In Brief(s) for Garry Marshall
"Young man, thank you for taking your pants off for us."
That was the last thing I heard from Garry Marshall which was typical of his great charm and humor. Before you get the wrong idea, I was doing a play at the time with the Falcon Theater which he operated with his daughter, Kathleen. The play, 'One Slight Hitch' was written by Lewis Black (Daily Show) and had as one of its zany plot convolutions a spurned, protagonist ex-boyfriend returning to disrupt a wedding. Shortly after arriving he loses his clothes and comedy ensued for two entire acts, or so I hoped, because I was said ex-boyfriend.
Garry, sadly, passed away this week. As any one of my generation or before they are indelibly influenced by his legacy. If you had a television you simply didn't have choice. I'll leave it to others to enumerate his works elsewhere but it felt ubiquitous often. There was an actual period where I could tell the time simply by the opening theme songs to 'Happy Days', 'Laverne and Shirley' or 'Mork and Mindy'.
Often, as a fan or viewer, you can get a vibe of some nostalgic remorse as part of your childhood passes with such news. While certainly that is true of Garry I'd like to posit another aspect that I'm sure many will attest to in his remembrance. The notion of 'HOLLYWOOD' can carry a lot of pretensions, weight and expectations. Big-time producers, directors and such can be imposing people to meet let alone audition before. Garry was definitely big-time...but you wouldn't guess it by meeting him.
I had actually met him the first time the year I arrived in Los Angeles, 1994. I was reading for any and everything and found my way to an industrial video designed to help and inform young hopefuls coming into the industry. I was reading for "the new kid" who didn't have a clue, needed information and was asking a lot of questions. In other words, "type-casting". Falling upwards, I made it to the final round of casting, what they call a 'chemistry test' with the other lead actress. I got the call that I was to meet Garry Marshall in his office and perform.
Yeah, from a SAG wanna-be to showing Garry Marhsall what I can do in his office. Gulp.
I showed up ON TIME and sat knocking knees nervously. I doubt I had slept much. The actress and I whispered questions about things actors do like, "Who's gonna be in there?", 'Is this being recorded?" "Is HE actually going to be there?"..."How's my breath?"
Then the door flew open and that characteristic big smile filled the frame and he said "Come on in!" like we were visiting a relative. In seconds all those prefabricated cliches about what you think a big producer or director was supposed to be flew out the window. It's almost off-putting in avuncular gregariousness. Sure, I was still nervous (I wanted the job) but he couldn't have made it any easier.
Years later as I performed at the Falcon that spirit of inclusive, unpretentious work ethic permeated everything. From Kathleen on down to how they treated the actors with respect and created a professional environment for actors to do their work and have fun. On opening night, I remember standing in the lobby with my girlfriend (now wife) and Garry talked us up to the roof. He complimented, laughed and was so accessible I wondered if we'd be doing bbq's together after the show.
I remember as I made the rounds of the meet-and-greets looking back to see him talking to my wife. He sat there listening and interacting and I had that wow moment. His eyes never glossed over, he didn't look around for anyone better to talk to. He was just a real person who was generally kind and interested. And funny.
We all gathered back into the theater. Just the cast and crew to sort of salute all the work we had put in and say a sort of here-we-go to our run, Garry turned at the last moment and popped that line out about my pant dropping charity. Stunned at the poignancy, all I could think was "say something funny". I couldn't.
I looked across the theater and shouted out with as big of a smile and shouted, "THANK YOU GARRY MARSHALL!"
I meant it then. I mean it now.
Rest in peace, Garry Marshall. You will be missed by those who enjoyed your work and those who benefitted by the spirit of your company.