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A Tribute to Garry Marshall, a Great Comic Heart and Mind

A Tribute to Garry Marshall, a Great Comic Heart and Mind rare combination of savvy and big-hearted, Garry Marshall, who has died at age 81, deserves to be remembered as a beloved TV producer, director, and actor. Yes, he was the director of big movie hits like 1990’s Pretty Woman and smaller gems such as 1984’s The Flamingo Kid. But I’d claim Marshall as, foremost, a great TV artist, bringing to the medium great generosity of heart that rarely veered into mere sentimentality.

Marshall grounded some of his greatest work — on Happy Days, The Odd Couple, Laverne & Shirley, Mork and Mindy, and more — with gags and direction that emphasized the humanity beneath the laughs. Marshall began his career as a writer, producer, and director of sitcoms that showcased comedians — The Danny Thomas Show (aka, Make Room for Daddy), The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Joey Bishop Show, and The Lucy Show. But with his TV adaptation of Neil Simon’s play The Odd Couple, starting in 1970, Marshall came into his own as a master of ensemble-cast comedy. He staged scenes between Tony Randall and Jack Klugman with the precision of a top-notch Broadway farce and did the hard work of extending Simon’s creations, deepening those characters beyond their theater roots to become true TV originals. 

With a similar clear-headed approach, Marshall took Happy Days, starting in 1974, and turned what could have been a flimsy piece of nostalgia into a sturdy sitcom that managed to both showcase the charm of Ron Howard and turn Henry Winkler into a cultural phenomenon as the lovable hood Fonzie. Marshall’s Happy Days spinoff, Laverne and Shirley (1976-82), was, if anything, an underrated gem, starring Marshall’s sister, Penny, and Cindy Williams as working-class gals and Michael McKean and David L. Lander as the brilliantly performed goofballs Lenny and Squiggy. read more at