Garry Marshall: 81 And Not Slowing Down Any Time Soon

Garry Marshall and me.


Note: The film "Mother's Day" has done poorly in the theaters and was hammered by critics. I felt guilty giving my own poor review of the film after I had a chance to interview Garry Marshall. It was a real honor.

Director Garry Marshall doesn’t have a pretentious bone in his body. For over 50 years now, he has created live theatre productions, numerous iconic TV characters from shows like Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy, The Odd Couple and many more and is known for creating crowd-pleasing favorite movies like The Princess Diaries, Overboard and Pretty Woman. Marshall is also known for his acting and voice work for, but he sums up all of his talents with one simple phrase, “I’ve done a lot of stuff.”

I recently had the honor of meeting with Marshall to discuss his newest movie, Mother’s Day and other projects at a hotel in Seattle. The conversation was short, but was totally worth the trouble. Marshall came up to Seattle to attend a red carpet screening of Mother’s Day at the Cinerama.

“I’ve been here is Seattle a few times. I like it,” he tells me. “I’ve always seen Seattle as quite kind. When I was here once plugging something or other on some TV show, my sinus’ were so bad, I was coughing, I was sneezing and I did the interview trying to be charming and when I went back to the hotel, two doctors had called the hotel to say, “Mr. Marshall, you’re going to need to come in here. You’re too sick.” They had felt so bad that I was sick. I thought that was very nice. No other city has ever done that before and I’ve been sick in a lot of cities.”

Mother’s Day is a compilation of stories focused on a variety of different mothers and takes place the week before the actual holiday. I told Marshall that I was most impressed with Jennifer Aniston’s performance as a newly divorced mom dealing with the news that her ex-husband has just gotten remarried to a woman much younger than him. Aniston has such great comedic timing and has a natural way of acting. I asked Marshall if there was anyone in the cast that surprised him.

“Many surprised me on how good they were,” he says. Jennifer Aniston actually helps everybody as she is so genuine and just does it and you don’t feel like you’re acting with her. They just be, which is what I like. A lot of them did very well. I guess the one who surprised me the most was Britt Robertson because she had to go heavy against Julia Roberts and she did terrific.”

Another actress in the movie that surprised me personally was Barbara Marshall, Garry’s wife who has played a bit role in many of his movies.

“My wife is always in the movies. Always the nurse,” he tells me. “My wife is a nurse and doesn’t care that much for show business, but she comes in her own outfit and is always ‘the nurse.’” Well, not always. “She wanted to dress up once so I think in one of the Princess Diaries she was a lady in waiting or something.”

I congratulated Marshall on his 52 years of marriage and he corrected me saying that it has been 53 as of last March. “Still going good?” I ask.

“It’s going alright. No complaints. She’s a nurse, I’m a hypochondriac – it was a match made in heaven. I’m always coughing, she’s always giving me a pill.”

And what’s the secret?

“I think the secret is separate bathrooms, that’s for sure, but I think the secret is kindness. You know, I work with a lot of nice and bright and talented ladies and I love them and I love working with them, but I truly have never met anybody kinder than my wife…and I’ve met a lot! She’s the kindest I know.”

Barbara isn’t the only family member to show up in Garry’s movies either. “I usually have my six grandchildren sprinkled around the movie as well,” he says. “But it’s nice. It’s nice to get up early and go to the set and see someone you know.”

Another relative of Marshall’s is much more well-known, his sister Penny who starred in Laverne and Shirley. He tells me that he is more often known as Penny’s brother rather than the other way around because “Penny is the social butterfly of Los Angeles.” I asked him if he had any stories to tell me about her and explained some of his family’s dynamics.

“I was the sickly kid, my sister Ronny was the nice kid (she was pretty and never bothered anybody) and Penny was the bad kid getting into trouble. I remember that I was sick living in an apartment in the Bronx and my mother would put my underwear and my clothes on the radiator so that when I got out of bed they would be warm. But Penny would take my clothes and put them in the refrigerator and bring them back. And then I would get out of bed and put them on and I would go ‘Augh! They’re freezing!’ and then I would hear Penny laughing in the other room. She was a pretty good prankster and still is.”

At 81 years of age, Garry has been involved in show business for a long time and has experienced a number of “circle of life” events as he calls them. When I tell him that one of my wife’s favorite movies of all time is Overboard with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, he is instantly reminded of a story. While working on that film, Hawn had brought her daughter, Kate Hudson, to the set where Marshall would allow her to sit on his lap while filming.

“I would say, ‘let’s yell “action” to mommy’ and now on Mother’s Day, I held Kate Hudson’s daughter on my lap whose five and we yelled “action.” Kate and I looked at each other and we hugged because that’s a nice circle of life story. Corny, but it made me happy.”

Another circle of life story involves both the early version of The Odd Couple and the current one.

“Jack Klugman was kind of like a father image for me and now I’m on The Odd Couple playing Oscar’s father – Mathew Perry’s father.”

Though not as spry as he once was, Garry continues to be active.

“I’m in the middle of Pretty Woman the Broadway musical. It took a while, but we got the license from Disney and we’re doing it independently. J. F. Lawton who wrote the original Pretty Woman is my partner … so It’s very exciting. We are a year away. Broadway plays go a little slower than movies and movies go slower than TV so I work them all. So, I’m very excited about that.”

I ask Garry of all the things that he has done, what project that he’s done that he is most proud of. Instead of any specific thing, he gives me a more general answer.

“I’m most proud of the fact that I make people laugh and cry in a happy way. You know, it’s a hard life sometimes (all the time for some people) so it’s nice when I can give a couple hours with a movie or something that makes you feel good before you have to go back again. Laughter makes me happy. And softball. I play a lot of softball. Those two things make me happy.

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