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Garry Marshall (Louise Palankeen/Creative Commons)
Garry Marshall (Louise Palankeen/Creative Commons)
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From Happy Days to Pretty Woman: The Best Of Garry Marshall

Picture of Cassam Looch
Film Editor
Updated: 21 July 2016
Cited as one of the most successful U.S. filmmakers, Garry Marshall, who passed away at age 81, leaves behind a legacy that will likely never be matched. From ground-breaking TV shows to genre-defining romantic comedies, Marshall captured a feel-good America on screen that in reality was fast disappearing around him.

No matter how hard you tried, there was no escaping Garry Marshall. The director, who died of complications from pneumonia after a stroke, left his mark on generations of film and TV fans.

Born and raised in The Bronx, New York, Marshall came from a filmmaking family. His father was a director and his mother, who came from German, Scottish and English ancestry, would prove to be hugely influential in later life.

Having started his career as a writer and producer on a string of small screen hits of the early 60’s, Marshall struck gold the following decade with famed TV series Happy Days, which still resonates as an authentic slice of American pie. The show made household names out of its stars Ron Howard and Henry Winkler, both of whom left touching messages for the man who kickstarted their careers.

Here is a look back at some of the highlights from the career of a Hollywood legend.

Happy Days (1974-1984)

It was impossible not to get swept up in it all. From Arnold’s Diner being the place you wished you spent your teenage years in, to yearning to be in with The Fonz, Happy Days captured the optimism of 1950’s America even though it was produced during the height of the Cold War.

The iconic series also showcased the talents of a very young Ron Howard. Even though he played Richie Cunningham perfectly, Howard instead decided to follow in the footsteps of his mentor and try his hand at directing. With the likes of Backdraft and Apollo 13 in his long list of credits, Howard himself admits a lot of his success is down to Marshall.

Mork & Mindy (1978-1982)

Still riding high on the success of Happy Days, and with the likes of Laverne and Shirley also under his belt, Marshall had another hit on his hands when he hired an unknown motormouth stand-up comedian to star in his latest project.

Robin Williams was a blast as the alien Mork, who actually first appeared in an episode of Happy Days. After a convoluted introduction, which involved a foiled plot to kidnap Richie and take him to another planet, Mork proved to be so popular that he was given his own show.

With a little rejigging, the show was given a contemporary setting – and the rest is history. The less said about that other spin-off, Joanie loves Chachi, the better…

Young Doctors in Love (1982)

Soon after the success of Mork & Mindy, Marshall decided to try his hand at directing his first feature film.

Notable for an early performance from Sean Young, Young Doctors in Love is also one of the early creations of prolific producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The comedy did decent business and received mixed reviews, although the early hallmarks of the director were beginning to come through on the big screen.

Overboard (1987)

Following on from a couple of forgettable comedies, Marshall had his first big cinematic hit with Overboard.

Starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, the comedy follows the adventures of a snooty heiress who loses her memory after falling off a yacht. Along comes rugged widower Dean Proffitt (Russell) to save the day and nurse our heroine back to health. Or at least that’s how it should be.

In reality things get creepy when you realise that Dean actually knows the true identity of the woman and creates a ruse to teach her a lesson.

Somehow Marshall managed to keep the film wholesome and make a family favourite out of something that reads like it should be a lot darker. It was a theme that would be repeated later in his career in his biggest hit.

Beaches (1988)

More serious than most of his earlier work, Beaches remains a staple of Sunday evening TV. The film was a box-office hit on release, and proved Bette Midler could act as well as sing.

Off the back of Midler’s Grammy Award-winning song Wind Beneath My Wings, the movie follows two friends from very different backgrounds.

Midler stars opposite Barbara Hershey in a story ranked as one of the greatest weepies of all-time. Marshall teases the audience, and even the most cynical viewer will have a hard time not to be moved by the touching finale.

Pretty Woman (1990)

Very few directors can claim to have a trio of back-to-back triumphs like Marshall did in 1990.

It was already an established motif of Marshall to take previously unheralded actors and turn them into superstars, and Pretty Woman was no exception.

The film is yet another example of Marshall taking a dark story and turning into a crowd-pleasing smash hit. This story of a prostitute who meets the man of her dreams when he hires her for week is one of the highest grossing comedies of all time.

Richard Gere shares some fantastic scenes with Roberts, but it’s all done in the unmistakable style of Garry Marshall.

Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman
Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. | © Touchstone Pictures

Runaway Bride (1999)

Gere and Roberts teamed up with Marshall once again in this entertaining comedy about a woman who gets cold feet like no one else.

Another big winner on release, Runaway Bride also highlighted the genre Marshall was most comfortable operating in. There were few risks in his later work, as would be proven by the trilogy of Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Day and Mother’s Day, but at his best Marshall had a deft touch that felt all-American without ever straying into jingoistic territory.

The Princess Diaries (2001)

Easily dismissed as just another Disney princess story on first viewing, this smart and perfectly executed wish-fulfilment family hit captures the enduring optimism in all of Marshall’s best work.

Anne Hathaway and Dame Julie Andrews clash at regular intervals in the movie, but the story of an awkward teenager from San Francisco who discovers she is heir to the throne of mythical principality Genovia, is pure Marshall.

If you were to pick any of the director’s later films, then this would be the standout. It harks back to the best of his TV career and encompasses all the cinematic hallmarks that made him such a popular filmmaker.

There will be very few directors who will have a filmography of crowd-pleasing gems to match those of Garry Marshall.