Wednesday, July 20, 2016

R.I.P. Garry Marshall

It’s 3:00 in the morning in New York. But I just had to write this now. If I don’t get any sleep, so be it. But I am devastated by the loss of Garry Marshall, who passed away Tuesday at only 81.

Garry Marshall was an extraordinary man. In the world of comedy where anger is a primary tool for getting laughs, Garry Marshall built an empire by showing that comedy could be humane, comedy could have heart, and comedy could be funny without being mean-spirited, spiteful, and crass. He was a rebel.

Garry Marshall was one of my inspirations. I feel so honored that he did my play, A OR B? at his Falcon Theatre. I will always treasure opening night, sitting two seats away from him and hearing him laugh at my jokes. Ohmygod! I made Garry Marshall laugh.   I have arrived.  

A main reason I wanted to get into comedy in the first place was from watching THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. The writing was so smart. And my favorite scripts were always the ones written by Garry Marshall & Jerry Belson. There was just a slight edge, a touch of inspired lunacy, they were funnier. The writing credits for THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW were at the end and when my partner, David Isaacs and I were starting out we’d watch the DVD show every afternoon and try to guess the credits. Marshall & Belson scripts were easy to pick out. They were just a shade better. We made it our goal to be Marshall & Belson – to have young writers think our scripts were just that discernible fraction better than the rest.

Garry went on to great success building a sitcom empire at Paramount in the ‘70s and ‘80s. From HAPPY DAYS, to LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, to my favorite – THE ODD COUPLE, Garry not only produced wonderful comedies, he also discovered many terrific young writers who would go on to have spectacular careers. And he introduced the world to Robin Williams.

Garry was naturally and effortlessly funny. With his distinctive Bronx cadence he could say “Have some coffee” and somehow get a laugh. I never knew how he did that. But you just wanted to be around him. He always made you feel good about yourself, which is a lovely feeling – especially when you’re also laughing at the same time.

And in my case, he made me want to be better. That started with the first script I ever wrote and extended all the way to A OR B?

My love and prayers to Barbara, Ronny, Kathleen, and the entire Marshall family. We used to see them every Christmas vacation at the Kahala Whoever-owns-them-now. If ever there was a close-knit family that truly loved each other it was his, and I’m sure in large part because of him. Hey, I wanted to be his grandkid.

I’m sure there will be many tributes today. That’s what happens when everyone you ever met loves you. Like I said, I feel so blessed that I got to work with him. The greatest compliment I may ever receive as a playwright was from Garry after that opening night. All he said was, “Welcome to a new career.” Who needs Tonys after that?

He will continue to live in my heart, not to mention TV LAND, TCM, and whoever plays PRETTY WOMAN. To sum up: In an industry that’s built on meanness, Garry Marshall was “nice.” Nice to everybody. Writers, actors, executives, pool boys.

If I could say one last thing to Garry it would be “Thank you.” He would probably respond with, “Get some sleep already.”

43 comments:

Jason said...

I thought he was great on Murphy Brown.. he can act too!

Bobby Rich said...

I woke up to this news and thought immediately of you Ken. Remembering your play at The Garry Marshall Theatre and you talking of him dropping by for various performances there. A true Comedy TV Legend. To say nothing of having an extra R in his name.

japanjohnny said...

Loved his work, especially The Odd Couple. He got it done with innuendo and facial expressions, not cheap dick jokes and mean insults. I really miss quality work like his. I know it still exists, but it is so rare these days. I imagine that is reflective of society in general. Thinking is just too damn hard for the majority of people.

Peter said...

A very sudden and sad loss. He was a true giant of comedy. I loved Happy Days as a kid and of course he also directed some great movies.

Whatever you think of his last film, Mother's Day, which I haven't seen, I loved that he was still working in his 80s, still directing a big movie with an all-star cast. How many directors get to do that by that age?

