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Garry Marshall On His 'Happy Days'
Originally published on Sat April 28, 2012 9:22 am
Director Garry Marshall has worked on so much popular comedy in his career — television like Happy Days and The Odd Couple, movies like Pretty Woman and Beaches — that something he's done has probably made you laugh. And now he's written a memoir called, fittingly, My Happy Days In Hollywood: A Memoir.
As he tells NPR's Scott Simon on Saturday's Weekend Edition, Marshall owes his entry into show business to his mother. "She said the worst thing is to be boring, when I was little," he remembers. "And I said, 'What is boring, Ma?' And she said, 'Your father.'" He calls his mother the primary influence behind his show business career and those of his sisters: Ronny, who's worked primarily behind the camera, and Penny, who is now a director but also starred in one of his most popular sitcoms, Laverne And Shirley.
Marshall has worked with so many people that it might surprise you to learn that one of the tougher personalities he's dealt with wasn't human at all. "Shari Lewis was a delightful lady," he says. "Lamb Chop wasn't so nice. Suddenly, Lamb Chop came out and said, 'Boys, you don't write so well!' ... a piece of cloth was yelling at us. It's not every day you get yelled at by cloth. But we learned that funny people seem to have quirks."
Those quirks in comedy also leave open the chance for serendipity, like when Happy Days suddenly acquired a new star in Henry Winkler's Arthur Fonzarelli. Marshall says the character grew with Winkler's development of his peculiarities. Some of those "aaaay" and "whoa" sounds that made Fonzie so famous, it turns out, were additions from the actor. "And then slowly, he became Richie's best friend, and the character developed, and it went on."
But another breakout character, Mork from Ork, who showed up on Happy Days before getting his own show, was inspired inside Marshall's own home. His daughters loved Happy Days, he explains, but his young son wasn't interested. Why? "There are no space people," Marshall remembers his son complaining. The show being set on ... well, Earth, and in the '50s, it wasn't immediately obvious how to make it happen. So Mork's appearance was a dream sequence at first. And then came the show Mork And Mindy, which made Mork — played by a very young Robin Williams — real. "The dream was so funny, it suddenly wasn't a dream anymore," Marshall says. Chalk another one up for something Garry Marshall believes is often a smart place to start in entertainment: "Please the people in your house."
Surprisingly enough — or maybe not — one of Marshall's tougher working relationships was with his own sister Penny, when she starred in Laverne And Shirley and had lots of ideas to improve the show. "It was the toughest show, or project I ever did, was Laverne And Shirley," he says, "mostly because it's my sister, and you can't hide from your sister." Her suggestions, he says, would make the show better, but as she became more and more successful, their relationship wasn't simple. "Suddenly, she was Laverne and she was in the number one show. And it was difficult for me, because I do, as I said in the book, pride myself on being able to make people happy. And the one person I couldn't seem to make happy was my sister Penny, on Laverne And Shirley."
He has, however, made lots of people happy, including those who love his 1990 comedy Pretty Woman, which didn't even have a happy ending until he figured out how to give it one. "We didn't really have an ending," he recalls, "until I figured out that we were doing a fairy tale." That meant, Marshall says, a climactic and heroic climb up the tower to rescue the princess. But, of course, there was a twist: "When you do it with a guy who's a director from the Bronx, he climbs up the fire escape."
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Garry Marshall has made you laugh - with one of his signature sit-coms: "The Odd Couple," "Happy Days," "Laverne and Shirley," or "Mork and Mindy" - with one of his movies: "The Flamingo Kid," "Pretty Woman," "The Princess Diaries." Chances are, he made your parents and grandparents laugh too, writing material for Jack Paar, Joey Bishop or the old Dick van Dyke Show. He's now written a memoir of his life and times that opens in the Bronx, not on the Walk of Fame. His book is called: "My Happy Days in Hollywood: A Memoir." Garry Marshal joins us from our studios in Culver City, California, not all that far from Hollywood. Thanks so much for being with us.
