Before writer-director-producer Garry Marshall, 76, clicked in Hollywood (his first hit was “Pretty Woman,” he had a smash with “Valentine’s Day” and he’s trying that film’s holiday ensemble formula again with “New Year’s Eve”) he was a sports journalist, jazz drummer and gag writer.
Before writer-director-producer Garry Marshall clicked in Hollywood (his first hit was “Pretty Woman,” he had a smash with “Valentine’s Day” and he’s trying that film’s holiday ensemble formula again with “New Year’s Eve”) he was a sports journalist, jazz drummer and gag writer.
Then he wrote for a number of comedy series, including “The Joey Bishop Show,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and, oops, “Me and the Chimp.”
Talent, good luck and plenty of chutzpah got him to a producer’s seat, where he eventually created shows including “Happy Days,” “Mork and Mindy” and “Laverne and Shirley,” which co-starred his younger sister, Penny.
A chat with Marshall revealed that the Bronx native has a soft spot for Boston, or at least for Red Sox chairman and Harvard grad Tom Werner, whom he referred to as a friend and an influence early in Marshall’s career.
“He was an executive at ABC when I was selling my TV shows,” said Marshall, over frozen yogurt. “He was one of the people who helped buy ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Laverne and Shirley.’”
Marshall gave up TV in the 1980s, and he grabbed for the gold of directing movies, regularly hitting (e.g. “Runaway Bride”) and missing (e.g. “Exit to Eden”). The star-studded “Valentine’s Day” hit big, pulling in about $200 million. A sequel, of sorts, was inevitable.
“The studio certainly noticed the money it made,” said Marshall. “And ‘New Year’s Eve’ came about pretty fast. I’m not a religious person, but God has a sense of humor, and life is sometimes not good.
“So, with the success of ‘Valentine’s Day,’ opening at $60 million, two weeks later, I was diagnosed with cancer of the neck and throat. I got treatment for it, and by the time I finished that, the studio said, ‘We’ve got another script. Do you want to read it?’ So I read it, and they went right to work on it. Now, they’re muttering about Thanksgiving. But I don’t know if I’ll do another holiday picture.”
“Valentine’s Day” featured an all-ages, all-star cast going through separate romantic comedy stories in Los Angeles on that candy-coated holiday. “New Year’s Eve” does the same thing, with a mostly different cast, at the end/beginning of the year in New York City. Marshall and scriptwriter Katherine Fugate had the task of making the follow-up similar to yet different from its predecessor.
“A friend of mine came to see ‘New Year’s Eve’ and said, ‘You made the same picture as ‘Valentine’s Day,’” recalled an exasperated-sounding Marshall. “I said, ‘Well, it’s not exactly the same picture.’”
He immediately cheered up and explained, “I’ve always wanted to do a Christmas picture. I love ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and ‘Miracle on 34th Street.’ Every TV show I ever did had a big Christmas episode. But I never got a movie script better than what other people were doing. Finally, they said ‘New Year’s Eve,’ and I said, ‘Well, that’s close enough!’ I asked the studio what they wanted me to do different than I did with ‘Valentine’s Day,’ and they said to try and make this one a little more emotional.’ So I worked very hard to do some more serious base stories in this one.”
“New Year’s Eve” features, among many others, Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Hilary Swank, Josh Duhamel, Halle Berry, Zac Efron, Katherine Heigl, Sarah Jessica Parker and, watch out, Jon Bon Jovi. But having a huge cast in front of him wasn’t a big challenge for Marshall, 76.
“At my age, I know a lot of these people,” he said, “and my sister, Penny, knows everyone else.”
Still, there’s a difference between knowing the actors and having to direct them in a series of seemingly unrelated stories. But the task wasn’t out of Marshall’s comfort zone.
“There’s all sorts of directing I do. But Penny and I are from the begging school,” he said, then shouted as an example, “It’s late! I got a headache! Please, do the scene, for God’s sake!”
Marshall laughed at that, then added, “I think what I bring to it is that I make sure no one is ever embarrassed. All the cast knows if they ever do something that’s not good, it’ll be right out. If it’s funny, it stays in the gag reel, but if it doesn’t work, it’s out. And I rarely say anything too negative. My best line is, ‘Well, if we’re going to do it like that, this movie’s going straight to video. Otherwise we can try it a different way.’ But I will say they can try it their way. So we try it their way, then I say, ‘OK, now let’s try it my way.’
“For instance, with Zac Efron, in this one, since there’s a bit of an age difference between us, I’d say to him, ‘Say the line the way that you would say it.’ He did, then I’d tell him, ‘Well, you used the word “bro” seven times.’ I would cut it down to two ‘bros,’ then, ‘say it that way.’ So I let them do what they want, then I lead them.”
Marshall smiled, probably to himself over that comment, and said, “We shoot it both ways, then in editing, once in a while, I see that they’re right.”
His smile turned into a big grin, and he admitted, “Sometimes I do make mistakes.”