Garry Marshall brought a populist touch to nearly every movie and television show that he directed, developed or wrote over a career that spanned more than 50 years. His streak of TV successes bore their creator’s friendly democratic stamp, from Happy Days, which ran for 11 seasons, to Mork & Mindy, which introduced the world to Robin Williams.
The Marshall touch is just as evident in the movies he wrote and directed. Beaches (1988) still frequently tops polls of movies guaranteed to get the waterworks flowing. The Cinderella fantasy Pretty Woman (1990) tapped the zeitgeist in a spectacular way, despite some questionable sexual politics. His old-school romantic comedies like Runaway Bride (1999) and The Princess Diaries (2001) explore a question that all of us ask: How does anyone become oneself in the face of what society–especially the opposite sex–expects from us?
Marshall, who died July 19 at age 81, knew how to make sweet, funny music from that inherently troubling chord. Some would call Marshall’s work conventional, others timeless. That’s the central contradiction of great entertainers: plenty of times, they’re both.
This appears in the August 01, 2016 issue of TIME.
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