I also enjoyed watching his acting. He was one of those people who instantly made you feel comfortable and upbeat when he appeared on screen. If anyone's not seen Life After Beth, check it out. It's a terrific horror-comedy and Garry has a wonderfully funny cameo.

RIP

Frank Kuchno said...

I loved The Flamingo Kid.
Warm, funny movie.....with Gary's movie good luck charm.....Hector Elizondo.
Great summer comedy.
From a great and funny man.

Anonymous said...

Loved Hey, Landlord! And he made a great guest appearance in that show as a Sheldon Leonard-esque tough guy to head of a rumble involving his old gang (including Sandy Baron, Mr. Klompus himself, as "Chuck the Butcher")

Xwordz

James Van Hise said...

Harry Shearer once told the story behind the Simpsons voice actors going on strike after working on the show for many years. When The Simpsons was created, Fox got the Actors Guild to (as Harry put it) "kiss off his residuals" because, as Fox claimed, "Animation doesn't make any money." Interestingly, Harry didn't blame Fox for doing this, he blamed the Actors Guild for letting them get away with it.

Glenn said...

The world just got a lot less funny. RIP, Gary.

H Johnson said...

It's early here. Can't sleep. Thought I'd read your column for a few laughs. None today. Just very fond memories of a great man. Thank you for a very fine memorial.

Aloha

Mike Barer said...

We are losing the people we need the most.

Jerry Krull said...

I too loved the writing of the Dick Van Dyke show so much I always waited to see who wrote the episodes. Several years ago that led me to find books by the writers and I read Carl Reiner's, and then Garry Marshall's "Wake Me When It's Funny". In fact I recently bought his second book "My Happy Days in Hollywood" and it will be my next read.

My pursuit of learning about my favorite sitcom writers led me to this blog, your books Ken, and my attendance in the Sitcom Room a few years back. RIP Mr. Marshall.

Tom Benson said...

Thanks Ken..nice to read about a 'good guy'.

Breadbaker said...

My first thought after simple sadness and looking at his age and saying, "he died too young", was "what will Ken Levine say?" And needless to say you didn't disappoint.

I hope you got some sleep.

thevidiot said...

Garry Marshall played the owner of the Desert Inn in "Lost in America" and did it marvelously! His look of bewilderment when Albert Brooks tries to convince him to give back the money that his wife lost at the craps tables last night was classic. I always think of that deadpan, followed by "Lemme get this straight.... you want ME to give you back the money your wife lost last night????" RIP Garry... you were one of a kind!

Andrew said...

Thanks for the heartfelt tribute, Ken.

Maybe this is too soon, but was Marshall's death before or after Scott Baio spoke at the Republican Convention?

I grew up with Happy Days. As you said, there was a wholesomeness and humanity to his comedy that is hard to find today. I actually remember shedding a tear during a later episode where Richie comes home, and Fonzie expresses his affection for him.

Another actor whose career he launched is Michael McKean ("Lenny"). It's been such a pleasure to watch McKean in Better Call Saul while remembering his earlier career.

I do have one nitpick, though. I wish Marshall had told the live audience at Happy Days to tone it down on their reactions. Did they really have to scream with delight every time Richie sang "I found my thrill..."?

Kirk said...

Great tribute, Ken. RIP Garry Marshall

tavm said...

Don't intend to be mean or political but I just had to share this quote from Mark Evanier-"I knew Garry Marshall just well enough to think he'd laugh at a joke that the cause of his death was seeing Chachi endorse Donald Trump". R.I.P. Mr. Marshall

Dave Mackey said...

I did a little bit of a comment on Facebook about Garry Marshall this morning, and I made the observation that probably the two most successful TV sitcom adaptations of movies were the Odd Couple and M*A*S*H. Garry Marshall did one of them, Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds did the other. And of course Garry did so much more in his career, directing all the films, the Happy Days franchise. Mork and Mindy catapulted Robin Williams into stardom.

DARON72 said...

