Some commencement speeches are more amusing than others. Here is is one from the 2012 graduation season that stands out for attemping to impart a real life lesson — how not to give up — with humor. It was delivered by Garry Marshall, an award-winning television and film director, writer, producer, and actor, who spoke at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., on Saturday, May 19.
Hi. How are ya? How ya doing? Thanks for having me here at Lafayette.
You’re about to enter the real world. I’ve been in the real world and I think you may need aspirin once in a while.
You see, I remember ... graduating from Northwestern University and I was so excited. I was going to get out there and get my diploma and do things, and I was ready, and I was out two weeks and I got a call, and I had to go into the Army and I spent the next two years in Korea. But, what ya gonna do? You gotta do what you gotta do. And I came back, and again I took the diploma....
T here was a comedian named Joey Bishop, and I went to him because I wanted to work for him and I said, ‘Here’s my diploma,’ and he looked at it and then he turned it on its back and said there’s nothing written on the back. I said ‘No, they only put it on the front, I made it through college.’ He said ‘Go home, and on the back write some jokes so I can see what you can do.’ So I went home, I wished it was a larger diploma because I had to write legal size because I had a lot of jokes. But he didn’t hate them and he didn’t love them. But I was trying. That was a setback. I knew I was going to have setbacks — and you’re going to have setbacks and you gotta bounce back.
The first job I really got was with Shari Lewis who had a puppet named Lamb Chop. Shari is a lovely lady, but the puppet was mean. Shari would say: ‘Good writing, Gary,’ and the puppet would say: ‘You should be banned from the Writers’ Guild. This is a joke? This is terrible!’ Finally, the puppet fired us. So to be fired by a piece of cloth is not so exciting, you know as your career moves forward. But you gotta know that sometimes you’re going to get whacked, something is going to go wrong and you gotta bounce back.
The first show I created was 99th in the ratings. It was called ‘Hey Landlord.’ You hear the applause? Nothing. It was not a good show. But that didn’t stop me: ‘All right, I’ll come back.’ Ten years later, ‘ Happy Days’ was the Number 1 show. But everybody goes through this.
Steve Jobs dropped out of college, he got fired by Apple, but he bounced back pretty high, Steve Jobs. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. He didn’t say ‘Well, that’s it; I’ll go be a dentist.’ He said ‘I’ll bounce back,’ and he really did bounce back, and he went on and on.
It happened truly throughout my career. I had a movie ‘Pretty Woman.’ It opened on a Friday night. It did very well. I was getting dressed to play softball when they called me. They said the film did very well. And then I went and played softball and I was zero for four into a double play. It was not good. But I didn’t quit softball. I now play in the senior league. It’s a wonderful league for old people. If you hit a double, they give you a nap. It’s a terrific league. You don’t get a championship trophy, they give you free Lipitor. Best league I ever played in. But you gotta keep going.
I come from the Bronx, New York. In the streets there, you had to hit a ball or hit somebody or dress well in my neighbor. We had two kids from our neighborhood, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. Ralph Lauren’s name at the time was Lipschitz. But he had to adjust, because no one wanted to buy Polo by Lipschitz. He changed his name to Lauren and bounced right back. That’s what you gotta do. You’re gonna get whacked and you come right back.
I went into theater. I’m a trivia question. What was the play before ‘Cats’ at the Winter Garden? No one knows. It was called ‘The Roast.’ I wrote ‘The Roast.’ ‘ The Roast’ lasted three nights. ‘Cats’ ran for 18 years. They said I helped ‘Cats’ because I lowered the bar. But it’s alright. I didn’t quit writing. I kept going. Each guy goes through a thing.
The great Robin Williams remember him? Great guy. So he comes and we’re doing ‘Mork and Mindy.’ So the first day I’m directing. In those days at Paramount the average age for a cameraman was 85. There’s three of them. My favorite was Sam, and he would stay like this. Just stay. And I’d say: ‘Action!’ and Robin would jump around and read the script and do the jokes, he ad-libbed nine times and jumped around and did a head-stand and he jumped over this, he jumped over that. I finally said ‘Cut.’ I said ‘Did you get that, Sam?’ He said, ‘He never came by here. I said ‘Sam, the man’s a genius.’ ‘If he’s such a genius let him hit the mark. It’s just a mark, right here, Mr. Genius.’ So we made some adjustments. Robin learned to hit his mark and I hired a fourth camera to follow Robin around.
I was doing ‘Pretty Woman’ and everything was going wrong. Julia was in traffic and she was having a bad hair day and then Richard [Gere] was having a bad hair. That day was so bad on ‘Pretty Woman.’ Just to help I said ‘Let’s do something.’ I said ‘Richard,’ he had to give her a jewelry box. ‘Just hit it on her hand and we’ll fool around a little bit.’ He banged the jewelry box on her hand and everybody laughed because when Julia laughs everybody laughs. She’s pretty good at it. That shot became the trademark of ‘Pretty Woman.’ It was in every trailer. Even though we were really in trouble we came back. That helped us came back. So you always have to try. You’re going to get whacked. You have to go forward.
