From Hooker to Millionaire:
The Evolving Romantic Heroine in Hollywood Film
An Interview with Comedy Director Garry Marshall
By Leslie Elizabeth Kreiner
The bitter rain of winter has stopped
pounding Hollywood now, and the icy wind that slices through
the Angeles Crest Mountains in February has given way to a warmer,
wispier one off the Pacific. Perfect walking weather. I started
south on Highland, took a right on Joanne Woodward, and continued
west on the famous Walk of Fame. Taking special care to step
in the middle of John Travolta and Tom Selleck, I followed discarded
pages from Variety and The Hollywood Reporter
as they landed first on Dinah Shore then on Robin Williams,
finally nestling into Mel Gibson's footprints in front of Mann's
Chinese. The smell of hotdogs from a nearby vendor drifted by
me, and Snoop Doggy Dogg beat vaguely from a boom box across
the street. From here I had an excellent view of the golden
dragon rising from red flames above the entrance to the theater.
I stared at that image awhile, imagining that the dragon looked
like a demon writhing in the pit of hell and wondering about
the metaphorical implications of that fact here in the heart
of Hollywood. But never mind that now. A sudden gust swept the
discarded pages out of Mel Gibson and, as if the gust had ordered
those pages to dance, they waltzed toward Disney's El Capitan.
I found myself, mysteriously, chasing them down like an actor
chasing down the casting calls printed on their pages. Then
they disappeared, vanished, floated above the rooftops like
so many other Hollywood dreams, and I was left alone to wonder
why the pages of Variety and The Hollywood Reporter
brought me here to the front doors of the El Capitan. I was
not left to wonder for long, however, as I looked down and read
the name on the star in front of Disney's theater: Garry Marshall.
Garry Marshall began
his career in Hollywood by writing for such television classics
as The Lucy Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show and
went on to create many beloved programs, including Happy
Days, Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy,
and The Odd Couple. He has since turned to directing
feature films--among them The Flamingo Kid, Nothing
in Common, Overboard, Beaches, Pretty Woman,
The Other Sister, and Runaway Bride--and directing
the activity at his Falcon
Theatre in Burbank. But Pretty Woman and Runaway
Bride are the reasons why I went to find him on that warm
and windy day in March.
With the recent
release of Erin Brockovich, directed by Steven Soderbergh,
I suddenly realized that the heroine of Hollywood film had radically
evolved since the 1980s. If we examine, for example, three of
the most popular films in the oeuvre of the biggest female box
office draw of the last decade, Julia Roberts, we see that the
heroine is getting stronger, smarter, and sassier. In Pretty
Woman, Roberts' character Vivian earns a living first by
selling her body and then by marriage; in Runaway Bride,
Roberts' character Maggie goes to college on a scholarship,
majors in engineering, fixes mechanical problems, invents tools
to help her friends, designs lighting fixtures, and defies small
town conventions to marry early; in Erin Brockovich,
Roberts' character may use her body to get records from the
water department, but she also becomes a savvy legal researcher
worth millions. She no longer has to marry the millionaire;
she becomes the millionaire. She no longer has to marry the
corporate monster (and reform him, of course); she slays the
In this interview, Garry
Marshall, the director of the first two films, Pretty Woman
and Runaway Bride, discusses this evident evolution of
the romantic heroine in Hollywood film.
How is Maggie different from Vivian?
We wanted Maggie to be good at something,
to be educated, to have hobbies and interests. We didn't want
her whole world to revolve around Ike [Richard Gere]. She's
an inventor, and she designs lights. She goes to New York to
sell her lights, not just for Ike. Also, Maggie is not a victim.
She's more independent and educated than Vivian. It's true that
Vivian is not as evolved as Maggie, but I never see her [Vivian]
as weak as the critics do. She's further down the evolutionary
Many academic critics
would disagree with you. For example, Karol Kelley has argued
that Pretty Woman is a deliberate re-telling of the Cinderella
story and that Vivian is a weak and helpless Cinderella.
Actually, I was thinking
more of Pygmalion, the fish out of water, as the frame.
The Cinderella aspect came in as I was developing characters:
Hector Elizondo plays the fairy godmother; Jason Alexander is
the wicked witch; Kit is the stepsister. But it is true that
I look for the Cinderella aspect when I am making a film. Most
good stories are Cinderella. Audiences like to watch characters
whose lives change for the better.
Wouldn't the problem
be the agency of change? In other words, most academic critics
would rather see the woman change her own life and not have
it changed for her by a man or a fairy godmother.
Yes, and I think that's
what we are seeing with women like Maggie and Erin. They are
masters of their own destiny. They make their own decisions.
