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Feature: Garry Marshall keeps it light

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 30 (UPI) -- In an era characterized by edgy, envelope-pushing entertainment, veteran director Garry Marshall -- who says the word "edgy" is not in his vocabulary -- prefers to keep specializing in family entertainment.

Marshall -- best known as the creator of the classic TV comedies "Happy Days" and "Laverne & Shirley" and the director of such feature films as "Pretty Woman" and "The Princess Diaries" -- is currently promoting the DVD release of "Raising Helen," starring Kate Hudson as a woman whose life is transformed when she has to raise her nieces and nephew after their parents are killed in an auto accident.

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"'Raising Helen' is my salute to motherhood and being a single mother," said Marshall, "and to let men know how difficult it is to raise kids."

However, given the current demographic realities of the entertainment marketplace, it isn't likely that large numbers of men will get the message -- because they're probably not watching the movie. Marshall said his pictures -- including "Runaway Bride," "The Other Sister" and "Beaches" -- tend not to do well among men over 45, or among younger moviegoers, for that matter.

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That's OK with Marshall, considering the intensity of the competition in Hollywood to attract male audiences.

"Because everybody's making (movies) for that demo, I've got an open field for the other," he said.

Marshall has noticed that more Hollywood entertainment products lately seem to address issues of family and child rearing.

"This theme of raising children is very big in Hollywood and elsewhere," he said. "Let's face it, the kids are the future, so maybe we've got to treat them a little better, and people finally figured that out."

It isn't that Marshall has never made movies targeted at men. He made "Nothing in Common," starring Tom Hanks and the late Jackie Gleason, as well as "Frankie and Johnny," starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer -- but he said he is partial to "movies a family can go to."

Questions about the pace and volume of Marshall's comedy came up as long ago as the 1970s, when he enjoyed an astonishing run of commercial success with half-hour comedies on ABC.

"They used to say (of 'Happy Days'), 'Well, it's a nice fun show, but is it loud enough? Is it strong enough?'" said Marshall.

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He didn't let the questions change his approach any more then than he does now.

"I found myself doing very well making family entertainment," he said.

During one week in 1979, "Happy Days," "Mork and Mindy," "Laverne & Shirley" and "The Odd Couple" held four of the top five spots in the Nielsen ratings.

Marshall is used to hearing words like "vanilla" and "schmaltzy" from his critics.

"Well, they're allowed," he said. "I don't have the word 'edgy' in my vocabulary. Vanilla is a favorite ice cream, and I like to end my movies with hope, and I don't ever intend to change that."

Besides, he said, there's always chocolate ice cream for people who don't like vanilla.

Marshall has made pictures with such stars as Julie Andrews, Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and Julia Roberts. In "Raising Helen," he worked with Hawn's daughter, Kate Hudson -- who used to sit on his lap when he and Hawn were filming "Overboard" in 1987.

He said his wish list of future leading ladies includes Katie Holmes ("Dawson's Creek") and Mischa Barton ("The O.C."). He'd also like to work with Natalie Portman.

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"She's finally grown up enough that she can kiss in a movie," he said. "But who I want to work with more than anyone else is Jodie Foster -- before I go to the home for old directors who direct women."

Perhaps surprisingly, for all his success with TV comedies, Marshall has just five Emmy nominations -- and no Emmys -- to his credit. He was, however, honored by the Writers Guild of America with the Valentine Davies Award in 1994. The award is presented to writers "who have contributed to the entertainment industry and the community-at-large and who have brought dignity and honor to writers everywhere."

The growing market acceptance of DVDs amuses Marshall, who remembers when there was a fairly clear dividing line between TV directors and movie directors.

"I always said I wanted to go on the big screen," he said. "Now they're putting it back on the little screen."

As a feature director, he said he likes the opportunities that DVD release afford for including scenes in DVD packages that had to be cut from theatrical releases.

"(William) Faulkner said, 'The first thing you do when you edit is cut out all of your little darlings,'" said Marshall. "And that happens in film editing, too."

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Unlike some of his colleagues, Marshall is a fan of DVD features that show consumers how movies are made.

"I know there are some film directors over the years, not too many, they say, 'Don't tell anybody the magic of how we do it,'" said Marshall. "I think you should know that movies are wonderful illusions."

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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