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The bitter rain of winter has stopped pounding Hollywood now, and the icy wind that slices through the Angeles Crest Mountains has given way to a warmer, whispier 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 Dog 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

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 corporate monster.

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 line.

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."

February 2001

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