Maggie is literally Vivian ten years later. But Vivian is certainly
not completely weak and helpless. She takes charge of the Lotus
and the first sexual encounter at the hotel--even insisting
on a condom. She confronts Kit, and by the end of the film she
is even stronger. She refuses Edward's proposition. She wants
marriage or nothing at all.
Then what do you think
about critics like Leda Cooks, Mark Orbe, and Carol Bruess who
have argued that "Vivian's character is inherently childlike"?
Well, I think I was shooting
at an entirely different dartboard than the one the critics
think I was shooting for. Vivian is childlike, yes, because
she is a child. I wanted to make a movie that spoke to the young
girls, eighteen to twenty-one, who maybe have made a wrong turn.
These are children, and their stories are worth telling
too. I wanted them to see that they could turn their life around,
that they could recognize their mistakes and make a change.
I had a scene that would have made that point clear, but I had
to cut it out of the movie. At the beginning of the film, Vivian
was walking the streets and asked about her friend--another
hooker. The woman she asked looked down at her shoes and didn't
answer. Vivian discovers the girl, bloody and dead from an overdose,
in a garbage dumpster. Here I shot Vivian's face with a look
on it that said, "What am I doing? What kind of life is this?
I have got to change my life." I had to cut the shot of the
body though. We thought it was too harsh.
Critics have also
argued that Vivian is objectified and turned into a virtual
mannequin, but you would clearly disagree with that interpretation.
When Vivian goes to Rodeo
Drive to buy clothes, we just wanted to show her having fun.
It's fun to buy new clothes, to dress up--that's all. I also
used that sequence to show her strength. She triumphs over the
shop lady. I wanted the audience to care for her [Vivian] and
pull for her. When she comes back to the shop after the lady
was rude, she wins that battle and the audience cheers for her.
The seeds of Erin Brockovich are right here in this scene.
So you see Vivian as a seed of Erin and Maggie?
Absolutely, Vivian begins a class shift in this movie, and the important factor in this class shift is her intellectual development. She learns etiquette and chess. She even begins her education in the opera. At the end of the film, she announces that she is going to school. She realizes that brains, what she knows, what is inside her pretty head, are the most important thing. She also encourages Kit in the same direction. Vivian gives her money--she calls it a scholarship. Vivian has begun her own education, and she encourages others to educate themselves. I don't understand why critics think she's going to give up her education just because Gere comes to get her. That's not what I had
in mind at all.
Soyini Madison argues that the cultural adoration of "beauty, femininity, and sexuality" disempowers "the very women it props on its precarious pedestal." Does it disempower Vivian?
I think that adoration does disempower some women. A woman may say, "I'm pretty and that's it." She doesn't develop. But I don't think Pretty Woman is just about the cultural adoration of beauty, femininity, and sexuality. I think it's about getting a bad deck of cards and working to change that. Erin and Maggie take it further, and they do a lot on their own. Pretty Woman ends where Runaway Bride and Erin Brockovich pick up.
So Vivian is more than what Jane Caputi calls a "sexual servant"?
In the beginning, she is a sexual servant. That's true, but that's not the point. The story was set up like that--then love comes and turns all that around, upsets all that. Her class and status change throughout the movie because of education. Vivian becomes more than a sexual servant. She becomes Edward's best friend. Remember the scene at the polo match? Vivian looks around at Edward's so-called friends and says, "No wonder you came looking for me." Edward rescues Vivian financially, but Vivian rescues Edward emotionally and spiritually. I wouldn't even say that her rescue was equal to his; I would say it was more important than his. You have a guy who has plenty of money, but he doesn't enjoy his life. He can't stand heights, he can't walk barefoot through the park, he can't sit on the carpet, eat strawberries, and watch I Love Lucy, he can't even drive a lotus. Then he meets Vivian, and he can do all those things which he shows when he climbs the fire escape, overcoming his fear of heights, at the end of the movie. Incidentally, that final line, "She saves him right back," came from Laura Ziskin who is now the head of Fox Studios. She was on the set at the end of the film, and I asked her, "What would Vivian say here?" She gave me that line, and Laura is a very strident feminist.
During the film noir period, there were some strong women characters in film, but those images disintegrated after World War II when the government was trying to get women out of the workplace--so the returning soldiers could have the jobs--and into the home. Hollywood bombarded us with images of Marilyn Monroe and Doris Day trying to marry millionaires. Vivian somewhat follows in that tradition. But, you would argue, she has evolved a little past that--she is going to pursue her education, for example--and Maggie has evolved further still?
