- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Garry Marshall, the creative force behind the TV series “Happy Days” and the smash movie “Pretty Woman,” died Tuesday at age 81.

Publicist Michelle Bega issued a statement to reporters saying Mr. Marshall had died in Burbank, California, of pneumonia from which he was suffering as a complication from a recent earlier stroke.

Mr. Marshall was one of the biggest names in ‘70s television, starting as the executive producer of the “Odd Couple” series with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, before moving on be a leading force in the era’s ‘50s nostalgia craze.

He wrote the pilot for the show that became “Happy Days” and became the show’s creator and executive producer throughout its 1974-1984 run. The 1950s Milwaukee-set sitcom, which starred Ron Howard and gave the world “The Fonz,” also spawned the spinoffs “Laverne & Shirley” and “Mork & Mindy.”

All three shows regularly topped the weekly Nielsen ratings and “Happy Days” and “Laverne & Shirley” were the overall year’s best-rated shows at least once.

Besides Mr. Howard, already well-known from “The Andy Griffith Show,” Mr. Marshall’s shows also made a star and later a film director of his sister Penny (who played Laverne) and launched the decades-long career of Robin Williams (who played Mork).

As the shows ran their course, Mr. Marshall turned his attention to directing feature films, a career path not common at the time for TV-sitcom directors, who were widely looked down on then, something of which Mr. Marshall was quite aware.

“Critics have knocked me for targeting society’s lowest common denominator,” he wrote in his 1995 autobiography, “Wake Me When It’s Funny.”

“I believe that television was, and still is, the only medium that can truly reach society’s lowest common denominator and entertain those people who maybe can’t afford a movie or a play. So why not reach them and do it well?” he asked.

His debut feature was “Young Doctors in Love,” a soap-opera parody from 1982 and several of his mid-80s films were modestly successful before he hit gold at the end of the decade with “Beaches,” a Bette Midler melodrama that grossed more than $50 million, a tidy sum then, but became an even bigger hit on the fledgling home video market.

His next film was the one that defined his career — the 1990 romantic-comedy smash “Pretty Woman,” about a businessman falling in love with the escort/prostitute he hires for a weekend.

The “Cinderella”-type fantasy film grossed nearly $180 million, made Julia Roberts one of the world’s biggest stars, and resurrected the career of Richard Gere, who’d become somewhat of a punch line in the late-80s.

He directed another dozen movies, with the biggest hits among them being 1999’s “Runaway Bride” which reunited Miss Roberts and Mr. Gere, and the 2001 film “The Princess Diaries,” which featured Julie Andrews and made a star of debuting Anne Hathaway.

According to Ms. Bega’s statement, there will be a private funeral, but a public memorial is scheduled for Nov. 13, which would’ve been his 82nd birthday.

He is survived by his wife Barbara, and three children, Lori, Kathleen and Scott.

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