I agree. Garry was terrific as the head of programming on Murphy Brown. He made a funny show hilarious!

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I remember both Tony Randall and Jack Klugman saying similar things about that drawn-out Bronx accent of his (but, then again, apparently the whole Marshal family talked that way, not just Penny), including an ancedote Tony once shared when they were filming the episode where Felix believes he suddenly has psychic powers: there was one particular like that Tony had to say - it wasn't even a joke or a punchline, but the way Garry gave him the line when they were rehersing caused him to bust out into laughter because it sounded so funny in that Marshall manner.

This is such a shame though. Although Norman Lear seems to have been the real sitcom powerhouse of the 70s, Garry Marshall was certainly one of the voices of that era too; really saddened to lose him.

John Hammes said...

Out of his many accomplishments, Garry Marshall gave us Tony Randall and Jack Klugman: for this alone, he deserves a special place in "sitcom re-run" Heaven.

May Felix greet you with a calypso song, and may Oscar let you win a few rounds of poker.

Thank you, sir.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

I'm so sorry for your loss...

John Hammes said...

"Life is more important than show business ..."

-- Garry Marshall

Steve Bailey said...

He was also a very funny character actor, in LOST IN AMERICA (as someone else has already pointed out), NEVER BEEN KISSED, and a recurring guest role on "Murphy Brown." R.I.P., Mr. Marshall. Thanks for the laughs.

J Lee said...

The Danny Thomas-Sheldon Leonard shows, particularly the Dick Van Dyke Show and Thomas' own show, were really where the idea of the set-up/payoff of fast-paced gags before a live audience were perfected on TV, and Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson came in just towards the end of those series' runs (final season for the Thomas show and the final 2 1/2 years for DVD). It served them well when The Odd Couple went to a live studio audience, as the show hit the ground running after the more sedate Season 1. It worked less well on Happy Days when it went to a live audience because the Fonzie phenomenon of the period meant the audience would laugh and whoop at anything and the writing and production got a little lazy.

(I suppose it's also worth a few bonus points that when Lucille Ball dismissed her longtime writers after Season 2 of The Lucy Show, the episode they chose to open Season 3 with was written by Marshall and Belson, who at that time only had about 8-10 months experience as a writing team. It's not as sharp as their Van Dyke or Thomas efforts of the same period, but it has the same type of physical gags that the Dick Van Dyke Show used with its star.)

Cat said...

Oh Andrew, how I do agree with you on the reactions of the audience, mostly on Happy Days. The audience had to go nuts every time Fonzie entered, really, every time? That said, Mr. Marshall did bring us some noteworthy entertainment. I loved Laverne and Shirly when I was a kid, and I thought Penny and Cindy were as funny as anyone I'd ever seen.

Tudor Queen said...

I really do believe that Garry Marshall's contributions to the entertainment world - primarily but not exclusively comedy - will never be fully appreciated. I agree that his comedy was never mean-spirited, and while it could be broad it was never truly coarse. A friend and I were discussing him in the wake of his death, and she kept asking, did he produce that? Did he write that? Was that his? And I mostly said 'yes'. What a range, what an influence!

I also enjoyed him as an actor, especially as the Head of Daytime Programming in one of my favorite comedies, "Soapdish". To wit, as the live broadcast descends (or ascends) into full on chaos: "This is what I told them... this is what I wanted... This... is Soap Opera!"

He lived a long and productive life (and was clearly much loved) but it's still a loss.

Blair Richwood said...

True that, you nailed it, Ken.

"A funny kid, that one" he said when I told him we were working together. To him, every writer younger than him was "a kid" -- but he didn't hand out "funny" to just anybody. Well done.

I'm so glad you two got to share that special transition into playwriting.
Thanks for this one...

Diane D. said...

