BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — The home of Garry Marshall’s personal assistant was burglarized.
Thieves took all his valuables, including his extensive DVD collection. They took every DVD except one — the 1988 tear-jerker “Beaches,” which Marshall directed.
When detectives arrived at the crime scene, they took one look at the lone DVD sitting on the floor and concluded that the thieves had to be men.
Marshall tells that story with a laugh and no apologies. The 77-year-old filmmaker is proud that he is so adept at making “chick flicks,” including “Pretty Woman” “Runaway Bride” and “The Princess Diaries.”
His new movie, “New Year’s Eve,” which opens Friday, is not exactly a chick flick, but romance is at the heart of this ensemble film that weaves several stories against the backdrop of New Year’s Eve in Times Square.
The film, a follow-up to Marshall’s earlier holiday-themed ensemble piece “Valentine’s Day,” stars Oscar winners (Halle Berry, Robert De Niro, Hilary Swank) and nominees (Michelle Pfeiffer), music stars (Jon Bon Jovi, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), young stars (Zac Efron, Abigail Breslin), network TV stars (Lea Michele, Ashton Kutcher, Sofia Vergara) cable stars (Sarah Jessica Parker), late-night stars (Seth Meyers), and incredibly good-looking stars (Katherine Heigl, Jessica Biel, Josh Duhamel).
And, of course, it includes his good-luck charm — veteran character actor Hector Elizondo, who appears in every Garry Marshall film.
Just after lunch in his Beverly Hills hotel suite, Marshall explained how he handles so many Hollywood egos without wanting to jump off a building, how he ended up writing, directing and producing movies when he started out as a drummer and what he really wanted to be when he grew up.
He also would have discussed his early TV work, which including writing on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Lucy Show,” and creating the hit sitcoms “Happy Days” and “Laverne&Shirley,” but at least half the allotted time was wasted on a conversation about softball, a passion for both Marshall and the interviewer.
Q. What was your original ambition — to be a drummer or a comedy writer?
A. It was to play shortstop for the New York Yankees.
A. Absolutely. I wanted to be Phil Rizzuto. I was from the Bronx, and everybody wanted to be a Yankee.
Q. When did that dream die?
A. At 14, my best friend and I went to tryouts in Newark. We realized that they were all better than us. Then I was going to be drummer and play at Carnegie Hall. That didn’t work out. And then I was going to be a journalist. I graduated from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern. We had four future Pulitzer Prize winners in our class, and they were better than me as well.
Q. You must have been very discouraged at this point?
A. Not really. Even though they were all better than me, they used to tell the teacher to read my stories out loud instead of theirs because my stories were funny. As good as those other guys were, they weren’t funny. The teacher thought I would be best as a columnist, but that didn’t work out, so I spent two years in Korea, and then came back and went to work for the New York Daily News. I started as a copy boy and stayed about two years.
Q. How did that lead to comedy writing?
A. Even at Northwestern, my writing partner and I would send in jokes to comics, and sometimes they would pay us in food or a sweater. Then, through a comic named Phil Foster, we met Joey Bishop, who guest-hosted on “The Tonight Show,” where Jack Paar liked us and used us full-time. I was working during the day at the Daily News and making $55 a week, and then working for Paar at night for $300.
Q. Did you stay long with Paar?
A. Not too long. When he heard I worked at the newspaper, he was upset because he said the papers were all against him. I told him I wasn’t a spy, but that was the end.
Q. When you look back at your career, does it make sense that you moved from just writing to writing and producing and then writing, producing and directing your own stuff?
A. What I really am is a writer. But they kept changing my writing, and ignoring me, so the next logical step was to create my own show, so they let me produce. The first thing I did when I became producer was to hire myself as a director. And then I cast myself as an actor, so I got to join all the unions.
Q. How serious was your acting career?
A. I only act as a substitute. Every big acting job I ever had was a result of someone else falling out at the last minute.
Q. In particular, I’d like to discuss your role as a casino manger in Albert Brooks’ “Lost in America,” which is the funniest thing you’ve ever done.
A. Albert was my sister Penny’s (director Penny Marshall) best friend, and he came over to the house once and said he needed someone unknown to play a gangster. In “A League of Their Own,” I did it as a favor to my sister when Christopher Walken fell out. Another one, Marty Landau fell out and I stepped in. When someone falls out on a Thursday, who are you going to get by Monday except me?
Q. Your new movie is about New Year’s Eve. Does that holiday hold any special significance for you?
A. I proposed to my wife on New Year’s Eve (they’ll be married 49 years in March).
Q. I don’t expect you to trash your actors, but wasn’t it difficult to deal with all these massive egos in a star-studded cast?
A. Actors don’t intimidate me. I grew up in the Bronx, where they hit you in the face. An ego can’t hurt you. If I met a great athlete like Ted Williams or Albert Pujols, I couldn’t speak, but not an actor. My only problem with them is logistical — trying to work around their schedules. Logistics was a nightmare.
Q. How do you handle these big actors?
A. It’s the same sensitivity you learn anywhere. For instance, we heard from Jon Bon Jovi’s representatives that he couldn’t show up on a certain day, so I went directly to Jon and asked him what the problem was. He said, “It’s my daughter’s first day at college and I’ve got to take her.” I said, “Of course you do. I can shift the schedule.” That’s all it takes. Just talk to them.
Q. Which of your successes surprised you the most?
A. “Pretty Woman” surprised me a lot. I was having financial problems at the time, and I wasn’t expecting it to be so big. It was very dark at first. People were dying in it, but I fixed it. And Julia (Roberts) was great. She went zoom after that.
Q. They call you the master of chick flicks?
A. So what? I like that.
Q. What’s your secret?
A. I’m a Scorpio, I’m Italian and I have sisters and daughters, so I’m used to female problems. I understand them. I like women. I like the way they deal with problems. My father had a fight with his brother and they didn’t talk for 30 years. Women fight, and say the worst things to each other. An hour later, they go shopping.
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