Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Happy Life

Garry Marshall, one of the most popular writer-producer-directors ever, has died.  I always wanted to meet him but now I never will.  But by all accounts, he was one of the nicest guys in Hollywood, and one of the happiest.  He was working till the end, directing Mother's Day, which appeared earlier this year, and helping produce the new TV version of The Odd Couple (also appearing in it as an actor).

I've written about him before.  For instance, I once had a post on how he retooled Happy Days.  The following is my discussion of his memoir, published four years ago:

I just read My Happy Days In Hollywood, a memoir by writer-director-producer Garry Marshall. Though I haven't noticed anyone saying it, it's essentially an update of his 1997 memoir Wake Me Up When It's Funny.

Marshall has had quite a career, though I have to admit I read the book for his earlier years as a TV writer.  His work as a film director, starting in his later 40s, is nothing to be embarrassed about--some decent titles, some major hits (especially Pretty Woman), but very few of his films are my favorites.  On the other hand, he's been involved in a lot of memorable TV.
He was born in the Bronx and had a mother who loved putting on shows.  After serving in Korea he returned to New York to be a comedy writer.  He ended up working for names like Joey Bishop, Jack Paar, Lucille Ball and Dick Van Dyke, in one year turning out 31 freelance sitcom scripts with his partner Jerry Belson.  By 1970, he was running his own hit show, The Odd Couple.  Even though stars Tony Randall and Jack Klugman could be tough to deal with, Marshall knew how to handle them and made something special.

Next he created a show that would run eleven years and become one of TV's biggest hits, Happy Days.  He made the pilot and no one wanted it, but then American Graffiti was a huge hit and suddenly a comedy set in the 50s starring Ron Howard seemed like a brilliant idea.  It was, but no one could guess how big the Fonzie character would become. (Marshall also talks about the phrase "jump the shark"--named after the episode where Fonzie does the deed.  Marshall, as he has before, gets the phrase wrong, claiming it means "a TV series is nearing the end of its run." Actually, it means the show has turned a corner and will never be good again, even if it runs ten more years.)

According the Marshall, Happy Days was the happiest of sets, filled will kind, decent people. His other big hit, Happy Days spinoff Laverne & Shirley, was so miserable a place that it got tough to find writers willing to work there.  It's sort of odd since sister Penny was one of the stars, but apparently she and the other lead Cindy Williams, for whatever reason, had trouble dealing with their sudden fame, and their unhappy personal lives, so they made everyone else around them miserable.

Marshall helped turn ABC from the perennial also-ran to the top, and his third huge hit in the 70s was another Happy Days spinoff Mork & Mindy.  He originally wanted John Byner as the lead, but Byner dropped out and someone nobody had heard of, Robin Williams, became TV's biggest star overnight (though the show burned out in a few years and Williams moved on to movies).
Around this time he got into movies, essentially starting on a second career.  It wasn't an easy transition, but he's been doing it now as a main gig longer than he was known primarily as a TV man (though I still think of him as a TV man). He's also started a fairly successful second career as an actor, though for me he's never topped his work as the casino manager in Albert Brook's 1985 classic Lost In America.  He's also written a few plays, one of which got to Broadway (and flopped).

Quite a life.  Marshall's work may not always be top of the line, and tends to be somewhere between lowbrow and middlebrow, but he's entertained millions and done it well.  Maybe he's not the kind to be named for the Kennedy Center Honors or the Mark Twain Prize (though who knows?), but he's given America about as much honest entertainment as anyone else I can think of.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two days in a row of Anne Hathaway. Nice.

2:44 AM, July 20, 2016  
Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

Marshall paid a heavy price for it, though.

You ought to go back and look at my pictures of Jonathan Safran.

3:47 AM, July 20, 2016  

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