Director-producer Garry Marshall in April 2012. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)
In his new autobiography, "My Happy Days in Hollywood," which he co-wrote with his daughter Lori, Garry Marshall recalls the time in his life when he wasn't very happy — producing the 1976-83 ABC comedy series "Laverne & Shirley."
"It was a tough show," recalled the gregarious Marshall with his trademark Bronx accent, in his memorabilia-filled office at his Falcon Theatre in Burbank.
It was the opposite of the carefree set of "Happy Days," the ABC series about the Cunningham family and leather-jacket clad Fonzie (Henry Winkler). Marshall produced, directed and wrote episodes of the series, which aired from 1974 to 1984.
"Laverne & Shirley," a spinoff of "Happy Days" that starred Marshall's younger sister Penny and Cindy Williams, wasn't nearly as pleasant. Marshall, 77, recalls that he brought one writer, Arthur Silver, over from "Happy Days" to try to work with the headstrong actresses.
"There are two kinds of writers," explained Marshall. "There are feisty writers and there are calm writers." Silver was a calm one until he worked on the series. One night driving out of the lot in his car, he saw the cast walking out of the soundstage. "He said, 'I almost put my foot on the gas. I don't like that. It's time to get out.' I took him off."
He and Penny, though, overcame their differences. "We're family," he said. "We worked it out. That was a long time ago. We got through it."
Marshall, who will be speaking at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica on May 23, has had a successful Hollywood career for more than 50 years, including writing gigs with then-partner Jerry Belson on "The Joey Bishop Show" and "'The Dick Van Dyke Show," and becoming one of the top TV producer-writer-directors with such popular ABC series as "The Odd Couple" with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, "Happy Days," "Laverne & Shirley" and "Mork & Mindy." He's also helmed such hit films as "Pretty Woman," "The Princess Diaries" and "Valentine's Day." His last film, 2011's "New Year's Eve," just came out on DVD.
He's been married to Barbara, a nurse, since 1963; they have three kids, all of whom have worked with their father. Barbara was a pillar of strength during his battle two years ago with throat cancer in which he endured radiation and chemotherapy concurrently.
"The cure is so hard you can't eat," he said. "I went from 206 to 164 pounds. They said you have to have a pump feed you through your stomach. My wife said, 'I don't think so. I'll make him eat.' It wasn't easy … but you can do anything."
Marshall's mother, Marjorie, was a tap dancer who had a tap school; his father, Tony, was an industrial filmmaker who became a producer and executive producer on his son's TV shows.
"In the book I said a strange thing happened to me when I was getting out of high school — my father noticed me," said Marshall, laughing. "My father was very good at trying to get us out of the Bronx and getting out in the world but he didn't say hello much until we were ready to do that. My mother was in her own world. She was unique and funny."
Marshall even used one of her comments as an inspiration for an episode of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" he penned with Belson. "I was 11 years old," said Marshall. "I have moles on my back. We were on the beach and she said, 'You know you have so many moles on your back I could connect it with a pencil and get a picture.' I didn't take my shirt off at the beach anymore."
He learned life lessons from his mentor, the Rat Pack comic Joey Bishop. "He was never so happy [as a person] but he taught me a lot. He taught me the most important lesson and that is about loyalty. He never stopped you from advancing."
Marshall has been incredibly loyal to Hector Elizondo, who has appeared in every one of Marshall's films since his 1982 feature directorial debut "Young Doctors in Love."
He considers Elizondo to be a good-luck charm because "the process becomes twice as easy with Hector. Whenever I have trouble on a picture I said, 'Hector, help me out here.' With Hector it is like having another director not so much to direct but to calm down the actor. I love to laugh. My mother taught me to laugh. Hector and I laugh together no matter how bad things are."