GARRY MARSHALL: I'm here. It's good to hear you, Scott. It's nice to be with you.
SIMON: Nice to be with you. Your mother sounds more vivid than almost any character I've seen in a Broadway musical. Do you still cast back to what she told you about the business every now and then?
MARSHALL: Well, she said the worst thing is to be boring when I was little. And I said what is boring, ma? And she said your father. She always had a shot for everybody. And my mother was the influence really that got us into show business, both my two sisters and I. My sister Ronny, not many people know, she worked with us and she produced all our stuff. And Penny was Laverne, so she got us all into comedy.
SIMON: Well, you've worked with so many famous personalities - Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, Tony Randall, Jack Klugman, Jack Parr, Jackie Gleason.
MARSHALL: Lot of Jacks, yes.
SIMON: Well, just reading your memoir, we have the impression - and you're very kind to everybody - that almost the toughest show business personality you worked with - we're going to play a clip of that person and get your reaction.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)
SHARI LEWIS: (as Lamb Chop) What do you want from me, Charley Horse?
(as Charley Horse) Nothing, nothing. You know, you always ask me if we can play together and so I always say, no, you know. And so today I thought I'd say yes and...
(as Lamb Chop) Yeah, yeah, yeah. But what do you want from me, Charley Horse?
Dear, Charley Horse just wants to play with you.
MARSHALL: Lamb Chop, Shari Lewis. I haven't heard that sound in a long time, Scott. You dug that one out.
SIMON: Tell us about working with Lamb Chop.
MARSHALL: Well, it was my first writing job with my partner Fred Freedman, and Shari Lewis was a delightful lady. She, hello, would you like some tea? And Lamb Chop wasn't so nice. Suddenly, Lamb Chop came out and said, boys, you don't write so well. Well, two grown men talking to a lady's hand with puppets. A piece of cloth was yelling at us. It's not every day you get yelled at by cloth. But we learned that, you know, funny people seem to have quirks.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "'HAPPY DAYS' THEME SONG")
CHORUS: (Singing) Sunday, Monday, happy days. Tuesday, Wednesday, happy days. Thursday, Friday, happy days. The weekend comes, the cycle hums, ready to race to you.
SIMON: "Happy Days" - when did you figure out Fonzie was the breakout character?
MARSHALL: Well, it sounds like I was very bright and clever. The truth was everybody figured it out at the same time. The gate guard at Paramount said I'm watching the show. I like the tough guy, played wonderfully by Henry Winkler. He wasn't at all like Fonzie, Henry Winkler, but he could act. And he just made guttural sounds. And whoa-whoa and hey and a lot of them Henry made up himself. Whoa and hey.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HAPPY DAYS")
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) One burger, one Coke.
HENRY WINKLER: (as Fonzie) Ay.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: What's ay?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh, I'm sorry. Too much ice in the Coke and not enough ketchup on the hamburger. I'll be right back.
WINKLER: See, now that's called the big CC - cool communications. Through the eyes, huh?
RON HOWARD: (as Richie) Yeah, but you did throw in a couple of ays.
WINKLER: Ay, ay's my lingo.
MARSHALL: And then slowly he became Richie's best friend and the character developed and it went on.
SIMON: How did "Mork and Mindy," this visitor from another planet, grow out of "Happy Days?"
MARSHALL: Well, one other thing that I think is important is when you are in entertainment is to please the people in your house, your family. And I had the show "Happy Days," my daughters loved it, but my son did not like it very much. He didn't want to watch that. And I said why don't you like it? He said, well, there is no space people. He wanted "Star Wars." He wanted aliens. I said, well, it's in the '50s. How could there be space? There's no space in the '50s. And only, you know, a seven-year-old could think this way. It could be a dream.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HAPPY DAYS")
WINKLER: (as Fonzie) All right, all right, all right. Who's going wee, wee, wee. I said who's going wee, wee, wee. Hey, Ralph, if you're out there. This is a bad joke. I'll give you 30 seconds to find out how much I don't enjoy wee, wee, wee. Whoa, whoa, whoa.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
ROBIN WILLIAMS: (as Mork) (Ork language spoken) Remember me? Mork from Ork? You once called me the nutzo from outer space?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
WINKLER: (as Fonzie) I must be dreaming or something like that you know?
