Garry Marshall on Good Health, Healthy Aging, and the Movies

The renowned director discusses his new film, New Year's Eve, plus the secrets to his health.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 30, 2011
4 min read

Seventy-seven-year-old Garry Marshall has directed some of the most popular movies in recent times, including Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride, and The Princess Diaries. He also worked on hit TV shows, including The Lucy Show, Happy Days, Mork and Mindy, Laverne and Shirley, and The Odd Couple. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Marshall's whole family was involved in show business. His mother ran a tap dance school; his father created industrial films (and later became a producer); his sister is actress Penny Marshall and his brother is TV producer Ronny Marshall Hallin. Garry Marshall sat down with WebMD the Magazine and told us about staying healthy on the set, his thoughts about aging, and his secret health weapon: napping.

For your newest film, New Year's Eve, you just directed an ensemble cast of stars, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Robert De Niro, and Ashton Kutcher. How didyou keep track of everybody?

Sometimes, I couldn't figure out where they all were! Seriously, though, it was a lot of stars who were never all together but were shooting different days, different locations. A lot of them came to the Dec. 5 premiere in Hollywood.

You've directed popular films, including Pretty Woman, The Princess Diaries, and Valentine's Day, last year's "prequel" to New Year's Eve. What's to love about this latest movie that, to quote from the film's web site, "celebrates love, hope, forgiveness, second chances, and fresh starts?"

It's about decisions and what to do with your life. I like to do love stories, and this was a chance to do romantic comedy with intertwining stories. It's a kind of raucous, partying love letter to New York City that was influenced by Billy Wilder's [1960] film, The Apartment. I always try to make work that lasts, that you'll want to watch more than once.

What New Year's health resolutions do you make every year?

When you get to my age, you get whacked. Things happen with your health, but it has all worked out. My sister, Penny, and I -- despite what the gossip says about her -- we take care of ourselves. We just try to stay healthy and to be with happy people.

What starring role does your family play in your health?

I've been married to Barbara for 48 years. She's a nurse, and I listen to what she tells me. I also chase six grandchildren -- two 16-year-old twins, and kids ages 8, 6, 4, and 3.

Your mother was a dance instructor. Did you ever dance to keep in shape?

My mother danced all her life, but I was no good. I was a drummer, though, and I still play. I also play softball and I swim.

During long shooting days, how do you make time for physical activity?

No matter where we go, we climb up steps to get to the set, back and forth. I don't take many elevators.

How do you eat healthy at work?

My assistants work with me to get good food. Sometimes if I get too crazy and grab a candy bar, they take it away and hide it. Then, I'm a prisoner on the set!

What about your home cooking?

I don't cook: I washed dishes and cooked in college to pay my way through Northwestern University, and I said, "I'm never doing that again." Barbara cooks some, and she knows I love salad, tuna fish, pasta, hamburgers, nothing too exotic -- oh, and frozen yogurt.

What was the first health condition that altered your daily living? How did it change your approach to health?

When I was a very young, sickly kid, I tested allergic to 103 things. I outgrew [most of those allergies. Today] I skip gravies and sauces and eat a mostly bland diet.

How do you chill out?

I'm big on naps. They're scheduled for me, one-half hour daily, as "Garry's private time." My father, who lived to 92, took lots of naps and drank some vodka -- I don't do too much of that!

You're 77. How's your health now?

I'm pretty healthy, having beaten throat cancer and prostate cancer. The cures weren't fun, but I got through it. I feel very blessed and I get checked regularly.

What's your philosophy on aging well?

It's a full-time job, not a hobby, to take care of yourself as health problems arise. Barbara and I try new things, we don't feel sorry for ourselves, and we keep moving. We also spend quality time with our friends.

What are your best and worst health habits?

My best habits are taking those naps and exercising. Also, the famous director Francis Ford Coppola told me to change my shoes every day at lunch on the set so my feet don't hurt. Worst? I stopped smoking in April 1982 -- best thing I ever did.

Your busy career keeps your mind active and engaged. How can the rest of us stay "brainy"?

I actually make scrapbooks [of every movie I make]. Plus very bright people on the set are always asking me questions while I direct. It keeps the mind working, bossing 75 people, crew, and stars!

Among your peers, who do you think is "keeping it together" health-wise?

I admire my very active peer group of Carl Reiner, Dick Van Dyke, and Mel Brooks. We do charity shows to raise money. The hardest thing about getting older is to lose a mate.

You created iconic TV shows like Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley -- starring your sister, Penny -- The Odd Couple, and Mork & Mindy. If you wrote a television show about health, what would you call it?

"Keep Moving"! Actually, we're developing a show that's a male version of The Golden Girls, and the characters all have different health problems. I think it's going to be funny. I'm doing it with people I've worked with before, but at my age, there are a lot of people I've worked with before. Let's see if we can get it on the air!