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A millennial mourns director Garry Marshall

Commentary: Some of her friends don't even know who Garry Marshall is, but this twentysomething holds a special place in her heart for the writer and director she associates with memories of home.

When I think back on it, I was probably far too young the first time I ever watched the Garry Marshall-directed "Pretty Woman." After all, it's an R-rated film about a prostitute (with a heart of gold!).

My mom and I would often cuddle up on the couch to watch "grown-up" rom-coms; they were a staple in our family's extensive VHS collection. I loved "Pretty Woman," and probably always will. At the tender, impressionable age of 8, I fell for Julia Roberts tossing her big red hair and her declaration to Richard Gere that she "wanted the fairytale." I know, I know.

I wish I could say with certainty what my first exposure was to the amazing Marshall, who died Tuesday at age 81 from complications of pneumonia following a stroke.

His career in Hollywood spanned almost 60 years, and he was beloved by many in Hollywood. Henry Winkler tweeted Tuesday that he was "the definition of friend," and Kate Hudson posted in a touching Instagram that "he was more than my director, he was family."

And he wasn't just family to those who knew him. Marshall felt like family to me.


The late Garry Marshall accepting the "Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television Writing Achievement" onstage at the 2014 Writers Guild Awards in Los Angeles.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for WGAw

Perhaps that comes from the reruns of old TV shows I used to watch with my parents and younger sister: shows Marshall wrote for like "The Dick Van Dyke Show," or shows he created like "Happy Days," "Mork & Mindy" and "The Odd Couple." Nick at Nite was a staple in our household and my parents were baffled at how ardently my sister and I took to the television classics from their own childhoods.

I remember cleaning the house on the weekends with the TV on in the background. Any time an episode of "Laverne & Shirley" started up, my mother, sister and I would sing the theme song at the top of our lungs. "There is nothing we won't try/Never heard the word impossible/This time there's no stopping us." Those words really stick with a young girl, which is probably why my mother, who watched the show as a teen, shared that joy with her own daughters.

And of course, there was Marshall the actor.

Even though he wasn't a lead, his supporting roles were memorable and distinctive. There was Rigfort yelling "weiners!" in "Never Been Kissed," a film I remember first watching with my sister in the family room at my grandmother's New Year's party while the adults played poker in the next room. Or Marshall's perfect Walter Harvey, Cubs owner and chocolate tycoon in "A League of Their Own," a film I've seen no less than a few dozen times. I'm fairly confident I could re-create the script from memory, if necessary.

"League" is one of those films my father loves and quotes constantly. Dad will yell out Tom Hanks' classic line "There's no crying in baseball!" practically any time the word "baseball" comes up. (Which is often, as a family of diehard San Francisco Giants fans.) Marshall's voice, presence and work, fondly plays in the background of my mind frequently, saying things like, "You go out, wave your cap, give the people a thrill."

It's oddly strange to me that many of my fellow millennial peers might not know Marshall's name off the top of their heads. I suppose under different circumstances, I could be just like them, recognizing some of his work but not necessarily the man himself. But I crossed paths with his work so many times I can't help but feel like I knew him, at least in some small way.

Garry Marshall comes from an era of comedians I admire and respect: the Carl Reiners, the Sid Caesars, the Lucille Balls. Comedians who pioneered classic American television. Comedians who weren't just innovators, but entertainers who genuinely wanted to make viewers happy.

I can't think of Garry Marshall without thinking of those comedians. I can't think of Garry Marshall without thinking of all the incredible women characters he brought to life and all the friendships between women he celebrated: Laverne and Shirley; C.C. and Hilary from "Beaches"; Mia and Lilly from "The Princess Diaries."

And mostly, I can't think of Garry Marshall without thinking of my parents, and the love for his films and television shows they shared with me.