Yes, absolutely, Vivian doesn't wake up in the morning and say, "I want to marry a millionaire." But once she realizes the possibility, she does see it as a way out. Maggie is getting out, getting to New York, with her own brains and talent. Although I admit, critics analyze my intention much more than I do. I'm just trying to be a good storyteller. I'm trying to tell a story audiences will enjoy, a story with some hope. I'm a hopeful guy. It's like that little girl who drew a picture of herself. All of these experts looked at the picture and said, "In this picture, you have no arms. Are you unable to reach for things? Do you have frustrated desires and fantasies? Do you feel trapped or confined? Are you unable to find fulfillment? Perhaps you have seen the Venus de Milo lately?" The little girl, amazed, looked at them and said, "What do you mean I don't have any arms? They're clasped behind my back. That's how I always stand." When I made Happy Days, critics said Fonzie was the personification of Marxist ideology--the proletariat rising against the bourgeoisie. Fonzie was just modeled after this guy I grew up with, a guy in a black leather jacket who stuck out his thumbs and said, "AAAYYY."
You said you want to tell stories that audiences enjoy. Would you say that a shift in audience taste has precipitated this shift in the characterization of the romantic heroine?
More and more women are working. More and more women are supporting families. More and more women are getting educated. It is only natural for them to want to see women more like them on the screen. Stronger. More independent. Before the seventies, women were told to shut up. In the seventies, women were told, "Speak but we won't listen." In the eighties, women were told, "Speak. We'll listen." In the nineties, women were told, "OK. Speak. You've got a point." Now women don't want to be told to speak. They say, "I'll speak and I'll change the world."
Images Copyright ©1999 by Paramount Pictures and Touchstone Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
|Birth Name:||Garry Kent Marshall|
|Birthdate:||November 13, 1934|
|Misc:||Owns the famous Falcon Theatre in Burbank, CA.|
Father: Anthony Marshall (aka Anthony W. Masciarelli), director of industrial films; a producer on The Odd Couple, Happy Days, and Laverne & Shirley
Mother: Marjorie Ward Marshall, dance instructor; ran a tap dance school
Sister: Penny Marshall, director; actress
Wife: Barbara Marshall, former nurse
Daughter: Lori Marshall, playwright; cowrote Garry's autobiography
Daughter: Kathleen Marshall, actress; producer
Son: Scott Marshall, director
Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University in Evanston, IL
Films Directed By:
Other Sister (1999)
to Eden (1994)
and Johnny (1991)
in Common (1986)
Flamingo Kid (1984)
Doctors in Love (1982)
Other Sister (1999)
- w/Bob Brunner; Story by Alexandra Rose, Blair Richwood, and
Garry Marshall & Bob Brunner
The Flamingo Kid (1984)
- w/Neal Marshall
Roy Slade (1971)
- w/Jerry Belson
- w/Jerry Belson & Mark McShane (from McShane's novel, "The Passing
Sweet It Is! (1968)
- w/Jerry Belson and Muriel Resnik (from Resnick's novel, "The
Girl in the Turquoise Bikini")
Me When It's Funny (1997)
- w/Lori Marshall
Turn at Lungfish (1990)
- w/Lowell Ganz, Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, IL.
The Roast (1980)
- w/Jerry Belson, Broadway's Wintergarden Theatre, NYC
- Pheasant Run Playhouse, St. Charles, IL
Shows Produced and/or Created By:
in Common (1987)
Who's Watching the Kids (1978)
Mork & Mindy (1978)
Blansky's Beauties (1977)
Laverne & Shirley (1976)
Happy Days (1974)
Me & the Chimp (1972)
The Odd Couple (1970)
Hey, Landlord (1966)
Bride (1999) -
This Space Between Us (1999)
- Steve Nicklo
Been Kissed (1999)
Can't Be Heaven (1999)
- Pawn Shop Broker
The Directors: Garry Marshall (1999)
- Tour Bus Driver
Friends Like These... (1998)
- Frank Minetti
Twilight of the Golds (1997)
- Walter Gold
Capra's American Dream (1997)
Dear God (1996)
- Preston Sweeney, Postmaster
Statistically Speaking (1995)
Murphy Brown (1994-98)
- Stan Lansing
- The Devil
The Last Shot (1993)
- Mark Tullis Sr.
League Of Their Own (1992)
- Walter Harvey
(1991) - Edmund
Jack Flash (1986)
In America (1985)
- Las Vegas Casino Manager
(1968) - Plainclothesman
- Service Station Attendant
is a writer living in Southern California. She also
teaches argumentative writing at Pepperdine University.