"I do have an affection for the past," says Garry Marshall, who is probably best known for creating televised nostalgia wallows such as "Happy Days" and "Laverne and Shirley." Now Marshall has directed "The Flamingo Kid," a comedy/drama with teen idol Matt Dillon, and he's set it in the time he loves best -- the early '60s.

"Flamingo Kid" is Marshall's second feature (his first was last year's hospital spoof "Young Doctors in Love"). He says it's about "the last innocent summer of Matt Dillon, and also the last innocent summer of our country -- just around the corner was Kennedy's death, all that noisy music from England."

Making "Flamingo Kid" was a homecoming of sorts for Marshall, who grew up in the Bronx but hadn't worked on the East Coast for 20 years. The movie was filmed on location at a cabana beach club in Far Rockaway, and much time was spent dodging Dillon's screaming fans. "I think I'm gonna avoid these period pieces from now on," Marshall says. "It's a real pain to get all the old cars, the old clothes."

Marshall says he's pretty much left television for the movies -- he hopes to start work on an adult comedy in April. "Someone said the difference between TV directing and movie directing is about $3 million. I'll buy that," Marshall says. "There's also more tension involved -- you're a little more nervous when all that money's involved."

Marshall's star was also more than a little nervous, but for a different reason. Matt Dillon gained his teen idol status by playing sullen, inarticulate rebels, and "Flamingo Kid" is his first attempt at comedy.

"At first I thought Matt was a little aloof," Marshall says. "Then I found he was frightened of comedy. He's a very nice boy, no drugs, no booze, a professional -- that's all I need." Marshall adapted several of the scenes so Dillon would be more comfortable playing them.

In The Now It Can Be Told Department: Marshall says he's one of Hollywood's noisiest, messiest eaters, and Matt Dillon also makes strange noises when he eats. So a scene of Dillon making unearthly noises at dinner at his girlfriend's house was added to the movie. And did you know that Marshall's real surname is Masharelli and that co-writer Neil Marshall's real last name was Markowitz? "So Masharelli and Markowitz come out brothers," Marshall laughs. "That's Hollywood!"

"I'm happy here in the '80s," says Marshall, asked if he would rather the world were the way it was in the '60s, the way it seems in his work. Pause for a beat. "But you know someone who could change it back? Call him up!"