From the Archives: Remembering Garry Marshall

Movies Features

Garry Marshall, one of the most successful writer-director-producers in the history of television, and the director of such hit films as Pretty Woman, The Princess Diaries, Runaway Bride and Valentine’s Day, died on July 19 at the age of 81. Film Journal International pays tribute with excerpts from our January 1989 interview with Marshall, just before the release of his popular Bette Midler-Barbara Hershey drama, Beaches.

"You popped your eyes for four pictures and they made a fortune. Let’s see if we can make a dollar without popping the eyes.”

Such was Garry Marshall’s advice to Bette Midler when he signed on to direct Beaches, the comedy star’s first dramatic vehicle since The Rose and her first venture as a producer. The Touchstone film provides Midler with a screen character not unlike herself—CC Bloom, a flamboyant entertainer who blossoms into a major stage and recording star. Mary Agnes Donoghue’s adaptation of Iris Rainer Dart’s novel traces the unusual 30-year friendship between CC and Hillary Whitney, a privileged San Franciscan, who first meet as 11-year-old girls on a beach in Atlantic City.

Marshall says Midler was “very, very helpful” in developing the musical side of the film, even going so far as coaching Mayim Bialik, the uncanny lookalike who plays the young CC, in her big musical number. Adds the director, “Bette certainly had a more musical vision of the film than I did. I always felt we could just indicate she was doing a number, but she wanted to do numbers. But as far as the drama and the character, we were very much in synch.”

The director says that he was drawn to Beaches because “I was fascinated with how a female friendship differs from a male friendship. I also liked the piece because it wasn’t a big proto-feminist statement—it was saying whatever you are is okay.”

Beaches follows its two female protagonists through career struggles, rivalry over the same man, estrangement, marital troubles, childbirth and, in its final scenes, serious illness. Marshall half-jokingly describes co-star Barbara Hershey as the “referee” who helped keep the dramatic aspects of the film “real and honest and not too shticky.”

Says Marshall, “In all my years of television, I kept hearing, ‘I want to be loved, I want to be nice. I don’t want to do that—they’ll hate me. That’s weak.’ Then, to come to Barbara, whose choice for Hillary was that she wasn’t so strong—she didn’t care about anything other than getting the character. She played certain aspects of Hillary with weakness and then in strength, which gave it a nice feel.”

When Marshall mentions television, he knows whereof he speaks. Prior to making his feature directing debut in 1982 with Young Doctors in Love, he was one of the home screen’s most successful producers, with such long-running comedy hits as “The Odd Couple,” “Happy Days,” “Laverne and Shirley” and “Mork and Mindy” to his credit. Before that, he and former partner Jerry Belson wrote more than 100 episodes of such '60s series as “The Danny Thomas Show,” “The Lucy Show,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “I Spy.” In features, Marshall has garnered critical respect for deftly mixing comedic and dramatic elements in such films as 1984’s The Flamingo Kid with Matt Dillon and 1986’s Nothing in Common with Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason.

Marshall feels the past year has brought him to a new plateau in his remarkably successful career. “Everything good that’s happened to me in the business is because I’m a writer,” he observes. “It was always, ‘Garry, we’ve got to have you 'cause you gotta fix the script.’ I’ve worked through that over the years, and I feel that after five films now they will hire me as a director. Beaches is the epitome of that, because there was a writers’ strike on and I couldn’t work on the script. I had to be just a director on this. Directing is like tennis—you never learn to do it right, but you get better at it.”