Remembering Garry Marshall

Above: Garry Marshall (1934 - 2016)
Above: Garry Marshall (1934 - 2016)

Late last night, news broke that Hollywood titan Garry Marshall, had passed away due to complications of pneumonia. At 81 years old, Marshall was already a living legend. Born in New York in 1934, his family seemed to have been blessed with the comedic gene. His sister, Penny would solidify her own legacy throughout the next few decades. His younger sibling by nine years, Penny has since directed classics, such as the award-winning film, A League Of Their Own.

In the mid century, Garry was a young joke writer, who soon found himself working for Jack Parr, Dick Van Dyke, and Lucille Ball on their respective prime time television shows. A large portion of their material soon became, either directly or indirectly, influenced by Marshall’s guidance. He began to formulate a rather tame, but good-hearted sense of humour. It was one that strayed away from raunchiness, which many of his contemporaries experimented with. It’s here that Garry began to leave his mark on Hollywood, and truly, entertainment as a whole.

The family sitcom and the romantic comedy are synonymous with Garry Marshall, and this is for good reason. There hasn’t been a creator who’s devoted his own career to these two sub-genres, quite like Garry Marshall. It was never going to be an epic, societal message of a film. He wasn’t going to craft a Kubrickian odyssey. What he found was a niche, something that he naturally augmented with his comedic sensibility.

Marshall is responsible for creating and overseeing iconic half-hour shows like Happy DaysThe Odd Couple, Mork and Mindy and Laverne and Shirley. Viewers had seen sitcoms before, but what Marshall did was create a world for them to live in. They no longer were fixated to a stage, like they were in the 50s. He force quitted the static nature of the sitcom. Marshall built a world with rounded characters, who we demanded to see in their own spin-offs. The traditional sitcom was evolving during the 70s, and Garry Marshall extended them to develop at full-speed. The strength and popularity of network television was sustained by decades of his programming.

For his projects, the producer cultivated the likes of Robin Williams and Ron Howard among others. His eye for talent extended into the late 80’s when he practically made Julia Roberts an instant star. When Pretty Woman hit theatres in 1990, Roberts truly became America’s sweetheart overnight. The relationship continued in Runaway Bride, an albeit less integral, but total guilty classic. Over his career, Garry Marshall trusted his gut, and was able to spur the careers of some incredibly adept actors and directors. Without him, these stars wouldn’t develop anywhere near the same rate, or even at all.

As far as his actual craft is concerned, Marshall was a master. It’s easy to scoff at the archetypes of today’s romantic comedies, and he was a victim of that criticism as early as this year. When Mother’s Day flopped, critics bashed it for being stale in its narrative. While true, what some fail to acknowledge, is that this narrative wouldn’t exist without Garry Marshall in the first place. Sure Hollywood had some standout romances, but everything was frustratingly storybook and old-fashioned. Marshall injected humour, little human flaws into the characters and plot. He allowed the story to be relatable, parallels and plot lines that we see happening to us or someone we know. We can call it stale now, but the only reason it seems that way is because of the pillars put in place by Garry Marshall.

When we look back at this man’s career, it will be important to respect the legacy he has built. The modern sitcom and romcom are fully indebted to the director and producer. People have been quick to dismiss the impact of Garry Marshall before. Sure he became a bit of a character, hence the now infamous Paul F. Tompkins parody. But when we reminisce over Garry Marshall, we must pay respect to one of modern cinema’s most consistent and influential builders.

Aidan D'Aoust

Aidan D'Aoust

Aidan is a writer from Toronto. His favourite things in the world are music, movies, and mini dachshunds. Give him a follow on Twitter at @aidandaoust, where he’ll also accept your mixtape submissions.

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