Hollywood Producer Reminisces
by Gabe Villani
This is a Cinderella story that should bring comfort to any drummer who has feared leaving the music business. It’s the story of a man who had to hang up his sticks because fate decreed that he should become something else. A fascinating tale of how music’s loss, became television’s gain.
Garry Marshall was born in the Bronx, New York in November, 1934. He had a fairly normal childhood which included the usual bruised knees, runny nose, dead frogs and stolen bases. But his formative years were primarily devoted to discovering girls, making people laugh and learning to play drums. “When I was growing up, there were three drummers I admired: Gene Krupa, Max Roach, and this little girl drummer in my school who used to blow in my ear after practice,” says Garry.He earned enough money from playing drums to put himself through Northwestern University where he was awarded a B.A. in Journalism. Following college, Garry was drafted into the Army and sent to Korea where he spent his time in Special Services, playing, writing and producing shows and contributing articles to Stars and Stripes.
“The lowest musical experience of my life came when I was in the Army. I was a solo marching snare drummer and kept cadence for my battalion. One day while my battalion was marching, I was playing so badly that the Captain shot a hole through my drum with a .45 revolver.”
Following his Army stint, Garry moved back to New York and teamed up with the now famous writer-producer Fred Freeman. They wrote day and night, but unfortunately at the time no one was buying what they were writing. They had to turn elsewhere to pay the rent. Garry again went to his drums for help to augment his meager earnings as a part-time writer for the Daily News sports department. He began playing drums around New York and putting shows together for VA hospitals and other organizations. It was at this point where I entered Garry’s life.
When I first heard Garry play, I was not only awed by his uncanny ability to play rim shots with brushes, but also by his smooth body movements which were fascinating. The more frantically he swung his arms, the slower he played — but he looked good…chewed gum and all.
“In the early sixties, I was playing the tune ‘Zena Zena’ at a bar mitzvah. My erratic changing of rhythms and losing beats caused the dancers to stumble which unfortunately resulted in a close uncle kicking the bar mitzvah boy in the groin. But my greatest musical accomplishment was playing drums in the Happy Days episode where the kids go to the prom. I was on camera, and in rhythm for the whole show.”
Everything about him was show — even his equipment. He played a 34″ bass drum with GM painted in silver sparkle right above the picture of the canoe. He used a small Indian tom-tom, a faded white mother of pearl snare, and a shellacked 13″ x 17″ floor tom. His cymbal set-up consisted of two 18″ hi-hats, one 13″ ride and a 9″ crash. He used one 2S stick and one 5A, and had another pair just like it at home.
I remember Garry would take me along to play for the shows he put together so he could MC and do stand-up comedy. He became the “Henny Youngman” of the VA hospital circuit. His desire to make people laugh was developing into a well-seasoned talent that was leading him away from music and into a life of fame as a writer-producer. He was soon to land a job writing for Jack Parr on the old Tonight Show which eventually led to a move westward to Hollywood. His career began to sky-rocket. The Joey Bishop Show, Dick Van Dyke Show, Lucy Show, the Odd Couple, and finally creator and executive producer of Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, the number one and two rated TV shows in the country. The scope of his genius ranges from creating “The Fonz”, to acting and directing many episodes of his shows as well. He has attributed his success to being in touch with the common folk and sympathizing with the underdog.
Unfortunately, Garry’s Hollywood career has caused him to put the drums in the closet, though he still uses them in a therapeutic way. “I have a full set of drums in my house and occasionally I play in the Happy Days show band. Drums are great therapy. If I didn’t beat on them, I’d probably beat on my wife — or this girl in Hollywood who lets you hit her with tom-tom mallets for $100. My drums have saved my marriage, not to mention many hundred dollar bills.”
When asked for some overall words of advice for young drummers, Mr. Marshall had the following comment: “From my experience, I would strongly suggest that all young drummers have a soft, comfortable drum stool at all times. I sincerely feel that hemorrhoids were most definitely detrimental to my career.”
All references to Mr. Marshall’s equipment and spastic playing was done purely in jest. Garry is really a good musician, and could be a top drummer today, but when given the preference, he would always rather make people laugh. We thank him for giving MD a few moments out of a very busy schedule.