Gary Marshall, the creator of perhaps the most defining Hollywood rom-coms and sitcoms of the previous century, has died at the age of 81 in a hospital in California. He was suffering from pneumonia. For many growing up through the 1970s and 80s, his name was synonymous with titles that would long outlast its era.
The iconic sitcom Happy Days, which ran for more than a decade from 1974, started Marshall’s meteoric rise to fame. Even today, despite growing up much later, I remember its faces and characters without having to Google them: Richie Cunningham (a young Ron Howard, who was to become one of Hollywood’s greatest directors), his parents Marion and Howard, his sister Joanie and, of course, the upstairs tenant and epitome of leather-jacket coolness, Fonzie (Henry Winkler), the ultimate ladies’ man.
Marshall then even went on to create the famous Mork & Mindy amongst others – which was later to be recalled as talented comic Robin Williams’ first break on television. He went on to executive produce TV serials throughout his career, an achievement that inducted him into the Television Hall Of Fame in the 1990s, only a few years after making perhaps the world’s most popular and watched rom-com – his first major Hollywood blockbuster – Pretty Woman.
Starring Julia Roberts as an endearing prostitute and Richard Gere as the tycoon hiring her, the movie went on to immediately achieve cult-status, not least for its Roy Orbison title song, a 1960s hit that made a raging comeback with the movie. His next major hit, Runaway Bride, seven years later, came with the same acting couple – a rom-com that became a top-draw entertainer even before it was released. Two years later, Marshall introduced the glowing genius of a young Anne Hathaway to the world, with the innovative college-meets-royalty comedy The Princess Diaries. It was to spur many pretenders through the decade in the form of many Cinderella-basedteenage high-school films.
He stayed true to his rom-com roots through the decade, despite never tasting as much success again. He remains one of the only “specialist lightweight romcom” directors of a generation, doing it earlier and better than most did – leading to a change in the Hollywood comedy culture. His final few films were disappointing in their datedness and unwillingness to move past a holiday template despite being multistarrers – Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve and Mother’s Day (2016), starring every possible famous Hollywood star on this planet.
Marshall changed the way Hollywood laughed, and inserted a bit of loving between all those chuckles. His legacy will be seen in perhaps every single quirky “formulaic” rom-com to be made in the coming years – which can be, both, a fortunate reminder and an unfortunate product of his filmography.
But, heyyy (the Fonzie drawl), he started it all.
Somewhere in heaven, on basis of the new entries the last few years alone, Gary Marshall will perhaps be directing a Robin Williams comedy with Anton Yelchin and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, written by Nora Ephron and scored by Prince and David Bowie.
It’ll be a funny, happy and very entertaining place up there.