You might say, ‘Well how do we do that?’ Well, you stay away from negative people. And second of all, you find your own way. There’s this kid, Taylor Swift. She’s a singer. I worked with her. She’s pretty good. I remember meeting her and she had a No. 13 around her neck. I was born on November 13 so we became buddies right way. I said you just went through this bad romance. Love happens to even people who are known. You just had this bad break up with somebody... the Jones brothers or the Jonas Brothers, or something like that, I read it in all the papers. I said ‘How did it go?’ She’s 19. I’m a 107. ‘How are you?’ She said, ‘He broke my heart,’ as only a 19 year old can say. I said ‘You’re here. What do you do when you get down low?’ I wrote a song. She wrote a song. Now, maybe you can’t write a song, but you can write a poem to get you out of it. You have to get out of it.
Now, I’m going to take a second to talk to your parents.
Now, parents…you know how proud you are at this moment? Parents, in a couple of years things are not going to go perfect. Sometimes you know, you end up with lattes at the Starbucks, you’re serving them, hello you want this? Or you’re at Denny’s making the soup. The parents don’t like that so much. They like now.
What it is important for you parents is to learn to lie. You have to lie. When they say, ‘How’s your kid?’ ‘Well, he’s doing something for the CIA, I can’t talk about it.’ ‘He’s top chef, he’s a taster, they never let me know, it’s secret, ya can’t talk about it. She’s wonderful, making a lot of money.’ You have to lie a little about it and then eventually give them a chance. Sooner or later they’ll do it.
I remember when you also could work for your father. I worked for my father. I worked for my mother. My sister Penny, she was on the show ‘Laverne and Shirley.’ Penny was doing very well. The show was Number 1 in the ratings when it opened. I remembered she told me one day she didn’t get paid. I said, ‘Well, I’ll find out,’ because my father was one of the producers. So I went to my father and said ‘Penny didn’t get paid.’ He said, ‘I know.’ I said ‘What happened to her check?’ He said, ‘I have it right here.’ I said, ‘Why didn’t you give it to her?’ He said, ‘She was very fresh with me today.’ I said, ‘It’s a six-figure check. It’s not her allowance.’ He said, ‘I’m sorry, she was fresh and she’s still my daughter.’ I had to have Penny apologize to her father and we moved on. You work for your parents and it’s OK until you find what is your dream.
I digress because there are so many lovely ladies in the audience. My sister Penny, you know was always not happy with her looks. She did commercials with Farrah Fawcett. Farrah had the good hair. Not Penny. Penny had the other hair. She would say to me, ‘They want perky, pretty girls. I’m not perky and pretty.’ I’d said ‘But you’ll be all right. You’ll be fine.’ And she did do well with ‘Laverne and Shirley’ and then later, and just so you know our industry, women, they don’t have many female directors. Because this is what it said on the memo: ‘We don’t think their minds are right to create something for the masses.’ This is what the studio said.
The benchmark of a successful director is to have a picture that makes over $100 million. Penny was the first woman to do that. She made ‘Big ’with Tom Hanks and then she made ‘A League of their Own’ with Tom Hanks and Madonna, and everybody. Both pictures made over a $100 million. She was the first woman to do that. Others have done that but she was the first.
So, you just keep going to come back from whatever it is. Whether it’s friends who are too negative. Stay with the positive. The hardest thing to bounce back from is health. The wonderful Julie Andrews, one of the greatest singers in the history of the world, had an operation that ruined her singing voice. But I had the pleasure of doing ‘Princess Diaries’ with her. I was into tiara humor for a long time, with kids and grandkids. But she came back, and she sang in the picture. She didn’t go. ‘That’s it, my career is over.’ She came back and bounced back.
You read once in a while. Samuel Beckett, a lovely writer, wrote ‘Waiting for Godot.’ We won’t go into that now. It’s a long wait. Not for you. Samuel Beckett wrote ‘fail, try, fail again, fail better, you have to fail better.’ Woody Allen once said, ‘80 percent of it is just showing up.’ A lot of people don’t show up. They get hurt or it didn’t’ work out for them. They don’t come. Ya gotta be there. It’s important to go there. Maybe there’s pain. You are all going to have some kind of rejection, some kind of pain.
Lenny Bruce once said: ‘Pain plus time equals humor.’ Write about it. That’s what people do. Write about it....No matter what happens, bounce back and you will survive. You gotta be there when Lady Luck shows up. You gotta offer her a chance. If you’re not there, you’re not going to take advantage of that. I wish you all will fail better and better and better. And even when it’s going well, you don’t want to get crazy.
Jennifer Garner, wonderful actress, married to Ben Affleck, they have a 4-year-old named Violet Affleck. She comes home from school one day and says, ‘Mommy, my friends say Jennifer Garner lives in this house. Have you seen her upstairs? Where is she? Is she in the yard?’ And Jennifer says, ‘No, no, she’s … it’s what I do when I’m in the movies.’ Because the hardest place to become a success is in your own house. Anyway, I do I wish you the best. It’s an honor to be here at Lafayette.
I myself have gone through it where, Martin Short, wonderful comedian had a show on Broadway. I wanted to go see the show, so I called him up and said ‘Can I come Wednesday night to the show?’
And he said, ‘That would be good. Every night I have a celebrity in the audience and I bring them up on stage. You can be the celebrity. I said, ‘I don’t know, Marty, I’m sure you can find a bigger celebrity than me.’ He said, ‘Not on a Wednesday.’ Jay Leno did Saturday. Jerry Seinfeld did Saturday, I was the Wednesday. So I sincerely thank you for having a Wednesday celebrity on a Saturday at Lafayette.”