One of the funniest scenes I ever saw and never forgot was from THE ODD COUPLE. Felix is standing, giving a very long, drawn-out, overly sentimental good-bye to Oscar because he feels he has to go take over a bubble gum factory in Buffalo, New York, which he has inherited. He finally wraps it up and starts doing a little dance step towards the door, saying mournfully, "What am I doing, Oscar?" Oscar says, very gently, "Shuffling off to Buffalo." Priceless.

I'm so sorry for your loss.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

The line I can replay in my head without need for actual audio from LOST IN AMERICA is: "We're through talking."

wg

VP81955 said...

Met him at a memorabilia show in April 2015 (I bought his book, which he signed) and mentioned I had seen Ken's "A or B?" at his Falcon Theater. A genuinely nice man, and someone who enhanced both TV and film comedy. Thank you, Garry.

banger said...

Ken, your ability to move emotions through honesty and connection with your audience is a direct connection to Garry, you and the thousands of creatives who he touched and gifted will allow his legacy to endure in artistry as much as his work will be ubiquitous in reruns for centuries to come. Never had the chance to interact with him directly but often saw him hold court with staffers and friends of all ages and job levels at Jerry's Deli. He was hilarious, democratic and nurturing all at once, all with the accent and pattern that never changed from the Grand Concourse. There are scant few people in this industry that made me wish I could have worked with them at first encounter. He was one, and today I am especially jealous of those who did. People with his mind and soul make it one still worth working in.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Garry Marshall is the reason I found your blog. I read his entertaining autobiography in which he discussed his partnership with Jerry Belson. I wasn't familiar with Jerry and during my Google search I found your tribute to him when he passed. That was two years ago and I've been an avid follower of your blog since. Shortly after finishing his book, I dropped Garry a note to tell him how much I enjoyed his book.

Max Clarke said...



First time I saw Garry was Lost In America. For being in a movie maybe five minutes, he made a striking first impression, and most of that was created by his reactions to Albert Brooks' return-the-money pitch.

Garry wrote and narrated an audiobook which I own, "My Happy Days In Hollywood." Lots of stories, such as handling Matt Dillon in The Flamingo Kid.. The audiobook made me thankful for my health. Garry had some serious allergies as a child.

Enjoyed Laverne & Shirley more than the others. Good physical comedy. The shows were so silly they were adorable.

Shocked to hear the news, but talk about a life well-lived.





Dave Loosehead Gordon said...

So farewell then
Garry Marshall.
You gave us all
many Happy Days.

Johnny Walker said...

Lovely post. Thanks for sharing.

Anthony Schumacher said...

Imagine having such a canon of work as that? Imagine being the guy who made so many people sit down together and laugh and cry at the same time?
We can only dream of the kind of talent that could do such a thing. The world is a darker place without him.
Tony Schumacher

Bev Praver said...

Thank you for that beautiful tribute. Yours is the first one that I have read that mentions his family by their names and recognizes how important his family, as well as his friends, were to him. I met him twice because of our daughter's friendship with his daughter. He was everything that everyone has said about him. He had a heart of gold and he will be missed beyond words.

Kosmo13 said...

Looking over the list of Dick Van Dyke Show episodes he wrote, I see many of the series' funniest episodes jump out at me. One of my favorites of his - Pink Pills and Purple Parents- actually has the wrong title listed on the Dick Van Dyke Show DVD set sleeve and Disk: it's misidentified as "Pink Pills and Purple Patients."

BA said...

RIP. One of the greats

Joe Blow said...

That was lovely, Dave Loosehead Gordon!

Apk Download said...

I also thought he was great on Murphy Brown..
RIP

DrBOP said...

OK....I have done this a few times now....I come to this post.....click for the comments.....and stare at this empty box for bunches of minutes at a time.....start tearin' up a bit (MANly tears, of course).....a million references runnin' through my mind.....and just can't seem to get it out.....not even sure exactly why I'm feeling this way.....didn't know him personally....wasn't in love with EVERYthing he did.....it's almost involuntary.....


.....my imaginary Uncle Bippie is gone.....


.....can't be, cut it in post.....let's get on with the show....