NEW YORK • If one were to count the number of times any American - or maybe anyone anywhere - laughed in the last half-century, the person responsible for more of those laughs than anyone else might well have been Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall, who died on Tuesday in California. He was 81.
He died of pneumonia after suffering a stroke in hospital in the Los Angeles suburb of Burbank, according to his publicist.
Directors Guild of America president Paris Barclay led tributes, hailing his gift for storytelling, which "brought joy, laughter and an enormous, beating heart to every screen, large and small".
"It was an honour and a delight for all of us who had the pleasure of serving alongside him," he added.
It would be difficult to overstate Marshall's effect on United States entertainment.
His work in network television and Hollywood movies fattened the archive of romantic, family and buddy comedies and consistently found the sweet spot in the middle of the mainstream.
It might be said that the director, who worked with A-list stars such as Lucille Ball in the 1960s, and Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway in the early 21st century (he directed them in the coming-of-age-asroyalty film The Princess Diaries in 2001), was among the forces that directed that very mainstream.
Beginning in the 1960s, his work in television alone included writing scripts for the well-remembered, star-driven comedies Make Room For Daddy, with Danny Thomas; The Lucy Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show.
He also helped develop Neil Simon's 1965 play The Odd Couple into the television series (1970-1975) that starred Tony Randall and Jack Klugman as the mismatched roommates Felix, a neatnik, and Oscar, a slob.
Marshall, with Joe Glauberg and Dale McRaven, created Mork And Mindy (1978-1982), the show about a charmingly innocent, logorrhoeic space alien that made Robin Williams a star; Laverne And Shirley (1976-1983), with Lowell Ganz and Mark Rothman, about a pair of blue-collar single women, one of whom was played by Marshall's younger sister Penny; and Happy Days (1974-1984), a fondly nostalgic parody of middle- American life in the 1950s and early 1960s featuring a roster of stereotypical teenagers, including Ron Howard as Richie the straight arrow and Henry Winkler as the rebellious, leather-jacketed charmer, Arthur Fonzarelli, known as the Fonz.
In the 1980s, Marshall began directing movies.
Several were high-concept star vehicles that dealt with mismatched pairs: Nothing In Common (1986), a reconciliation story with Jackie Gleason and Tom Hanks as cantankerous father and resentful son; Overboard (1987), which proposes that a mean-spirited heiress with amnesia (Goldie Hawn) can be persuaded to believe she is the wife of a carpenter (Kurt Russell); and, most famously, Pretty Woman (1990), a Cinderella tale - and a gigantic hit - set in contemporary Los Angeles, about a hooker with a heart of gold (Julia Roberts) and her Prince Charming, a ruthless corporate raider (Richard Gere).
"I like to do very romantic, sentimental type of work," Marshall told The New York Times as Pretty Woman was being released. "It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it."
Almost immediately on Tuesday night, celebrities began expressing grief over his death on Twitter. Robin Williams's daughter Zelda wrote: "RIP Garry. You forever changed my father's life, and thus, mine. Thank you for capturing so much joy on film, over and over."
Winkler tweeted: "Larger than life, funnier than most, wise and the definition of a friend."
And Albert Brooks, who appeared with him in Lost In America (1985), tweeted: "R.I.P. Garry Marshall. A great, great guy and the best casino boss in the history of film."
As an actor, Marshall appeared in small roles, cast usually to take advantage of his casually blunt manner and distinctly nasal Bronx accent.
He was born Garry Kent Marshall in the Bronx. His father changed the family name from Masciarelli and made industrial films.
Marshall recalled them in an interview in 2000 with the Archive of American Television. "The Story Of Zinc, Smelting In The Pittsburgh Mill - we watched them," he said. "Not one laugh."
His mother was a dance teacher and the family wit who, Marshall said, introduced him to self-deprecating humour, "which became one of the great tools of humour throughout my career".
As a boy, he played baseball and basketball; a shortstop, he admired Phil Rizzuto of the Yankees and was known as Flip, he said, for the way he tossed the ball.
He kept that name when he performed in comedy clubs, adding Masciarelli, which prefigured one of his best-known characters, Arthur Fonzarelli.
In 1956, he joined the Army and served in South Korea before returning to New York, where he worked briefly for the Daily News, did his comedy routines at night and wrote jokes. He moved to Los Angeles in the early 1960s.
He is survived by his wife Barbara, whom he married in 1963, his three children, and sisters Penny, an actress and director, and Ronny Hallin.
NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST