Friday 20 April 2018

Obituary: Garry Marshall

TV producer and film director, whose successes included 'Happy Days'

Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall (pictured with Julia Roberts) died on July 19 at 81. Picture: Reuters
Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall (pictured with Julia Roberts) died on July 19 at 81. Picture: Reuters

Garry Marshall, the writer, producer and director, who died on Tuesday aged 81, was a master of warm-hearted, middle-of-the-road television comedy, responsible for a host of popular American sitcoms of which the best known to audiences over here were Happy Days and Mork and Mindy; he went on to direct hit films such as Pretty Woman.

Happy Days, which Marshall created, exploited nostalgia for the 1950s. Marshall described the show as "an Italian-American kid from the Bronx's fantasy of middle-class life in the MidWest".

Viewers particularly took to Henry Winkler's "the Fonz", a mechanic with pompadoured hair, leather jacket and a line in cool catchphrases.

First broadcast in the US between 1974 and 1984, Happy Days, with its catchy theme song by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, became a tea-time fixture on ITV in Britain, paving the way for an invasion of mainstream American television comedy series such as Cheers and Friends. It generated a flurry of spinoffs, of which the most enduring were Laverne and Shirley, about two room-mates and starring Marshall's sister Penny as Laverne, and Mork and Mindy, about an alien from the planet Ork and his earthling girlfriend, which introduced the zany talents of Robin Williams. Marshall later joked that he had cast Williams on the spot, since he had been the only alien to audition for the role.

One of three siblings, Garry Kent Marshall was born in the Bronx on November 13, 1934, the son of Marjorie, who taught tap dancing in the basement of their apartment building, and Anthony, a director of industrial films who had changed his name from Masciarelli. In the Bronx, Marshall remembered later, "you were either an athlete or a gangster, or you were funny".

After DeWitt Clinton High School and Northwestern University, where he read journalism (and had a spell on the New York Daily News), he served with the US Army in Korea. There he met Jerry Belson, and the pair wrote scripts for sitcoms such as The Dick Van Dyke Show and Lucille Ball's The Lucy Show.

They briefly tried their hands at writing-producing with the films How Sweet It Is! (1967), starring James Garner and Debbie Reynolds, and The Grasshopper (1970) with Jacqueline Bisset. Marshall acted too, appearing as the narcotics agent in Roger Corman's The Trip (1967) with Jack Nicholson.

But it was Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, a Broadway play adapted into a film in 1968, that would turn him into a leading player in network television.

He and Belson turned it into an endearing sitcom, from 1970, with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall in the Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon roles.

Marshall saw that the central appeal of the drama about two divorced men sharing a flat was the friendship at the heart of it.

After producing more than a dozen television series, Marshall moved into directing films in the 1980s, chiefly in the romantic comedy genre, such as Overboard (1987) with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, and Frankie and Johnny (1992) with Al Pacino. There was also the bittersweet saga of female friendship, Beaches, in 1990 and The Princess Diaries in 2001. Pretty Woman, with Julia Roberts, which Marshall directed in 1990, became one of the most popular films of all time.

Garry Marshall is survived by his wife of 53 years, Barbara, two daughters and a son, the film director Scott Marshall. © Telegraph

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