Dinner With Garry Marshall – Bette/Sophie Mention (Thanks Bev!)

New York Times
A Family Feeling, Wherever He Digs In
Drinks and Dinner With Garry Marshall


LEAVE it to a native New Yorker who hasn’t lived here in 53 years to still know the best place to go.

Garry Marshall, director of the movies “Pretty Woman,” “Beaches” and “The Princess Diaries,” who also created the television series “Happy Days,” “Laverne and Shirley” and “Mork and Mindy,” is from the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. He loved his old neighborhood and never lost his delight in its easy camaraderie. So much so that when he shoots a movie, people say he doesn’t direct it as much as throw it. When I arrived at the elegant yet warmly appointed bar at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Central Park South – his choice – I began to see what that meant.

Mr. Marshall, who turns 80 in November, ordered an anisette, two ice cubes – as a cocktail – and called over his friend Norman Bukofzer, the head barman. Mr. Marshall likes him so much he cast him in his latest film, “New Year’s Eve.”

“Tell her your line,” he instructed, first giving me the setup, a character saying that New York City is a dangerous place. Mr. Bukofzer struck a pose. “You ever been to Newark?” he growled. Mr. Marshall laughed. “Four takes, he did it,” he said. When Mr. Bukofzer walked away, Mr. Marshall said: “He should be in the business. He knows everybody.”

Soup at the Redeye Grill. Credit Philip Greenberg for The New York Times
Perhaps, but when it comes to networking, no one tops Mr. Marshall. He’s been working longer and harder than most people in any business, starting in 1959, when he wrote for Joey Bishop and then for Jack Paar on “The Tonight Show” before moving on to “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Lucy Show.” He produced “The Odd Couple,” with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. And on “Murphy Brown,” he played the head of the network.

Mr. Marshall is back in New York to direct a new play, “Billy & Ray,” by Mike Bencivenga, starring Vincent Kartheiser (Pete Campbell on “Mad Men”) and featuring Sophie von Haselberg, otherwise known as Bette Midler’s daughter. “I remember on the set of ”˜Beaches,’ holding her hand and saying, ”˜Let’s go see what Mommy’s doing now,’ ” Mr. Marshall recalled.

“Billy & Ray” tells the story of how Raymond Chandler (Larry Pine) and Billy Wilder (Mr. Kartheiser) wrote the classic film noir “Double Indemnity.” The play was first produced by the Falcon Theater in Burbank, Calif., which is owned by Mr. Marshall and run by his daughter Kathleen. It begins previews at the Vineyard Theater in Manhattan on Wednesday.

Mr. Marshall made a point of saying that Ms. Von Haselberg had auditioned through the Falcon independently, even though he is famous for casting his family and friends in everything, perhaps most memorably his sister Penny Marshall in “Laverne and Shirley.” Working with relatives can be hazardous: Mr. Marshall made his father, Tony, a producer on that show, and one week, Tony decided to withhold his daughter’s $25,000 paycheck. She had been “fresh” to him, he informed his son. Mr. Marshall intervened.

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Mr. Bukofzer told us that the chef wanted to bring over some hors d’oeuvres. Mr. Marshall regarded him glumly. He was already picking at a fruit plate, and we had a dinner reservation at Redeye Grill, owned by another friend, Shelly Fireman, a fellow alumnus of DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. Eating is not one of Mr. Marshall’s strong suits, he kept insisting. As a child, he had dangerous allergies – mustard could stop his breathing – and he still views many foods as potential enemies.

“Vinegar, horseradish, walnut oil,” he lamented. “One of my worst words is ”˜drizzle.’ It’s the stuff they put in that you can’t see. My wife and my assistant, Heather, taste first to see what’s in a sauce. I should be a king! But I’m constantly blindsided by food. When I was a teenager, I could never put mustard on a hot dog. So I watched what the girls ate. If it was mustard, I didn’t want to hit on them. Maybe if a cute girl didn’t eat the mustard, I could kiss her.”

“I have a boring diet, but I’m happy,” he went on. “The new stuff, dandelion greens, Japanese turnips?” He shuddered and, pointing to his distended left cheek, added, “Mouth cancer also doesn’t help.” He received the diagnosis before directing “New Year’s Eve” in 2011.

The Redeye Grill cheesecake. Credit Philip Greenberg for The New York Times
But he is still a handsome devil. He appeared this season in an episode of “Two and a Half Men,” and Betty White has asked him to play a boyfriend on “Hot in Cleveland.” He was also in an episode of “Louie,” with Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld. “When Louis C.K. called, I had to ask my son who he was, and he told me he was a very big deal,” Mr. Marshall said, amused. “He was very nice.”

The chef presented the hors d’oeuvres: almost raw tuna, goat cheese, foie gras and lobster. “Is there vinegar?” Mr. Marshall asked suspiciously. The chef looked puzzled. “There is some acid,” he allowed. Once he left, Mr. Marshall opined darkly, “They say acid, but they mean vinegar.” He ate the foie gras and goat cheese and lived.

Despite having his right knee replaced eight weeks ago, Mr. Marshall grabbed his cane and insisted we walk the few blocks to Redeye. I told him I had read both his memoirs, “Wake Me When It’s Funny” and “My Happy Days in Hollywood,” written with his daughter Lori, and remarked on how positive he remained, especially in such a tough business.

“With cancer, I was not so positive,” he said at the table, sipping another anisette. “I thought I would never get better.” After radiation treatments, he shot “New Year’s Eve” in a brutal New York winter and contracted walking pneumonia. Once he recovered, Mr. Marshall’s wife of 51 years, Barbara, a former intensive-care nurse, insisted he go back to work. “I told her: ”˜I can’t do a movie. I froze on ”˜New Year’s Eve,’ ” Mr. Marshall said. “But the weather is always good in the theater.”

Our first course arrived, the miso matzo ball soup with shiitake mushrooms. It was delicious, a clever hybrid of Japanese and Jewish. Everyone thinks you’re Jewish, I told Mr. Marshall, né Masciarelli. He laughed. “We’re from the Bronx,” he said. “We’re all the same.”

We shared guacamole before he polished off a Dover sole with lemon butter sauce and creamed spinach. He ordered cheesecake for dessert, which he doused with a small pitcher of chocolate sauce. He ate, as my mother would say, like a horse.

When Mr. Marshall produced “Happy Days,” he had a basketball court on the Paramount lot and a malted milk machine in his office. He still loves sports and plays in a senior softball league, where he will return in November, once his knee has healed.

“After softball, we go to Denny’s, where we get a deal,” he told me. “I get an Oreo shake. And the soup is $2! The whole team eats.”

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