News of the death Tuesday of actor/producer/director/writer Garry Marshall started a debate in the office as to which of his many works is his biggest accomplishment.
If you look at his body of TV work, the argument could be made for “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley,” both the old and new versions of “The Odd Couple” or “Mork & Mindy.” (It’s close, but “Happy Days” was a very successful comedy that also spawned so many other programs.)
It was on the spinoff of “Mork & Mindy” that the world got its first big look at the genius of Robin Williams. Spinoffs like “Joanie Loves Chachi” didn’t find big success but still remain a part of the discussion of the world of TV comedy.
Marshall had fun working in television. During an interview to talk about his bringing “The Odd Couple” back, Marshall talked about how he dealt with absurd comments from network executives while making the original TV series in the early ’70s.
“The network was so afraid that the audience would think there was two gay characters. So every week, they said, ‘Put more girls in. Put more girls in.’ ”
His response was to get series stars Jack Klugman and Tony Randall to shoot little moments where they hugged and kissed and would send that footage to the executives just to make them crazy.
Not everything Marshall did on TV was a hit. But he took the good with the bad.
“I did ‘Me and the Chimp,’ so you learn from the past,” Marshall said.
There are several contenders as Marshall’s best-known film work, including “The Flamingo Kid,” “Beaches,” “The Princess Diaries,” “Overboard” and “Pretty Woman.”
Penny Raven’s lifetime friendship
“Pretty Woman” will remain dear to Fresno’s Penny Raven. The former Fresno Bee columnist, candidate for lieutenant governor, socialite and businesswoman had a small role in the 1990 feature film because of a smooch she got from Marshall.
A long friendship between the two formed when Marshall came to Fresno for a charity event in 1974. Raven was a member of the Fresno Cancer League, a fundraising arm of the American Cancer Society.
The special guests for their fundraiser were Marshall, Klugman and Charles Nelson Reilly. Marshall ended his speech by saying that his wife made him promise to kiss the prettiest girl in the room. Raven got that kiss.
Marshall called on Raven to play a woman in an upscale Rodeo Drive clothing store where the snooty sales clerks initially reject the prostitute (played by Julia Roberts) and ask her to leave. They are unaware she’s been given money by her current customer (Richard Gere) to use to buy a new wardrobe.
Marshall explained his inspiration for casting Raven: “We were shooting at a fancy boutique on Rodeo Drive, and I needed an elegant lady to be a customer.”
“Pretty Woman” was the first of three Marshall movies in which Raven appeared. She plays a member of the royal family in “Princess Diaries II” and part of a couple checking into a hotel in “Valentine’s Day.”
It was more than work that brought the two together as they formed a longtime friendship.
“With the passing of Garry Marshall the world has lost a treasure, but the worst part is we have lost a dear, dear friend,” Raven says. “For 42 years, he brightened our lives and those of countless – probably millions – of others. His brilliant wit is well known, but his kindness and generosity were his greatest strengths.
“The birthday cards he sent to me each year with humorous – once he wrote, ‘Fresno rocks!’ – and loving notes were always a highlight of my day. Our hearts go out to Barbara and his family. We are so grateful to them for sharing him with us.”
Visalia boy in Marshall’s last film
Caleb Brown, a 9-year-old actor from Visalia, got to be part of Marshall’s last film. He had a role in “Mother’s Day,” which was released this year.
In an interview to talk about playing the son of Jennifer Aniston’s character in the film, Caleb told me that Marshall’s biggest direction to Caleb was, “This time, let’s try it with no acting. Act without acting.”
The end of “Mother’s Day” filming didn’t end the local actor’s connection to Marshall. Caleb was cast to play the son of guest star Teri Hatcher on an episode of “The Odd Couple,” a series on which Marshall was the executive producer.
None of this clears up whether Marshall is best known for his film or TV work. The best thing to say is that he had a way of making us laugh whether he wrote the words, directed the actor saying the dialogue or delivered the line himself. That kind of broad talent is a rarity and will be missed.
Some of Garry Marshall’s best-known work
“Laverne & Shirley”
“The Odd Couple”
“Mork & Mindy”
“The Flamingo Kid”
“The Princess Diaries”