The name, Garry Marshall, may not resonate with many of you, but his creations sure will. For six decades he was one of the most influential and prolific producers, directors, writers and actors in the business, primarily, but not exclusively, in the genre of the tv “sitcom.” His most notable creations included the seminal and enduring Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy, and the tv version of the Odd Couple. In addition to the shows, themselves, he created and developed such iconic characters as the “Fonz” and “Mork” played by Henry Winkler and Robin Williams, respectively. He provided them with the platforms with which to launch their renowned careers.
Winkler was a little-known struggling actor. His one notable film credit was The Lords Flatbush, an obscure film most notable, in retrospect, for the screen debuts of Winkler, Sylvester Stallone and Perry King. Trivia buffs will recall that the “Fonz” was supposed to be a very minor character, but Winkler’s performance transformed it into the iconic character we all remember. Similarly, Williams was an obscure stand-up comic in the Bay Area. The success of Mork launched his career.
He also gave an all-but-forgotten childhood actor named Ron Howard, who those of a certain age will remember as “Opie” on the Andy Griffith Show, a chance to resurrect his career. Howard has since become one of the more successful movie directors of our time. Among his many “hit” movies are Cocoon, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon and The Da Vinci Code. On the silver screen Marshall directed movies such as Pretty Woman, which launched the career of Julia Roberts, Runaway Bride and the Princess Diaries.
Garry Kent Marshall was born on November 13, 1934 in The Bronx, NY. The original family name was “Masciarelli,” which his father changed to the less ethnic-sounding “Marshall” before Garry was born. Entertainment was in his blood. His father was a movie director and producer; his mother ran a tap dancing school; his sister, Penny, is an actress/director in her own right; and his brother Ronny, is a tv producer. Marshall began his career as a joke writer for the likes of Joey Bishop, Dick Van Dyke, Lucille Ball, and Jack Paar. Then, as I described above, in the early 1970s he hit his stride with the aforementioned tv “sitcoms,” and, as they say, the rest is history.
Along the way, he met another struggling actor named Hector Elizondo at a pick-up basketball game. Elizondo recalls that during the game he inadvertently hit Marshall in the face with an errant pass. The game stopped abruptly while Marshall gathered himself. Elizondo feared that a physical confrontation was coming, but Marshall said to him: “I’m Garry Marshall. This is my court. You’re a terrific actor, [but] a lousy passer. But, I’ve got a movie for you.” The two became best friends. Over the years Elizondo has appeared in 18 Garry Marshall films. Perhaps, he is best known for his role as a stuffy, hotel manager who develops a soft spot for Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman. Elizondo claims, perhaps, jokingly, perhaps, not, that he was written into all of Marshall’s contracts “whether he wanted to [actually] do the movie or not.” That definitely sounds like Marshall.
Marshall’s acting career included various tv and movie roles. For example, in the mid-1950s he had a recurring role on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show as a child. Some of his other tv credits included Murphy Brown, and Happy Days (as a drummer). In the movies, he was in Soapdish, On the Lot, and provided a voiceover in two Simpsons movies. But, my personal favorite of his movie roles was that of Walter Harvey, the candy magnate and baseball mogul in League of Their Own, starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis and Madonna and directed by his sister, Penny. (The Harvey character was loosely based on Philip Wrigley, chewing gum magnate and long-time owner of the Chicago Cubs.)
Marshall has been the recipient of numerous awards in recognition of his work. For example, he received the Women in Film Award in recognition for his role in enhancing the role of women in tv and the Laurel Award for tv writing. In addition, he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1997, and he has a “star” on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Personally, I would like to salute Marshall for entertaining us down through the years. His funny and sometimes politically incorrect shows helped us to laugh at ourselves, a trait that seems to be largely absent from our culture today.
Rest in peace Garry. We will miss you.