Garry Marshall is a filmmaker most people have probably enjoyed without even realizing it. His role in pop culture, be it through television or cinema, has been tremendously influential. He created prominent works in almost every decade, many of which are sort of cultural touchstones of their time. Whether it was through his work on Happy Days or its various spinoffs or his films like Pretty Woman or The Princess Diaries, almost everyone has experienced Marshall’s work at some point and loved it. Marshall passed away yesterday at the age of 81, and his passing has hit many in the entertainment industry in a very personal way. Acclaimed comedian and podcaster Paul F. Tompkins is a particularly big fan of Marshall’s work and penned a stunningly poignant tribute to the filmmaker for Vulture.
In the open letter, he talks about how the Happy Days franchise served as his introduction to comedy as a child and the wonder with which it filled him. More importantly, he writes about the fact that he overcame his social anxieties as a child by doing imitations of characters from the shows, and how that was what taught him how to be social with his classmates.
He also shares some humorous anecdotes about imitating Garry Marshall for various comedy events and finally meeting his idol at a table reading for the acclaimed animated series Bojack Horseman. The entire letter is worth reading, but perhaps the most important part is its ending, in which Tompkins makes an apt observation about Marshall’s work: it is entirely devoid of pretension. So often we laud work that appears to be meticulously crafted, that bares the soul of its creator on the screen or page, that has a message. And we often do this at the expense of work produced for a mainstream audience, chalking it up as hollow, as not worthy of appreciation. Tompkins observes that this is immensely disrespectful to the people who create works that are meant for mainstream audiences, that they work just as hard at their craft and deserve respect for it. Because at the end of the day, if the work they’ve done has made someone happier, it’s important.