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With wit and warmth, Hollywood bids goodbye to Garry Marshall, 'an irreplaceable man'

String quintets performed and Bette Midler sang. Studio moguls recalled TV’s lucrative happy days, and Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts talked about what a mensch director-producer Garry Marshall was. Vin Scully came out of retirement to praise Marshall’s athletic ability and love for sports.

To cap things off, Marshall’s alma mater, Northwestern, sent its marching band to parade through the Northridge Performing Arts Center.

On Sunday, that’s essentially what Hollywood gave the late director — a grand parade. Four months after his death, the entertainment industry saluted Marshall with a memorial-tribute, on what would’ve been his 82nd birthday.

Before 1,000 people, including industry elite, secretaries, script supervisors, college roommates and his doctor, the Cult of Garry warmly said, “So long, old pal.”

As with his work, laughs outnumbered tears, forcing Roberts to put aside the serious poem she wrote for the occasion.

“I thought this was going to be a memorial,” she said with a smile.

It was and it wasn’t. It was family movie night, a master class in comedy, a high-end talent show — impressions of the gravel-voiced Bronx native were the running soundtrack. The three-hour program was full of montages, one-liners and fond remembrances for all the careers the man launched.

In the 1970s, Marshall was the reigning pope of populist TV — his own golden era. At one point in 1979, Marshall produced four of television’s top five comedies, former Disney honcho Michael Eisner recalled Sunday.

Indeed, “Funny is money,” as Marshall liked to say. Yet his colleagues talked mostly about his gentle manner in a business famous for tyrants and tantrums.

“We are seeing our lives pass before our eyes,” Hanks said in reference to the clips from “The Odd Couple,” “Happy Days,” “Mork & Mindy” and “Laverne & Shirley.”

Hanks brought down the house in an animated 10 minutes, poking fun at the producer’s penchant for including family and friends —even his dentist — in walk-on roles.

With Garry, “Nepotism is not enough, you [had] to feather the bed with anyone who ever said, ‘I want to be in one of your movies,’” Hanks joked.

The afternoon program had plenty of star power. But throughout the auditorium were pods of former punch-up men, rec league teammates, friends of the family.

Scott Marshall, his look-alike son, emceed the event, with his dad’s same stage presence and sly wit.

“His longest partnership wasn’t with a writer, it was with a nurse from Ohio,” Scott said, of Marshall’s 53-year marriage to Barbara Wells.

“They were perfect for each other,” the son noted. “She was a nurse and he was a hypochondriac.”

Ron Howard, unable to attend, sent a note praising the summer-camp atmosphere Marshall created on sets. Writer Lowell Ganz saluted Marshall’s idiosyncrasies, including his quirky fear of making left turns in L.A. traffic.

“He showed you could live a normal life without being normal,” Ganz said.

As Marshall would want, relationships were front and center. But the quip was still king.

“Wait a second,” said Henry Winkler. “John Stamos is here?”

Winkler’s was just one of the big careers that Marshall helped launch. Roberts’ career was another, in “Pretty Woman,” from a gritty original script that Marshall turned into a glowy Cinderella story. Robin Williams was another discovery, cast by Marshall as a frantic extraterrestrial in “Mork & Mindy.”

Of all the video segments, Scully’s was probably the one the sports-crazed comedy titan would’ve loved the most, a salute to his 35-year softball career. Frequent mention was also made of Saturday-morning pickup games in Marshall’s driveway.

“The basketball league disbanded after 18 years when players started doing their laundry at the house,” Scully announced from a press box set.

Richard Gere and Dick Van Dyke were in the audience, as was director Taylor Hackford. Actor Hector Elizondo and baby sister Penny Marshall both spoke.

Paris Barclay, president of the Directors Guild,  took the stage, lauded Marshall’s integrity and concluded: “This is an irreplaceable man.”

The man may be irreplaceable, but his creative legacy will live on. Producer Paula Wagner announced that after decades in development, a musical adaptation of “Pretty Woman” will soon hit Broadway, and Bryan Adams debuted a song from the show.

The family also announced that one of Marshall’s passions, his Falcon Theatre in Burbank, will soon be renamed in his honor.

One of the last to speak, Midler said the happiest event in her career was working with Marshall. “I didn’t know a movie set could be a happy place,” she said, then launched into “The Wind Beneath My Wings”

The marching band followed, playing the “Happy Days” theme. And for all those in attendance — and for everyone who loved Marshall’s work — they certainly were.

Chris.Erskine@latimes.com

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This article incorrectly refers to the Valley Performing Arts Center at Cal State Northridge as the Northridge Performing Arts Center.
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