Appreciation: Garry Marshall, endlessly hip, delivered mainstream comedy with an offbeat edge
Marshall and his TV writing partner Jerry Belson developed Neil Simon’s play “The Odd Couple” into a television series. The show starred Tony Randall, left, and Jack Klugman as men whose similarities ended at being divorced men who shared an apartment.(Paramount Pictures Corp.)
Marshall created a series that was so influential that the shows spun off from it also became iconic, successful shows in their own right. The ‘50s sitcom set in Milwaukee followed the ups and downs of the Cunningham family and their friend/neighbor Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli.(Handout)
In chronicling the lives of two single women in 1950s and ‘60s Milwaukee, Marshall wrote and executive-produced “Laverne & Shirley,” a spinoff of “Happy Days.” It featured his little sister Penny Marshall, left, and Cindy
Pam Dawber (“Mindy”) and Robin Williams (“Mork”) starred in the comedy about a space alien living in and observing human life on Earth, and the trouble that he gets into with his human female roommate. Marshall created the show, another “Happy Days” spinoff, which Williams won a Golden Globe for in 1979.(ABC)
Marshall directed “Beaches” about best friends C.C. Bloom (Bette Midler, right) and Hillary Whitney (Barbara Hershey) and their decades-spanning relationship.(Jane O’Neal / Touchstone Pictures)
Marshall directed a modern-day fairy tale starring Richard Gere as Edward Lewis, a successful businessman who hires Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts), a hooker he met by chance, to accompany him to social events. It was one of the most successful rom-coms of its era.(Touchstone Pictures)
In “The Twilight of the Golds,” Marshall plays Walter Gold, the father of a woman who discovers through prenatal genetic testing that her child (like her brother) will most likely be born gay. Faye Dunaway plays Walter’s wife Phyllis.(Anne Fishbein / Handout)
Juliette Lewis plays Carla Tate, an ambitious, mentally challenged woman striving to lead an independent life, who meets and falls in love with Danny (Giovanni Ribisi). Marshall directed and co-wrote the screenplay.(Ron Batzdorff / Touchstone Pictures)
Marshall’s film is about a woman named Maggie (Julia Roberts) who earns the titular nickname by leaving three of her fiancés at the altar on their wedding day. Richard Gere plays a columnist writing a feature on Maggie as she prepares for her fourth attempt to get married.(Ron Batzdorff)
Marshall directed “The Princess Diaries,” which features Anne Hathaway as Mia, left, who discovers she is the heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Genovia, which is currently ruled by her grandmother (played by Julie Andrews). Hector Elizondo appears as the helpful attendant Joe.(Ron Batzdorff / Disney Enterprises)
Marshall on the set of “Raising Helen.” He directed Kate Hudson as Helen, a successful executive assistant in the fashion world whose fast-paced life is upended when she is named guardian of her recently deceased sister’s children.(Ron Batzdorff / Touchstone Pictures)
Marshall, seen here with Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews, also directed the sequel to “The Princess Diaries.”(Ron Batzdorff / Disney Enterprises)
Marshall reworked his popular TV series “Happy Days” into a musical that debuted at his Falcon Theater in 2006. Here Marshall works with actor Joey McIntyre, who played “The Fonz.”(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Marshall with Bradley Cooper and Julia Roberts on the set of “Valentine’s Day.” Marshall directed the movie that follows a group of interconnected characters and their struggles with love on Valentine’s Day.(Ron Batzdorff / Warner Bros.)
Marshall on the set of “New Year’s Eve” with Katherine Heigl. The Marshall-directed movie is a series of interconnected vignettes of romantic relationships involving the holiday and features a large ensemble cast.(Andrew Schwartz / Warner Bros. Pictures)
Marshall appeared in “Louie” as Lars Tardigan, the head of CBS who offers Louie the chance to replace David Letterman on “The Late Show.”(K.C. Bailey / FX)
Garry Marshall wore many hats in movies and television over the last 60 years, as a writer, director, producer and actor. His successes were as mainstream as they come: “Happy Days,” and its hit spinoffs “Laverne & Shirley,” “Mork & Mindy” and “Joanie Loves Chachi,” on TV; big-screen hits like “Pretty Woman,” “Beaches” and “The Princess Diaries.” His last film before his death Tuesday at 81, “Mother’s Day,” the third in a holiday-themed trilogy, was released in April.
But there was something spiky and offbeat about his work too, and especially about his person. Years in Hollywood notwithstanding, he came off as an Italian American — technically an Italian-German-English-Scottish-American — from the Bronx his whole life. He was a class act with ragged edges.
In New York, Marshall worked for nightclub comedians Joey Bishop and Phil Foster and for the Jack Paar-era “Tonight Show.” In Hollywood, partnered with Belson, he wrote for the Thunderbird of family-workplace sitcoms, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” — creator Carl Reiner’s son Rob would marry Marshall’s sister Penny Marshall — the sharp, sophisticated “The Danny Thomas Show” and Lucille Ball’s post-Desi “The Lucy Show.” Ball’s brand of slapstick farce would exert a huge influence on “Laverne & Shirley,” in which Penny Marshall was a costar.
An actor who made his living as a director, producer and writer, he often portrayed figures of (sometimes exasperated) authority, a man in charge.
While its commercial success did help set new styles, there was nothing particularly groundbreaking about Marshall’s work; indeed, much of it moved forward by looking back, to the romantic film comedies of his youth, to older TV shows. “Happy Days” and “Laverne & Shirley” are not only set in some sort of impression of the 1950s, but, with a little late ’70s-early ’80s sauciness, they work themselves in old-fashioned ways. They are human comedies — almost always comedies — that are easy to see yourself in.
“In the education of the American public, I am recess,” he told Larry King in April, appearing on King’s show to promote “Mother’s Day.”
At the same time, there was something effortlessly, endlessly hip about the man himself. He showcased and was showcased by a wide range of comic talent. Lenny and Squiggy, “Laverne & Shirley’s” two stooges, were played by Michael McKean and David L. Lander, from the underground comedy group the Credibility Gap; “Mork & Mindy” unleashed the frenzy that was Robin Williams onto the world, and also made a home for Williams’ oddball mentor Jonathan Winters.
As an actor, he appeared not only on “Two and a Half Men” and “Hot in Cleveland” but also on the less conventional “The Sarah Silverman Program,” “Louie” and “BoJack Horseman.” Not surprisingly for an actor who otherwise made his living as a director, producer and writer, he often portrayed figures of (sometimes exasperated) authority, a man in charge — a network head on many episodes of “Murphy Brown,” a daytime programming chief in the film “Soapdish,” a ball club owner in Penny Marshall’s “A League of Their Own,” a memorable casino manager in Albert Brooks’ “Lost in America,” a masterpiece of partnering in which Marshall gets laughs by playing the straight man.
He appeared this year as Matt Perry’s — that is, Oscar Madison’s — father on CBS’ reboot of his original “Odd Couple,” on which he was also a consultant.
Talking about his appearance on the new series with King, he half-jokingly said, “Look at this circle of life.”
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