Garry Marshall: A Tribute To The Man Who Created So Many Happy Days For All Of Us

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.

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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.

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Garry 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; they would have three children.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Awards

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.

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Conclusion

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.

HAPPY DAYS, from left: Penny Marshall, Robin Williams, Henry Winkler, 1974-84.

He wrote My Happy Days in Hollywood in 2012.  This is one of my all-time favorite classic television era autobiographies.  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. Let’s end by hearing how his book was perceived by some of those people who knew him best.

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“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

Elinor Donahue Through the Decades

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Elinor Donahue always displays a warmth and comes across as a genuinely nice person. Her first sitcom became her most famous role.  She played Betty in the iconic Father Knows Best. Although none of her later sitcoms reached the same popularity, she has had a long and full career.

She was born in April of 1937 in Tacoma, Washington. She began tap dancing at 16 months old. As a toddler, she did some acting and received a contract with Universal at the ripe old age of 5. From 1955-1961 she was married to Robert Smith. She was married her second husband, Harry Ackerman, from 1962-1991. Ackerman was a producer for shows including Leave It to Beaver, Gidget, and Bewitched.  She married her third husband Louis Genevrino in 1992.

Donahue appeared in 18 movies between 1942 and 1952 including Tea for Two with Doris Day and My Blue Heaven. She made the transition to television in 1952 appearing in 8 shows in the 1950s. One of the shows I remember her in although I only saw it in reruns was one of my favorite shows, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. She was typically cast as the girl-next-door type. Her most famous role came in 1954 when she was cast in a new sitcom, Father Knows Best.

Father Knows Best – 1954-1960

This was one of the typical family shows of the 1950s. The Andersons lived in Springfield with three children: Betty, called Princess (Elinor Donahue), James Jr., or Bud (Billy Gray) and Kathy, usually called  Kitten (Lauren Chapin). The show debuted in the fall of 1954 on CBS. The show was cancelled in 1955 and the public was furious. Letters came pouring in, so it was reinstated. NBC took over the next year until 1958 when it went back to CBS.  In 1960, Robert Young decided he was done. These were warm and inviting parents, providing guidance and object lessons galore. Critics panned it later because it was not reality.  We have reality shows today, and please, give me fiction. We did learn life lessons on the show – following through on promises, working for what you want, being yourself, and taking responsibility for your mistakes.

Shortly after Father Knows Best left the airwaves, Donahue accepted the role of Elly Walker in The Andy Griffith Show.

The Andy Griffith Show – 1960-1961

Most of us are very familiar with The Andy Griffith Show and many of the characters who inhabit Mayberry:  Widower Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) and his son Opie (Ron Howard) live with Andy’s Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) who takes care of them;  Barney (Don Knotts) is the inept deputy but also Andy’s best friend;  Helen Crump (Anita Corsaut), the school teacher and Andy’s girlfriend later in the series; Thelma Lou (Betty Lynn), Barney’s girl; Otis Campbell (Hal Smith), town drunk but nice guy; Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors), who runs the gas station; and his cousin Goober Pyle (George Lindsey). Andy had several romances early in the show.  He dated the county nurse Mary Simpson (played by several actresses), spent a limited amount of time with Daphne (Jean Carson) who had a crush on him; and in the first two seasons, he was sweet on Ellie Walker (Donahue), who ran the local drug store. Ellie cared about Andy, but she always stood up for herself and women’s rights.  Andy and Ellie never had the chemistry they were hoping for but they respected each other and like each other. Elinor raved about the cast and her opportunity to be on the show. She said Andy was in charge and expected quality but was fair and a nice man. She described Ron Howard as the best child actor she ever worked with.  She liked Frances Bavier and got along well with her.  She had a huge respect for Don Knott’s comedic ability. She is still friends with Betty Lynn.

She appeared on a variety of shows in the mid-1960s including 77 Sunset Strip, Dr. Kildare, The Virginian, Dennis the MenaceStar Trek, and The Flying Nun. She tried her luck with one other sitcom in the 1960s.

Many Happy Returns – 1964-1965

This sitcom was also about a widower.  Walter Burnley (John McGiver) ran the Complaint Department at a LA department store. The show also featured his daughter (Donahue) and a coworker Lynn Hall (Elena Verdugo). His boss (Jerome Cowan) did not want him to take in any returns, so he had to resolve complaints without making his boss mad. Apparently Burnley couldn’t solve the complaints that came in from viewers because the show was cancelled after 24 episodes.

