Garry Marshall, Creator of Happy Days and Pretty Woman, Dead at 81

Obituaries   Garry Marshall, Creator of Happy Days and Pretty Woman, Dead at 81
 
Garry Marshall, the writer, director and producer who shaped the course of comedy on screen for over five decades, died July 19 at the age of 81.
Garry Marshall
Garry Marshall Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Garry Marshall, the producer and director who dominated 1970s television as the creator of Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy and other sitcoms, and who went on to a successful career as a film director, died in Burbank, CA, on July 19 of complications from pneumonia following a stroke. He was 81.

Marshall had his first hit sitcom with The Odd Couple. The television adaptation of Neil Simon's Broadway play about two divorced men who become mismatched roommates was a success, starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman and running several seasons in the early ‘70s.

Greater success came with Happy Days, which was set in Milwaukee in the 1950s, and both rode and helped inspire the nostalgia craze that gripped America during the early and mid-‘70s. The program centered on Richie Cunningham, a wholesome teen, his family and his friends, but came to be dominated by the gentle, leather-jacketed rebel Arthur Fonzarelli, known as “The Fonz.” As with all his shows, Marshall occasionally directed episodes.

Happy Days was for a time the number one television show in America, and spun off the series Laverne and Shirley, about two single brewery workers living together in Milwaukee (including, as the bawdy Laverne, Penny Marshall, Gary’s sister), and Mork and Mindy, which starred Robin Williams as a madcap visiting alien. The show catapulted Williams to fame.

Marshall’s transition to the big screen started slowly with the 1982 soap satire Young Doctors in Love. He won high critical marks with his second film, The Flamingo Kid, a thoughtful comedy about class differences at a country club.

Bette Midler, Garry Marshall and Sophie von Haselberg
Bette Midler, Garry Marshall and Sophie von Haselberg Joseph Marzullo/WENN

He achieved a box-office hit in 1988 with Beaches, a tearjerker about the lifelong friendship of characters played by Better Midler and Barbara Hershey. With Pretty Woman, however, he was handed a bonafide smash, not to mention a cultural touchstone. The movie, which made a star out of Julie Roberts, told the Cinderella tale of call girl who wins the heart of a millionaire played by Richard Gere.

Marshall, Roberts and Gere had another hit with The Runaway Bride in 1999. Other successes included The Princess Diaries and its sequel. Marshall had a talent for launching the careers of others; in the case of The Princess Diaries, the beneficiary was Anne Hathaway.

His big screen directorial work also included Overboard, the film version of Terrence McNally’s Frankie and Johnny, The Other Sister, Georgia Rule and, more recently, a series of romantic ensemble comedies centered around holidays, including Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve and Mother’s Day, which reunited Marshall with his Pretty Woman star Julia Roberts. Reviews were not good, but box office was.

As with his television shows, Marshall’s films were generally coolly received by critics, who considered his work safe, formulaic and pandering. But audiences responded warmly to the characters and situations depicted in his work.

The Roast Playbill - May 1980
The Roast Playbill - May 1980

Though the stage was never a great focus, Marshall did occasionally work in the theatre. He co-wrote, with Lowell Ganz, the 1993 comedy Wrong Turn at Lungfish starring George C. Scott and Tony Danza, which ran for six months at the Promenade Off-Broadway. The play also ran in L.A. and Chicago, where he also directed. His play The Roast, penned with Jerry Belson, had a brief Broadway run in 1980. Most recently, he directed the film noir play Billy & Ray Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre in 2014. It starred Bette Midler’s daughter, Sophie von Haselberg.

His daughter Kathleen and he founded the Falcon Theater in Burbank, CA. At the time of his death, he was working on a stage adaptation of the film Pretty Woman. As recently as May, Marshall went on the record to name several creative team members who were working on the project, including Hairspray and Kinky Boots’ Jerry Mitchell, who was named as the show’s director and choreographer. The score was to be written by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance.

See Playbill.com's story “Garry Marshall's Death Leaves Pretty Woman Musical in Limbo.”

In 1997, he co-founded the Falcon Theatre with his daughter Kathleen. Wrong Turn at Lungfish was produced there twice after its New York run.

He was born Garry Kent Maschiarelli in The Bronx. He graduated from Northwestern University with a journalism degree. He began his career as a joke writer and an actor. He never quite gave up acting, appearing in his own films as well as those of others, typically playing a salt-of-the-earth, plain-spoken character much like himself.

He is survived by his wife Barbara, a son, Scott, and two daughters, Lori and Kathleen. Funeral services will be private. A memorial is being planned for his birthday on November 13. The family requests no flowers and that donations in the name of Garry Marshall can be made to The Saban Community Clinic, formerly known as the Los Angeles Free Clinic, The Intensive Care Unit at Providence St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Burbank, and Northwestern University Undergraduate Scholarship Fund.

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