Garry Marshall, the beloved director, writer, producer, and Northwestern alumnus visited campus to screen his most recent film, Mother’s Day, and regale a packed house with his wit and warmth during a post-movie Q&A.
The romantic comedy follows several different characters, including a widower, a recently divorced mom who finds out her ex eloped with a younger woman, and sisters whose life paths disappoint their conservative mother.
“This is not exactly my audience,” Marshall joked during the Q&A, moderated by radio/television/film lecturer Zina Camblin, at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on May 10. “But they did very well.”
Marshall, who has directed 18 films, including the blockbusters Pretty Woman, Beaches and The Princess Diaries, also wrote and produced iconic TV series such as Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy and The Odd Couple.
“I do pictures where no one flies or blows things up,” he quipped. “I make films that I think celebrate the human spirit and I’ll continue to do that.”
When asked if he thought rom-coms and sitcoms were dying, he said he thought there was always a place for good storytelling.
“I know they say it’s over, that there’s going to be no more rom-coms, and yet, we’re still making them,” he said. “In cave man days, they used to say, ‘Hey, let’s go to Murray’s cave. He’ll tell us a funny story.’ It’s still the same today. It’s about the story.”
When asked about his focus on women, both in film and in television, Marshall said he never thought about not including women.
“I have daughters, sisters, and a granddaughter now who’s a sophomore at Northwestern,” he said. “Females are a part of our world.”
He went on to describe how his sister, Penny Marshall, was actually told years ago by a producer that “women’s minds don’t come up with ideas for a mass market.”
“He actually said this to her,” Marshall said. “But my sister is tough. Then, with movies, if you hit the $100 million mark, that meant you’d made it. Well, my sister hit that mark with a movie called Big with Tom Hanks. She was the first woman to do that.”
Marshall also talked about his early days working as a writer on sitcoms.
“I don’t know if some of you know this, but there’s a little thing in this business called rejection,” he said, recalling how his very first script to Lucille Ball for The Lucy Show was rejected, bluntly, with some profanity scribbled atop. “Now, of course, I could sell that for a million bucks.”
Marshall said he learned that tenacity and not giving up were vital to him finding his way in the writer’s room. He credited a writing class at Northwestern for giving him the skills he needed, in which students were asked to write under pressure while contending with distractions such as fire alarms and yelling people.
“I’ve had to write under even more pressure than that,” said the 1956 Medill graduate. “But I learned back then in that class the important thing was to finish.”
Marshall, who’s currently working on a musical version of Pretty Woman, which is likely headed to Broadway next year, said his experience at Northwestern was fundamental in making him the writer and director he is today.
“I tell everyone that college is important,” he says. “In college, you can try things and fail and they don’t hit you or anything. In real life, if you fail, they might fire you. Here, if you fail too much, they might kick you out, maybe, but it’s better to fail here and then go get a snack at Norris.”
Michele Rogers, who works at the Kellogg School of Management, said she came to the event because she was a fan of Marshall.
“I’m a little older and I grew up watching his shows,” Rogers said. “There was something just so heartwarming about them. Now, of course, I watch Billions and Game of Thrones, but there’s always going to be a special place in my heart for his shows.”
By Cara Lockwood