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Father Knows Best came out with two television movies in 1977: The Father Knows Best Reunion and Father Knows Best – Home for Christmas, and Elinor was in both. While still showing up in random shows during the 1970s such as The Rookies, Police Woman, and Diff’rent Strokes, Donahue found time to appear in two 70s shows on a regular basis.

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The Odd Couple – 1972-1975

Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple came to Friday nights in 1970. Felix Unger (Tony Randall) and Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman), two divorced men who are complete opposites but best friends, try to live together without killing each other. The show had a great supporting cast including Donohue as Miriam Welby from 1972-1974, Felix’s girlfriend.

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Mulligan’s Stew – 1977

This show from 1977 starred Elinor Donahue as Jane Mulligan.   She and her husband Michael (Lawrence Pressman) are trying to raise three kids on his teacher’s salary when they suddenly add four orphaned nieces and nephews to their family. One of the kids was played by Suzanne Crough, Tracy from The Partridge Family, one of the few shows she was in. The series only lasted for seven episodes.

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The 1980s found Donahue still working regularly.  She was in Barnaby Jones, Mork & Mindy, One Day at a Time, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Newhart, and Golden Girls. One sitcom in the 1980s captured her attention about Beans Baxter.

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The New Adventures of Beans Baxter – 1987

Here is the plot for this one: Beans Baxter’s (Jonathan Ward) father who he thought was a mailman disappears one day.  Teenage Bean discovers that his dad worked for a secret government agency.  He is then drawn into becoming a spy for the government. The show features his adventures as he tries to find the enemy agents who are holding his father hostage while his mother played by Donahue is completely oblivious that anything strange is happening. Viewers also didn’t realize anything was happening because the show was cancelled after 17 episodes.

Entering her 60s, Elinor joined the cast of three sitcoms in the 1990s. She also made several movies including Pretty Woman in 1990 and The Princess Diaries 2 in 2004.

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Get a Life – 1990-1992

Shows don’t get much weirder than this one. Comedian Chris Elliot plays a 30-year-old paperboy Chris Peterson who lives with wacky parents (Donahue and Bob Elliott, Chris’s real father).  Some of the strange things that happen during the 36 episodes include eating a space alien, beheadings, and a robot paperboy. In this bizarre series, Chris actually dies in a third of the episodes. During the run of the show, he died from old age, tonsillitis, a stab wound, a gunshot wound, was strangled, got run over by a car, choked on his cereal, was crushed by a giant boulder, and actually exploded.

 

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Eek!stravaganza – 1992-1993

Donahue plays “The Mom” in this animated show about Eek, a purple cat who always finds himself in dangerous situations. The series was on the air for five seasons.

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman – 1993-1997

During the six years the show was on the air, Donahue reprised her role as Rebecca Quinn ten times. The show followed the ups and downs experienced by a female doctor practicing in a wild western town.

Interestingly, Donahue appeared in three different soap operas toward the end of her career: Santa Barbara, Days of Our Lives, and The Young and the Restless.  Elinor also appeared on a variety of documentaries and award shows. She was in the Match Game/Hollywood Squares Hour. In 1998, she wrote her memoirs titled, In the Kitchen with Elinor Donahue. The book included about 150 of her favorite recipes. Elinor’s career has been long and she appeared in many shows and movies over the years. She hasn’t appeared in a movie or television show since 2010, although she did do some theater.  In September of 2015, she appeared in one of my favorite plays, “Harvey” in North Carolina.

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Donahue’s career reminds me of many of the actors we have gotten to know in this blog including William Christopher, Betty White, Ken Berry, and Shelly Fabares.  These actors and actresses all appear to be very nice, talented people who have careers they should be proud of.  In a day when bad decisions and selfish actions are splattered across our television screens and newspapers, perhaps one of the best compliments we can give someone is that they had a long and fulfilling career and didn’t step all over other people to achieve it.

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When a rainy day shows up this summer, take a moment to watch some of Elinor’s sitcom episodes. Thank you Elinor Donahue for the entertainment and memories you gave us.

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