The passing of a celebrity is now a routine event in Hollywood. It seems like one departs every week. Most register a blink of an eye from me. Not Garry Marshall. Here's somebody we should all salute.
Okay, right from the get-go, Marshall got Len's Lifetime Achievement Award for bringing us "The Odd Couple" with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. But, looking at the large body of work he leaves behind, it's clear that Garry Marshall's TV stuff was never going to win Emmys. And, save for perhaps the critically-acclaimed "Pretty Woman," he wasn't going to win any Oscars either.
And, from the looks of it, Garry Marshall was probably okay with that. Because he focused on making crowd-pleasing entertainment. Funny and light. Hokey and sentimental. All of it geared to make you smile and cry a little at the end when two main characters hug.
Frankly, there's nothing wrong with that.
His recent movies were perfect examples of these Marshall-esque productions. They were all centered around an American holiday and were ideal for all those folks who still frequent Hallmark card stores. These things got skewered by the critics. Well, I caught up to most of them and...well...I enjoyed each and every one of them. Of course, they all featured sloppy sentimentality. But I'd certainly see one of them ahead of seeing the latest "comedy" from the likes of Judd Apatow.
Who's so bad about seeing something that is comfortable? I think Garry Marshall had his finger on that very button of America. That's it is not so bad to be mindlessly entertained.
Marshall wasn't just behind the screen either. This goofy Italian kid from the Bronx with the funny voice made it all work in his favor with some truly classic comedic turns. Watch him as the network boss in "Soapdish" or the baseball owner in sister Penny's "A League of Their Own" or the casino manager in Albert Brooks' "Lost in America." Sheer brilliance.
And, personally for me, his funniest moments were playing another network boss, Stan Lansing, during the last couple of seasons of "Murphy Brown." Indeed, Garry rewrote and improv-ed his lines there into words that were clearly not on the written page. I was there. I saw this happen in front of my eyes. And, with each take of each scene, Marshall made it funnier and funnier.
But, as I reflected on Garry Marshall's passing this week, I was immediately drawn to one movie that he did which I will never forget. Most of you probably have by now.
It wasn't a huge moneymaker and certainly not a darling of the critics, as I look back on its history. But, last Wednesday night, it was the Garry Marshall movie that pulled from my DVD library for another watch. Because this is the film that resonated with me because...well...it was about me.
Oh, not exactly me. But no movie has come close to capturing a few years of my life better than "Nothing in Common."
If you are not familiar with it, a very young Tom Hanks is starting out his career in advertising and the media...just like I did. He's an only child...just like I was. He's on a roll and nothing can stop him....just like I thought. But, suddenly, the phone rings and he learns that his parents, played by Jackie Gleason and Eva Marie Saint, are divorcing.
And life changes...just like it did for me.
It's the moment that happens to a lot of us. That passage of life when roles reverse. The child becomes the parent. The parent becomes the child. When you're an only, you feel it even more. There is loneliness. There is no one to turn to when one or both of your parents become ill. In this film, Jackie Gleason's character faces critical surgery. Indeed, Gleason himself was ill and would die a short while after the film was made. As a matter of fact, I read that Jackie was reluctant to do the movie and kept refusing until Garry Marshall reminded him of something.
"Do you really want the last movie you ever made to be 'Smokey and the Bandit'?"
Gleason signed on immediately.
There is so much in this movie that reminded me of my life the first time I saw it. Thanks to illness, both my parents got old at a relatively young age. And I was on call.
"I lost my contact lens."
"I can't find my driver's license."
"I'm out of toilet tissue."
It all happened to Hanks in the film. It all happened to me in real life. And somehow Garry Marshall melded it together in a way in which we were one in the same. It was all there. The emotions. The loneliness. The ultimate gratification that I wouldn't have wanted to serve my folks in any other way.
There is one moment in the movie that repeated itself verbatim in my life. Jackie Gleason's character and my dad uttered the same line.
They're both going into surgery the next morning. I was there in the room with my dad. And, just like Jackie Gleason's character, my father said the exact same thing.
"Go home. Let me get some rest so I can enjoy the operation tomorrow."
My eyes glistened again when I saw this scene last week. For more than one reason.
I wish I had mentioned this movie to Garry Marshall when I met him. But, unfortunately, it was between scenes of a "Murphy Brown" episode. As timing would have it, the intro happened when we were both standing in front of urinals in the bathroom. And, almost like it was written, I won't forget his words to me as we finished our discussion and our peeing.
"Let's both wash up before we shake hands."
Dinner last night: Tuna melt at the Arclight Cafe.