncredited actor in the background, occasionally appearing in cameos on his own hit TV shows.
On Dick Van Dyke, he appeared as referee in a 1965 episode and a bartender in a 1966 episode. If you look closely, you will see him as a random man in three Odd Couple episodes. He showed up as a drummer in two Laverne and Shirley shows and on a Happy Days episode.
He had a small re-occurring part on Murphy Brown and provided the voice for two Simpsons shows (“Eight Misbehavin’” and “Homer the Father”).
In 2014, Marshall appeared in a guest star role in a Two and a Half Men.
He continued to show up in comedies until his death, the last one being Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
When he made the switch to movies, he continued to find small roles for himself. He plays a first baseman in Runaway Bride, an audition director in Beaches, and a bum in Pretty Woman. It seems there was no part too small. He also played his real-life sister’s husband in Hocus Pocus in 1993.
His Directing Career
His career as a film director was just as impressive, yielding several gems and cult classics, from Pretty Woman to Runaway Bride to The Princess Diaries.
In the early 1980s, he met Héctor Elizondo while playing basketball and they became great friends. Marshall was known for his obsession with basketball: his contract often obligated studios to provide a basketball court on his film locations.
Elizondo appeared in every film that Marshall directed, beginning with his first feature film Young Doctors in Love. Elizondo once noted that he is written into all of Marshall’s contracts whether he wanted to do the film or not.
In the opening credits of Exit to Eden (their eighth film together), Elizondo is credited “As Usual … Hector Elizondo.” In 1984, Marshall had a film hit as the writer and director of The Flamingo Kid. He later produced Nothing in Common with Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason and Overboard with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.
In 1988, he directed the legendary weepie Beaches, starring Barbara Hershey and Bette Midler.
Although he was original choice to direct Sleepless in Seattle, Nora Ephron ended up with the job. His most famous movie as director also won him an Oscar nomination for Pretty Woman in 1990.
Pretty Woman star Richard Gere said of Marshall in Variety: “He was a mentor and a cheerleader and one of the funniest men who ever lived. He had a heart of the purest gold and a soul full of mischief.”
Some people might be surprised to find out that Garry was the director for The Princess Diaries and The Princess Diaries 2 starring Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews. Garry considers Julie Andrews one of his favorite actresses because “she could act, she can sing, she’s a lady who can curse with perfect diction.”
He seemed to be surrounded by family whether at home or work. In his last movie, Mother’s Day, he re-united with Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, and, of course, Hector Elizondo. His sister Penny provided narration; his son Scott helped direct; and his wife, Barbara, a nurse, played a nurse in the film. (“She has her own costume,” Marshall joked.) There were also a few grandchildren included in certain scenes.
When he gave a speech upon accepting the Lifetime Achievement Prize given at the American Comedy Awards in 1990, Marshall said, “If television is the education of the American people, then I am recess.”
In addition, he received the 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, the Television Hall of Fame for his contributions to the field of television in 1997, the National Association of Broadcasters’ Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2012, the Laurel Award for TV Writing Achievement in 2014, as well as a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
On the morning of July 19, 2016, Marshall died at a hospital in Burbank, California at the age of 81 due to complications of pneumonia after suffering a stroke.
Robin Williams’s daughter Zelda wrote, “RIP Garry. You forever changed my father’s life, and thus, mine. Thank you for capturing so much joy on film, over and over.”
Henry Winkler tweeted, “Larger than life, funnier than most, wise and the definition of a friend.”
“How could one individual work parts of seven decades in the entertainment industry and make zero enemies?” Ron Howard asked, “Garry achieved that, and it was the result of his absolute integrity as a man and as an artist.”
Garry Marshall was an amazing and talented man. He was a family man above all else. He was an actor with 84 credits, a writer with 40 credits, a producer with 31 credits, and a director with 30 credits. He was a drummer and a journalist. His career covered more than six decades and his star was shining bright when he left show business.
He will be remembered for creating television shows that touched viewers and drew them into the world their characters inhabited. We rooted for all of them and looked forward to spending time with them each week. He created some of the most memorable characters on television. He also provided many lovable movies for our DVD collections with Pretty Woman at the top of the list.
He wrote My Happy Days in Hollywood in 2012. This is one of my all-time favorite classic television era autobiographies. On one of our vacations we listened to Garry read the audio book version. He not only discusses his successes but admits to all his screw ups and mistakes as well. It’s a refreshingly honest account by a down-to-earth and humble man. It’s one of the best ways to get to know this fascinating guy and is a wonderful tribute to a man who quietly influenced generations of actors and actresses. Here are a few of the reviews written by those people.
“Garry Marshall is walking entertainment. He is smart, insightful, funny…and so is his book.” ―Henry Winkler
“Even though he speaks slowly with a distinctive New Yorkese Bronx accent, he has managed to quickly create, write, and produce a raft of beloved television series that speak ‘American’. I am happy that he gifted us with a witty memoir (about his Happy Days in Hollywood).” ―Carl Reiner
“Thanks to my brother I have a life. I’m sorry I almost ruined his during Laverne & Shirley.” ―Penny Marshall
“I never thought my fairy godmother would look―or sound―like Garry. He is a gift of a human being, and this book is wicked sweet.” ―Anne Hathaway
“Garry Marshall is one of the most beloved and talented people I know…and maybe the most normal guy in the business. This wonderful biography will allow readers to discover for themselves the decent and kind man who writes and directs with such a huge heart—all grounded from humble beginnings in The Bronx. This is a must-read book.” —Julie Andrews
“Garry Marshall is quite simply one of my favorite people. He is loving, loyal, and hilarious! Having made movies with Garry when I was 20, 30, and 40…I guess you could say Garry and Barbara have raised me! In a time where people have lost touch with things to laugh about, this book is sure to be a cure.” —Julia Roberts