Saturday, April 10, 2010

Classic TV's Iconic Writer/Actor Marty Nadler Speaks (About "Happy Days," "Laverne & Shirley," "The Odd Couple," "Chico & The Man," "Perfect Strangers" And More)

Writer/Actor Marty Nadler has composed scripts of some of the most classic television programs that ever aired, including "The Odd Couple," "Happy Days," "Laverne & Shirley" and "Chico and the Man," to name only a few. He's also an actor who has appeared in feature films like the recently released, "Valentine’s Day," directed by his good friend Garry Marshall, brother to Penny Marshall, co-star with Cindy Williams of "Laverne & Shirley," which Garry produced (along with "Happy Days" and "The Odd Couple").

Marty was inspired to get into the entertainment industry by all the performers he watched on television while growing up, particularly comedians like Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, Abbott & Costello. "Then when realized I was the class clown," he explains, "it even made me more interested. School plays, and so forth. I was eight-years-old and knew I was destined for the entertainment industry."

Marty's first acting job was in Summer Stock on Martha's Vineyard. "It was with an acting company that was part of my College Theatre Department," he says. "I received $15.00 a week, a room, and three college credits. Thank you, Ithaca College!"

In all, Marty is proud of the work he did in television. "People are very nice when they learn what shows I worked on. We had about 40 million people watch 'Happy Days' and 'Laverne & Shirley' every Tuesday night."

Certainly, then, this icon of classic television must have at least one or two interesting "behind-the-scenes" tales he could tell. Like the time, while working on "Happy Days," when "some wacko" posed a death threat against Garry Marshall. As Marty recalls, "The LAPD were undercover at the live taping. Garry and I did the warm-up for the show (i.e. talked to the audience and answered questions). So, I came out first to introduced Garry and hoped he (the 'wacko') didn't think I was Garry." Thankfully, nothing tragic transpired that evening – and all went without a hitch.

Marty remembers another time, on the set of the pilot for "Laverne & Shirley," when they were filming this initial segment "n secret." Fred Silverman, then-head of programming for ABC, liked the episode of "Happy Days" in which Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams guest-starred. As a result, Silverman ordered an entire first season of "Laverne & Shirley" without fanfare. "We were shooting the first episode," Marty explains, "while ABC was holding Pilot Season in New York. Producers were walking around trying to sell their shows while we knew we were already on the air. When the schedule for the new season came out, people were like, 'Laverne and 'WHO?!’”

A few years before, Marty was involved with another Garry Marshall production called, "The Odd Couple," which also aired on ABC (for five seasons). "We weren't sure if we'd get picked up for a sixth season," Marty recalls. "The last episode of the last season was 'Felix' (played by Tony Randall) getting re-married to his wife Gloria. We filmed it two ways, one with him saying ‘Yes’ and one where he backs out and we can go another season."

Marty worked on yet another ABC comedy, "Perfect Strangers," which aired in the years following the cancellation of "Happy Days" and "Laverne & Shirley." As Marty explains, "I don't think people knew that the comedian Louis Anderson played 'Balke' in the first pilot. But we re-shot it with Bronson Pinchot."

While writing for "Happy Days" and "Laverne & Shirley," and some years before "Perfect Strangers," Marty also worked on "Chico and the Man," which starred Jack Albertson and a young comedian named Freddie Prinze. Both performers are gone now. Albertson died of natural causes, while Prinze committed suicide.

"Freddie was a buddy of mine," Marty says. "We did stand-up together at the Improvisation (club) in N.Y.C. He kept asking me to do the show. I was finally available and wrote an episode with him. It was very sad when he shot himself." What was equally tragic, Marty goes on to say, was the conversation that took place in a Limousine on the way to his funeral when certain network executives were simply planning what to film next week on 'Chico & the Man.' As Marty sees it, "It's a cold, cold business."

Still, he keeps smiling. "What I like to do best is perform stand-up comedy. I do a comedy show on Martha's Vineyard - forty-five years after summer stock! It's called, ‘Very Vineyard’ [and he'll perform it at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs on August 7th)."

Whether performing comedy on the stage, or writing sitcoms for TV, yesterday or today, as Marty sees it, "Funny is funny. There are some very good shows today because of great writing and great casting. That is the measure."

Some of Marty's favorite contemporary programs, include: "Big Bang Theory," "Two & A Half Men," and "Parenthood." "They each of have great writing and casting," he says.

Yet, if any new edition of say, "Happy Days" were to debut on TV any time soon, which actor out of today's pool does Marty think would make a good "Fonzie"? "An unknown," he replies. "It worked with Henry Winkler" [who had yet to establish a name for himself when he was cast in the original series].

Meanwhile, Marty Nadler believes there's a very good chance that we'll soon see feature film edition of "Laverne & Shirley," on which he'll offer his expert assistance to Garry Marshall in helping to bring that TV classic to the big screen. "If Garry calls me," he says with fond enthusiasm, "I'll be there!"

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