My first interaction with Garry Marshall was in October 1973. It was during my screen test at Paramount Studios for the pilot of “Happy Days.” I had come to Los Angeles from New York several months earlier, seeking to expand my acting opportunities. I had landed some guest starring roles on various TV shows, but this was my first serious audition for a regular role on a series. I was one of about 10 actors testing, and I was understandably nervous.
When it was my turn, Garry (who was directing the screen tests) immediately made me feel welcome and at ease. He was very encouraging, and his direction was very clear and concise. I however, wasn’t thrilled with my performance, and did not think I would get picked for the role of Potsie, the character I tried out for.
My instincts were correct when my agent called me to tell me that I didn’t get that part. But he told me the executives liked my screen test so much, they wanted to create a regular role for me in the show. It was clear that Garry had a lot of say in this decision, so I owe him a huge amount of gratitude for allowing me to become part of such a successful and iconic show that became part of Americana.
My most vivid memories of working with Garry were during the third season of the show, when we started shooting in front of an audience. With this format, we would have several run-throughs of the show for the writers and producers, followed by a notes session with all the actors, our director, Jerry Paris, and Garry leading the proceedings.
These sessions were incredibly creative and vibrant. I remember marveling at the way Garry would come up with solutions for problems the actors might have had, and how he could find ways to make the scenes better. Whether it was by giving us a different punch line, or a set up line, or a piece of staging, or changing the timing, it would inevitably make the moment work, and make it funny.
Garry seemed to have an innate ability to make almost anything funny. Whenever he came on the set, we all knew we would be in for a good time, sharing laughs and learning something valuable along the way. He liked to foster a sense of family for all of us, and he set a great tone for everybody.
One of the ways he did this was by forming a “Happy Days” softball team.
He knew that a bunch of us played, and he loved to play as well. So he created tours for our team — comprised of cast and crew — and we would travel to different major league parks across the country to play in charity games before the real game. I think he felt it was another way for us to bond, and this would carry over into the show. He was right.
Another thing I remember about Garry was how he would advise us to do more than one thing in the business. He knew the vagaries and pitfalls of show business, and tried to impart to us the advantages of wearing more than one hat. Many of our cast members have gone on to write, direct and produce (you may have heard of one or two Ron Howard films), and Garry certainly influenced us in this regard in no small measure.
Of course, Garry himself started directing movies toward the end of the “Happy Days” run, and had a huge string of hits. On top of this, he seemed to have a knack for creating stars, such as Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” and Anne Hathaway in “Princess Diaries.” Garry truly loved and appreciated actors, and was their best friend. He leaves behind a huge and impressive body of work, and I think I can safely say that anybody who ever worked with him will never forget the experience, and will miss him greatly. I certainly will.