Garry Marshall talks Medill, mothers and failure

    Mother’s Day happened twice for Northwestern students: First on Sunday for the real holiday, and second on Tuesday when Garry Marshall came to visit.

    The writer, actor and director best known for his work on The Odd Couple, Happy Days and Pretty Woman (also The Princess Diaries for those who spent their childhoods in Genovia) came to Northwestern for a screening of his first independent film, Mother’s Day. The film, starring Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts and Jason Sudeikis, opened April 29 and follows the stories of several mothers (and fathers) on the holiday.

    The screening began at 4 p.m. in the Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. After the film and a brief intermission, Marshall partook in a Q&A moderated by RTVF lecturer Zina Camblin.

    Marshall, 81, graduated from the Medill School of Journalism in 1956 before eventually pursuing comedy. Still, he said that his experience at Northwestern helped him deal with pressure while at work.

    “My best course was a writing lab," Marshall said. "We all had to write, and we all had a story to write, and we wrote it on typewriters – does anyone know what a typewriter is? Anyway, as we went, the teachers purposely made everything go wrong. They started a fire drill, they had people come in and yell and have fights in the room, your typewriter ribbons were all broken, they changed the story, everything went wrong, but you had to get it done. I’ve gone through so many problems where it looks impossible, but I learned. I learned here: You gotta finish!”

    Mother’s Day didn’t garner the best reviews from critics, but Marshall didn’t seem to mind in light of past criticism-turned-approval.

    “I did Pretty Woman 25 years ago,” Marshall said. “A man gave it a bad review, I forget the review, but this year he said, 'You know what? It wasn’t bad.'”

    Camblin noted that Marshall won a 1996 “Lucy” award for “enhancing the perception of women in television.” Marshall said that he liked to write roles for strong female characters because of the strong female presence in his life in his family and friends. Most notably, Marshall’s sister, Penny Marshall, has made a film career of her own. She became the first female to direct a film that grossed over $100 million: Big (1988), starring Tom Hanks.

    When discussing differences in working in film, on TV and in the theatre, Marshall said that most of the variation comes from how the body moves.

    “On the stage, you gotta work from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head,” Marshall said. “Everything has to work. TV is from the waist up. Movies are a whole different thing. Movies you gotta come in here [points to his face].”

    Marshall’s final comments were about prevalent rejection in the entertainment business. He said it was important to use college as an opportunity to try different things and fail, and that it’s better to fail at Northwestern than to fail at work.

    So, next time you fail an econ midterm, rationalize your plight with Marshall's wisdom: Better here than Wall Street.


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