Garry Marshall Essay - Critical Essays

Marshall, Garry


Garry Marshall 1935?–

American comedy writer, scriptwriter, and producer.

Within the past decade, Marshall has created a television empire in the realm of situation comedies, a success paralleled only by that of All in the Family creator, Norman Lear. In retrospect, Marshall's success is not surprising since he has long been one of televisions most prolific writers. In addition to having written for the Jack Parr Show, he has composed material for almost every major television and Las Vegas comedian. He also wrote for the Emmy-winning Dick Van Dyke Show, one of the first situation comedies to consistently address timely issues. He created The Odd Couple and The Brian Keith Show in the late 1960s but is best known for the hits he created in the 1970s which include Happy Days and its spin-offs, Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy.

The success of Marshall's series lies in his ability to portray the humorous side of everyday living without being overbearingly comic or strenuously serious. They are considered by many critics to be among the most thoughtful of contemporary comedies. Happy Days's Fonzarelli is the best expression of this balance. Despite his tough exterior he has a sensitive nature, and in the final analysis will do the right thing without losing stature among his friends. He is goodness made palatable to young adults and he has become a hero to many of them. Marshall has correctly identified a trend within our current culture back to the values of the 1950s. Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley both reflect and reinforce this value system. The Fonz balances all-American Richie Cunningham just as the adventurous Laverne DiFazio balances the character of the hesitant Shirley Feeney. In Mork and Mindy, Mindy guides the alien Mork through his innocent questioning of current American traditions and mores.

Many television critics have been negative in analyzing Marshall's work. Although most of these critics will grant that the shows do attempt to examine serious questions, they point to what they feel is a lack of depth and intensity. Marshall responds that he writes mainly to entertain. The immense popularity and longevity of his series indicate that he has struck a responsive chord within a large segment of the television audience. Marshall has created series that are in many ways as instructive to young adults as they are amusing.

José M. Ferrer


[Marshall] and everyone else involved [in The Dick Van Dyke Show] have a right to be proud. Somewhere in each installment … there is at least one laugh—a real honest-to-goodness, right-in-your-own-living-room, out-loud laugh every week. What higher praise can ever be given to a situation comedy?…

[But the show is, after all,] only a husband-and-wife thing where the husband happens to be a comedy writer. He still stutters as he proposes, panics when his son is born, leaps to wrong conclusions at the drop of a slip of paper. In short he is your average, amiable idiot of a TV husband. But there is one important exception to the foregoing. Neither he nor any of the others are average, amiable, idiot TV performers. The actors never jump out of character for the sake of a laugh. They stay real amidst the plot twists. The humor comes from the juxtaposition of believable people and absurd events, and for an added dividend it keeps the situations, no matter how hoary, seeming fresh.

José M. Ferrer, "A Good Show Quits While It's Ahead," in Life (Life © 1966 Time Inc.; all rights reserved), Vol. 60, No. 22, June 3, 1966, p. 15.

Howard Thompson

This tired, aimlessly frisky comedy ["How Sweet It Is!"] is about as sweet as a dill pickle….

Unfortunately, what begins as a bouncy frolic about a fortyish couple involved with some teen-age girls on a European tour starts meandering, then flounders in a welter of stale gags, and finally does an inane nosedive.

The basic idea, in the screen play by Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson, is not bad, the joke being that [Mom and Pop] aren't getting any younger and can't communicate with their teen-age son, with his hippie haircut and a mind of his own. Europe is supposed to change or at least clarify things….

[Once] the picture plunks down on the Italian Riviera, or Hollywood with some post-card backdrops, it airily goes to pieces….

The volume increases, in some broad, sexual teasing that dates back to "Up in Mabel's Room." And the grand finale, a deafening scramble in a bordello, is as vulgar, infantile and unfunny as it can be….

There is one genuinely funny bit of business in an early scene when [Mom], sporting dark glasses and a compound hangover, gropes her way aboard an ocean liner. The real humor ends about then and there. Lady, you should have missed the boat.

Howard Thompson, "'How Sweet It Is!'" in The New York Times (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), August 22, 1968 (and reprinted in The New York Times Film Reviews, The New York Times Company, 1971, p. 3780).

[How Sweet It Is!, a] febrile farce, betrays its videosyncrasies wherever it meanders…. [A] magazine photographer named Grif finds that he cannot communicate with his hippie dippy son. When the boy decides to tour Europe, his meddle-class mother … decides to fill the generation gap by taking a house in France for the summer. Togetherness swiftly degenerates into apartheid.

