"Garry Marshall, the writer, producer and director, who has died aged 81, was a master of warm-hearted, middle-of-the-road television comedy, responsible for a host of popular American sitcoms of which the best known to British audiences were Happy Days and Mork and Mindy; he went on to direct hit films such as Pretty Woman.
Happy Days, which Marshall created, exploited the nostalgia for the 1950s that was pervasive in the early 1970s. Marshall described the show as “an Italian-American kid from the Bronx’s fantasy of middle-class life out in the Mid West”. It was a reassuring look back at an apparently simpler era, featuring the Cunningham family of Milwaukee – made up of chubby paterfamilias Howard, played by Tom Bosley, his wife Marion (Marion Ross), a cheery “home-maker”, and their children, notably second son Richie (Ron Howard).
Viewers particularly took to Henry Winkler’s “the Fonz”, a mechanic with pompadoured hair, leather jacket and a line in cool catchphrases.
First broadcast in the US between 1974 and 1984, Happy Days, with its catchy theme song by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, became a tea-time fixture on ITV in Britain, paving the way for an invasion of mainstream American television comedy series such as Cheers and Friends.
It generated a flurry of spinoffs, of which the most enduring were Laverne & Shirley, about two room-mates and starring Marshall’s sister Penny as Laverne, and Mork & Mindy, about an alien from the planet Ork and his earthling girlfriend, which introduced the zany talents of Robin Williams. Marshall later joked that he had cast Williams on the spot, since he had been the only alien to audition for the role.
One of three siblings, Garry Kent Marshall was born in the Bronx on November 13 1934, the son of Marjorie, who taught tap dancing in the basement of their apartment building, and Anthony, a director of industrial films who had changed his name from Masciarelli.
In the Bronx, Marshall remembered later, “you were either an athlete or a gangster, or you were funny”. To that end, his mother would encourage him to watch the comedians on The Ed Sullivan Show.
After DeWitt Clinton High School and Northwestern University, where he read Journalism (and had a spell on the New York Daily News), he served with the US Army in Korea. There he met Jerry Belson, and the pair wrote scripts for sitcoms such as The Dick Van Dyke Show and Lucille Ball’s The Lucy Show."