The hu­man come­dies of Garry Mar­shall brought sauci­ness to the main­stream

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - ROBERT LLOYD

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 and Shirley,” “Mork and 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.

Like many of his gen­er­a­tion, and the gen­er­a­tion just be­fore, who came up writ­ing for comics and then for tele­vi­sion — a crew whose mem­bers in­cluded Mel Brooks and Neil Si­mon — he was a trained crafts­man with a fond­ness for quirks.

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 Reiner 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 and Shirley,” in which Penny Mar­shall was a co-star.

While its com­mer­cial suc­cess did help to 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 and 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 — it is easy to find your­self in­side.

“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 him. He show­cased and was show­cased by a wide range of comic tal­ent. Lenny and Squiggy, “Lav­erne and Shirley’s” two stooges, were played by Michael McKean and David L. Lan­der, from the un­der­ground com­edy group the Cred­i­bil­ity Gap; “Mork and 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.”

He of­ten por­trayed fig­ures of (some­times ex­as­per­ated) au­thor­ity, a man in charge — a net­work head on many episodes of “Mur­phy Brown,” a tal­ent agent 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’s re­booted “Odd Cou­ple,” on which he was also a con­sul­tant.

Talk­ing about it with King, he half-jok­ingly said, “Look at this cir­cle of life.”


Ron Howard and An­son Wil­liams in the Garry Mar­shall cre­ation, “Happy Days.” The se­ries spawned “Lav­erne and Shirley” and “Mork and Mindy.”


Ac­tor and di­rec­tor Garry Mar­shall’s myr­iad suc­cesses were main­stream but still off­beat.


Mar­shall’s sis­ter Penny starred as Lav­erne in “Lav­erne and Shirley.”

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