The boy sulks, pop takes up with a willowy tour guide, and mom settles down with a handsome French millionaire. Like all TV sitcoms, How Sweet It Is! culminates in a stock comedy scene. This time it takes place in an Italian bordello, where too many kooks spoil the brothel….

This is the kind of comedy that calls for gales of canned laughter on television—which is really the only kind that canned comedy deserves.

"'How Sweet It Is!'" in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc. 1968), Vol. 92, No. 11, September 13, 1968, p. 99.

John J. O'Connor

"Happy Days" is a little more than the same old Henry Aldrich sandwich, dressed with the salt of more "relevance" and the store-bought mayonnaise of nostalgia. Taking its cue for potential success from such movies as "American Graffiti," the series is set in the nineteen-fifties and features the experience of a naive and cute-as-a-button teen-ager named Richie Cunningham….

Richie and his friends are supposed to be "revealing of the relatively carefree life and life styles of young people in those bygone, happy, innocent days." But of course those days were neither more happy nor more innocent than any other days. That's the trouble with nostalgia. It's dishonest. And within the context of a situation comedy it's more dishonest than usual….

For all of its innuendoes, the show is well-scrubbed.

All of this is set in standard time-machine gimmicks. "Rock Around the Clock," blares from the juke-box at the local drive-in "passion pit." The boys have short hair, the girls favor ponytails. The dialogue is dotted with lines like, "Man, oh, man, you got it made in the shade." It's still Henry Aldrich, updated with nostalgia.

John J. O'Connor, "'Happy Days' and 'Chopper One' Prove Familiar Fare As A.B.C. Entries," in The New York Times (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 17, 1974, p. 79.∗

John J. O'Connor

"Happy Days" is something that could be good but, evidently, has decided to go the familiar route of "Dobie Gillis," "Father Knows Best," "Henry Aldrich" and "Andy Hardy." A ripoff of such movies as "American Graffiti" …, it is set in the fifties and is liberally sprinkled with the songs, clothes and props of the period.

[Richie Cunningham], complete with adorable and understanding parents and siblings, is the attractive naive one, supposedly representing what the network sees as the innocence of the period. [Richie] and his friends seem to spend most of their time trying to make out with the ponytailed girls. The girls chew gum a lot and apparently are turned on most by the size of a fella's car. [Richie] could be—might still turn out to be—charming if he weren't so selectively stupid.

John J. O'Connor, "The 'Second Season' Is Second Best," in The New York Times, Section II (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 3, 1974, p. 19.∗


["Happy Days"] is a sitcom about the ostensibly innocent fifties. The decade itself is presumed to be a sitcom….

Richie, Potsie and Fonzie are fixated on ponytails. They spend one half-hour wondering how "to go all the way" with a ponytail. They spend another half-hour wondering whether, if they had a car, they would automatically get a ponytail. They spend a third half-hour getting drunk with some Marines, in order to make themselves more worthy of ponytails….

If all this strikes you as "Ozzie and Harriet" with hair on their palms, you're right. Come back, Ricky Nelson, all is forgiven. Amazing: So many people behaved the way they did in the fifties because the sitcoms of that...

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Richard Schickel

[Happy Days] is the American Graffiti rip-off in which the producers made off with the movie's star (Ron Howard) and its ambience (small-town America in the 1950s), but with none of the sensitivity and sensibility that made the film memorable.

Graffiti's adolescents were caught at a moment of subtle tension, when their comfortable pleasure with the familiar was challenged by their yearnings for a larger, more stimulating world—a world that scared them, yet beckoned them on into adulthood. Happy Days' teen-agers hang around the same drive-ins, drive the same hot-rods, listen to the same rock music, but otherwise bear no resemblance to Graffiti's kids. Instead they...

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John J. O'Connor

["Laverne and Shirley"] did not enter ratings combat unarmed. It had a secret weapon called Fonzarelli, more commonly known as "The Fonz." In the beginning, only a couple of seasons ago, there was "Happy Days"…. [In] TV's case, 1950's nostalgia was fastened to a group of youthful characters in Milwaukee. The focus was put on Richie Cunningham … and his typical American family, not too far removed from the Henry Aldrich syndrome. Outside of the Cunningham home, though, Richie was allowed to cavort at the local drive-in restaurant with his friends. One, the distinct outsider in Richie's clean-cut world, turned out to be Arthur Fonzarelli …, a garage mechanic with a tough swagger and the required heart of gold. The...