WILLIAMS: (as Mork) Sorry, real thing. I had to zap your mind to make you forget. Didn't want you to go bozo city.
WINKLER: (as Fonzie) I think I want to wake up now.
MARSHALL: This dream, so funny. It suddenly wasn't a dream anymore. We decided to make a show based on Mork. And finding Robin Williams was my sister Ronny's work. And it did come about mostly 'cause my son wouldn't watch. And when he saw Mork, he watched.
SIMON: Speaking of your own house, you love your sister, Penny Marshall, but I gather you found it hard to work together.
MARSHALL: Well, it was the toughest project I ever did, was "Laverne and Shirley," mostly because it's my sister's. So, you can't hide from your sister. Other stars, some days I would say I'm not home today. And Penny often would come to my house and stay at the gate and say the second act is no good. And we'd have to open the gate 'cause otherwise she would climb over. Penny was very athletic. But we tried and she was always making the show better. But in a lot of ways, she was the success as I watched, not just through my sister but so many other boys and girls, actors and actresses. A big success, you know, you get a little insecure, you don't think you deserve it and you go through all those psychological things that Penny went. I saw her become a stunt girl is what she started out, and suddenly she was Laverne and she was in the number one show. So, it was difficult for me 'cause I said in the book, pride myself on being able to make people happy. And one person I couldn't seem to make happy was my sister Penny on "Laverne and Shirley."
SIMON: One of the things that I think would strike anyone was you seemed to have made a lot of room for your family. I mean, you're in a highly competitive business and yet you seem to make career choices based on what's best for families, including the families of the people who worked with you.
MARSHALL: Well, that's true. I always felt it was, the whole key to it was to get a balance between, you know, family life, real life and the make-believe life of an entertainment - movie, TV, theater. When you work with me, you can bring your kid and if they cry, it's not the end of the world. We'll take two and we'll work it out. 'Cause I think, you know, when all is said and done, that's who you're usually working for. It's nice, you get a prize, you get a statue - but I think if your family is happy and you can take them on a vacation, that's better than a plaque.
SIMON: "Pretty Woman" - you made a star, helped Julia Roberts to get a...
MARSHALL: I helped. You never make a star. They have to have some talent going in. I don't want to fool people. But she was cute.
SIMON: So, when you began shooting "Pretty Woman," you didn't know how you'd get the lovers back together?
MARSHALL: It didn't really have an ending. So, I figured out we were doing a fairy tale and that gave us the idea that he should climb up the tower to rescue her and what he did. Only when you do it with a guy who's a director from the Bronx, he climbs up a fire escape. So, that was part of the ending that I had finally figured out.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "PRETTY WOMAN")
RICHARD GERE: (as Edward) So, what happened after he climbed up the tower and rescued her?
JULIA ROBERTS: (as Vivian) She rescued him right back.
MARSHALL: To kick it a little, to make it a little more the sense of a fairy tale is what everybody thinks Hollywood is, and we had the guy walk the part. So it's everybody's dream.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "PRETTY WOMAN")
ABDUL SALAAM EL-RAZZAC: (as Happy Man) Welcome to Hollywood. What's your dream? Everybody comes here. This is Hollywood.
SIMON: Garry Marshall. His new book, written with his daughter, Lori Marshall, "My Happy Days in Hollywood." Thanks so much.
MARSHALL: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRETTY WOMAN")
ROY ORBISON: (Singing) Pretty woman, walking down the street, pretty woman, the kind I'd like to meet, pretty woman, I don't believe you, you're not the truth...
SIMON: Mercy. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.