Garry Marshall, the Actor’s Ally: How the Legendary Director Launched A-List Careers

E! News/July 20, 2016

Julia RobertsRobin WilliamsAnne Hathaway. All Oscar winners. All once strangers to the silver screen. Still, the most prominent common thread in their prolific careers was Garry Marshall.

With a career spanning nearly five decades, the late director, writer, producer and actor had seemingly endless films and television episodes to his name by the time of his unexpected death on July 19. However, upon closer look at his filmography, the same celebrity names continue to appear.

The 81-year-old was known to cast the same group of actors in his films, a notably loyal move in a sea of competing talent. Among those recurring names were Julia RobertsRichard Gere, Hector Elizondo and Anne Hathaway. America first met a then-19-year-old Hathaway when she won the role of the endearingly clumsy misfit-turned-princess Mia Thermopolis in Disney’s The Princess Diaries. The actress would put her career in Marshall’s hands again with the sequel to the franchise, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement and Valentine’s Day. Still, it was her original collaboration with the storied director that truly put her on the map.

“To have a director who allows actors to be involved in the creative process, to be able to say, ‘I’m so sorry, I know you want it this way but my character wouldn’t do it,’ he goes, ‘That’s fine. That’s fine. Let’s figure out how it will work for you,” a young Hathaway said of Marshall’s style during an interview about the first film.

“I’m happy to have known you,” the actress wrote online after his passing. “I can never thank you enough for my life.”

As fate would have it, as Hathaway did press for Diaries, she had expressed a penchant for Julia Roberts and the Marshall collaboration that also helped make her a Hollywood name—Pretty Woman. 

By 1990, the starlet had been gaining traction with supporting roles in early films like Mystic Pizza and Steel Magnolias—the latter even awarding her with her first Academy Award nomination. However, it was Roberts’ charming portrayal of a naive prostitute opposite Richard Gere that shot her to industry infamy.

“I didn’t know her from Adam or anybody. As I said, she was just 21 years old. Hello!” Marshall told Today‘s Matt Lauer of his first meeting with Roberts. Despite her mystery at the time, she was inevitably cast in a role—with a director—that would follow her to this day. She joined Marshall once again nearly a decade later for Runaway Bride, followed by supporting roles in the 2010 Valentine’s Day and 2016 Mother’s Day. After nearly three decades with Marshall at her side, their professional relationship had blossomed into a different kind of bond.

“I want to make him as happy [on the set of “Mother’s Day”] in Atlanta as I wanted to make him on the soundstage [of Pretty Woman] 25 years ago,” Roberts told the Los Angeles Times“He’s like the ultimate father for everyone in every scenario. I think about Garry and it’s like he raised me.”

Roberts wasn’t the only star he single-handedly raised into the spotlight. In 1978, Marshall created an alien character for an episode of his television series Happy Days. For the role of the extraterrestrial, the creator came across a 27-year-old comedian named Robin Williams. After one audition—during which Williams reportedly spun on his head–the aspiring actor won over Garry and the role was his. The audience agreed with the choice.

“When I introduced Robin Williams, the audience stood up,” Marshall  told CNBC of the single episode Williams starred in. “I said this could be somebody good and that’s when I immediately tried to create something.” That something was Mork & Mindy, a series later created by Marshall that ran for four seasons and granted the comedian his first Emmy Award nomination. Though he did not end up taking home the trophy, Williams worked endlessly in Hollywood from that moment until his untimely death in 2014.

“You forever changed my father’s life, and thus, mine,” Williams’ daughter Zelda Williamstweeted upon learning the news of Marshall’s death Tuesday. “Thank you for capturing so much joy on film, over and over.”

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