(The entire section is 429 words.)

Harry F. Waters

When it comes to class, Laverne and Shirley are to Phyllis, Rhoda and Mary Richards what beer is to Beaujolais. In fact, TV's newest career girls are so blue-collar they actually work in a brewery…. [The] time is 1959. Laverne De Fazio, three years out of Millard Fillmore High, is a flip but homely type with a bad case of virginal angst…. Shirley Feeney, Laverne's prim, diminutive roommate, comes across as a size-5 version of Doris Day….

ABC's "Laverne and Shirley" may sound terminally dumb, but the second-season sitcom has proved to be dynamite in the ratings….

But "Laverne and Shirley" has a bit more going for it than shrewd scheduling. Nostalgia, for instance. Its...

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Frank Rich

ABC's shows do not pretend to deal with topical issues, and their premises are brazenly retrograde. Happy Days copies Dobie Gillis…. Laverne and Shirley's slapstick antics—usually built around wild schemes to earn money or meet men—are often indistinguishable from the adventures of Lucy and Ethel on I Love Lucy.

Upon closer examination, however, the new shows prove to be quite unlike the older ones whose formulas they borrow; plots and characters may be similar, but the message they deliver is not. ABC's blockbusters are downright obsessed with two subjects—youth and sex—that were never too important to earlier successful series. Obviously this twin fixation strikes a...

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Marvin Kitman

[Mork and Mindy] is one of the few shows intelligent people are not ashamed to admit they watch. I have seen it myself maybe 11 or 12 times already—such is my pursuit of duty and love of scholarship….

Born on the planet Ork, [Mork] came to the United States in an egg. Mindy—supposedly the normal one—is a typical American girl. Funny things can happen when their cultures clash.

This is a very original premise, especially considering that it was thought up by Garry Marshall and family. Marshall is the man responsible for Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley—the blockbusters of the mid-'70s—and numerous mutants. All of these were created by a highly complicated...

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Richard Corliss

It remained for Garry Marshall … to blend the two dominant forms of sitcom forms into a single, notoriously popular show: Laverne & Shirley (1976–). We can be even more specific: Marshall and co-creators Mark Rothman and Lowell Ganz invented a single character … Shirley Feeney—who could express both slapstick and sentiment, who was both Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore.

The idea here was to put a Mary Richards character into Lucy situations, and to play her adorable fastidiousness against a more pragmatic, good-time-Charlotte colleague: … Laverne De Fazio. Marshall, Ganz, and Rothman had turned the trick before, in The Odd Couple (1971–75) … and it was frequently a...

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Karl E. Meyer

Mork and Mindy is the classiest of the lot [of new television shows]—the very best garbage in the trough…. Mork provides an unlikely showcase for the outsize talent of Robin Williams, who is to the typical junk television performer what Horowitz is to Liberace….

What Williams can't overcome is the trash formula, which imprisons a basic situation in permafrost. In a line stretching from Mister Ed and My Favorite Martian to Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley (the latter two produced by the team responsible for Mork and Mindy), the same essential joke is endlessly recycled. The possibility for surprise is zero. Until the final episode, we may be...

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David A. England

The humaneness of the Fonz is one of the most unfortunate oversights in many of our students' viewing weeks. In our day, the Fonz is a throwback, not only to the halcyon days of the fifties (my, how we romanticize the past!), but also to a time when right and wrong were easier to define, when one could be both "cool" and respectful, and to a time when teenaged passion was an innocuous as a kiss. True, kisses meted out by the Fonz are frequent and lengthy, but he is recognized by others in the series as being good at other things as well—as well as being consistently good.

I have a nagging feeling that judged by contemporary adolescent standards, the Fonz would be considered "out of it." He...

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Frank Rich

It is not a pretty world on display at the Winter Garden [in "The Roast"]…. Jerry Belson and Garry Marshall, two television writers, want nothing more than to expose the seamiest side of their own business. Their characters are comedians—beloved comedians, talented comedians, superstars—and they are all sick. They alternately grovel and backbite, hoping to advance their careers and settle old scores. They dream of hookers and money, of drugs and power, of sit-com spinoffs and extended engagements on "Hollywood Squares." The wounds from their poor, immigrant childhoods have never healed; they've gotten even by destroying their own wives and children. Still, they have an instinct for survival: these comedians...

(The entire section is 502 words.)