Film Scouts Interviews

Garry Marshall on "Dear God"

by Leslie Rigoulot

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October 24, 1996

It isn't bad enough that it is a cold day with hail pounding the windows, but Garry Marshall, the legendary writer, director and producer of TV, movies and theater has just started the long publicity tour for his latest creation, "Dear God". You probably know Garry; you just don't know you know Garry. He is most easily recognized for his recurring TV role as Stan Lansing, Murphy Brown's boss and Pee Wee Herman's uncle. That gruff manner and accent are not acting, though, and hearing him talk is like enjoying a stand-up routine.


"This is the start of the tour but I went to San Francisco for a few days to see Steve Tisch, our producer, get married. Wine country. Couldn't have it at a nice hotel in LA, so we're driving in the woods in the wine county. But I got to see the grandkids who were in the movie by the way. The one year old babies in the Tim Conway miracle scene. They were staring a Tim Conway quite a bit and one went to sleep and the other cried. No interest in showbiz.

"I have three kids: a writer, a director and a actor. Kathy was the one holding the babies in the scene. Scottie was the second unit director...

"I'm basically a writer. That's what I do. I've written all my life but couldn't figure out what to write. I graduated from journalism school at Northwestern and still didn't know what to write because I wasn't a very good journalist or anything then. I was a musician and a ball player and kept writing 'til I figured out what to write. I was on the New York Daily News and as a copyboy got the most jokes into columns. When I was the sports editor at Northwestern we were zero, eight and one, so I had not much to write about, so I made jokes. But it was the hardest thing in the world for me, still is, filling blank paper. Writing with your mouth is not writing, rewriting is not writing. Filling blank paper is writing. And everything I do stems from that. I seem to be hired to direct and act and produce but it is really because I can write that I get those things. As a director, this is my ninth picture, and I'm learning to write a little bit with the camera. But still they hire me to fix the script and rewrite the scenes. Writing is my favorite and I hate it. Scottie my son comes out of the American Film Institute and is a better technical director than Penny or me but not as funny. He's coming along. Producing is just refereeing. I did that for twenty years in television. Lately, I've liked best of all acting. Penny says, 'I'm gonna act again. I sit in a nice chair and they fuss with my hair. This is too hard what we're doing!' So maybe we're gonna act and let Scot direct. You know people mistake me for Penny's husband even though she's my sister. But it is better than being mistaken for her father!

"I love being Stan on 'Murphy Brown'. It's attacking all the people who were not nice to me. I think TV is doing better because of all the cable people who are willing to do the small stories that films won't do anymore because they can't afford it. 'Dear God' didn't get the big stars but the studio said 'if you bring it in under twenty-two or twenty-three (million dollars) you won't hear from us'. So I said give me the kid from TV (Greg Kinnear) and we'll go. I didn't hear from them the whole shoot. After they came! The average movie is thirty to thirty-three million so they won't take a chance on things. You gotta be funny if you got no blood and no explosions or big names. TV can do the small picture. And it used to be that funny guys went on to movies. Now they go to TV. The money is better and they can be there for a longer time. And the smart ones, like Seinfeld, surround themselves with funny people. But to do the Frank Capra-Preston Sturges type of film, which 'Dear God' is, is very hard because the society is not a sentimental society. It is a cynical society. That's why we've made the film much edgier than we would have years ago. I still sneak in the warm moments but you have to balance it for young people. On TV what they can't do is blow things up. Sitcoms are getting tighter and tighter. When I did 'Happy Days' we had casts of thousands. Now they have head shots of people sipping coffee. It is very witty but they do a lot of topical now. And censorship, well they wouldn't let Fonzie say the word 'virgin'. We said, 'She was as pure as snow but she drifted.' It challenged the writers!

"It warmed my heart that 'Entertainment Weekly' said my show 'The Odd Couple' will never die. And Jack Klugman is in the movie. Had a little problem with his throat but he is fine. Always very helpful when I have a newcomer like Greg Kinnear, who I think has got the goods, to surround him with talent. He can wear a tie, do a joke and kiss a girl! You can't find that anymore. They want someone who can throw a hand grenade. They all talk loud because they have to talk over the gunfire! But when you use a new guy you make sure it isn't a gamble. When Robin Williams first entered 'Happy Days' he had Penny and Cindy on one side and Henry and Ron Howard on the other."

"I have final approval [of casting]. I saw a movie called "Leaving Las Vegas" which everybody said 'dark' or 'great acting' but I walked out of that picture and immediately said, 'Hire the casting director of that film for me!' She had such a varied group in there. Carrie Frasier is the one and we got her. She brought in lots of people and we tested them in with Greg. Usually I ask Hector (Elizondo) 'Here's the picture. What do you want?" and which toupee he wants to wear! Hector's very hot now so he wanted to do a Russian accent. We balance that with newcomers. Not just my relatives, although Kathleen [Marshall, his daughter] is in it. And the young priest is a guy from MTV. Never really did a movie but I always wanted to do a scene with young people discussing God. We have great respect for God and I think young people should know there is something going on: there is a sense of kindness in the world. Young priest and young guy. My wife was the nun; she always works one day. And I have the part as the postmaster.

"I used to write under a Japanese name. Did a lot of 'Love American Style' under that name and wanted to use it for my credit. But they said no. And then I wanted to use Stan Lansing, my character on 'Murphy Brown' but they would have to get permission. So it is uncredited. You can't have any fun anymore!"


But it sure sounds like Garry Marshall is having plenty of fun! 'Dear God' opens November 1st.

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