Hollywood icon Garry Marshall owns an intimate, 130-seat, performing arts theater in the Toluca Lake area of Los Angeles. It's called The Falcon Theatre, and it's home to The Troubadour Theatre Company, a merry gaggle of top-notch performers, specializing in taking classic stories (e.g., It's a Wonderful Life) and setting them to contemporary music (e.g., the hits of Stevie Wonder). They, more or less, stick to traditional plot lines -- veering off course with hysterical improvisational bits -- and reinvent the original song lyrics for maximum comedic effect. Told via song and satire, these well-crafted mash ups are always funny, entertaining, and imaginative -- sometimes even touching genius. Past "Troubie" shows have been titled It's a Stevie Wonderful Life and Fleetwood Macbeth. Get the idea?
I'm sitting in the audience watching The First Jo-el, and I'm distracted. I can't take my eyes off one of the performers, to the extent that I lose track of what the hell is happening in the show. Usually it's my OCD thoughts that distract me, or some hypochondriacal fear that a minor twitch in my side is the beginning stage of Crohn's disease, but tonight it's one of the actresses, a stand out even amongst this exceptionally gifted cast. Her name is Katherine Malak, a dynamic explosion of fierce talent, sultry charisma and impeccable delivery. And she's also very funny. She has the eyes, the face, the dance moves, the voice, the dramatic chops, the comic timing, and the transfixing nuances that rock box-offices. I clearly picture her in sitcoms, on SNL, nailing a range of dramatic film and TV roles, and absolutely killing in a feature film musical. After the show, I walk home wondering why she's not a star? It's pouring rain, and I'm also wondering why I didn't drive?
Some time passes, and I'm sitting in Garry Marshall's office, having a nice, late morning chat. Mr. Marshall is one of Hollywood's most successful and respected writer/director/producers. Brimming with old-school, Bronx charm, his engaging warmth eases you into forgetting that he revolutionized television sitcoms (The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy), created The Fonz, launched Anne Hathaway, and made a deep dent in pop culture with a little film called Pretty Woman. And that's only a portion of his accomplishments. Marshall's credits are staggering, and pretty much unparalleled. With Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve, he's one of the only directors who can corral 18 A-List movie stars to appear in the same film, and then do it again. As I sit with him -- listening to stories about Richard Gere and Al Pacino -- I find myself asking him about Katherine Malak.
"I love Katherine," Marshall says. "She's a good one. She has all the tools. When I first saw her, she was dancing and singing, but then I saw her in another play, and suddenly she was funny, too. She was getting laughs. So, I met her and I asked her questions, and now she's on my radar. I have my eye on her."
Katherine Malak grew up in San Diego, and attended the Boston Conservatory, earning a BFA in Musical Theater. After making the NYC theater rounds, she moved to Los Angeles, hooked up with the prestigious Kazarian, Spencer, Ruskin & Associates Talent Agency, and has been electrifying LA stages ever since. "My art is my own skeleton key to humanity," Miss Malak says. "To heaven, through hell. I do it and continue to do it because I can't not. I've sung for 19 years. In high school, I went to Shakespeare camp. At the Boston Conservatory, I snuck into extra dance classes. In New York City, through all the elements, I was in the studios at 6am. This artform is an undeniable soul elixer. I do it because I love it. Love is imagination over intelligence, and my imagination is ablaze."
It is this relentless passion and dedication to one's art that Garry Marshall appreciates.
"There are a lot of people who really want to be in this business, and some of them just want to be on the red carpet," Marshall explains. "Katherine Malak works at her craft. She sings, she dances, she tries. Whenever I see somebody really working hard at this dream of being a working actor, those are the ones I try to help. Katherine is on my list. She is going to make it. She's very talented, brave and really trying hard. More than the red carpet!"
Garry Marshall is an extraordinarily kind soul, a good man who embodies the the-bigger-they-are-the-nicer-they-are adage. He enjoys conversation, and is incredulously generous with his time. I'm a nervous wreck, worried that his lovely longtime assistant Heather -- whose easy-going nature, I'm convinced, can turn tough the second it needs to -- is about to barge into the office to wrap things up. I don't want to be the guy who stayed too long. I watch the clock, as every social phobia swirling within me since grade school kicks in and starts to boil. I imagine Heather opening the door, shooting me a hidden-from-Garry look of death and announcing something along the lines of, "Garry, your next appointment is here."
I picture it vividly. I can't let it happen. Who needs the humiliation?
"I don't want to take up any more of your time," I say, springing to my feet. I tell Garry Marshall he is "a happy guy with a good life," and he agrees.
"My biggest joy truly is finding people and seeing them do very well," Marshall says. "Chris Pine, Robin Williams, Henry Winkler. We find them, and I really enjoy that."
As we're walking out, I look around Marshall's office, half-expecting Hector Elizondo to make a brief, but nicely executed appearance. Heather is settled at her desk across the hall, as pleasant and nice as anyone can be.
"I have pictures!" Marshall suddenly blurts out, pointing to a photo of himself with his Pretty Woman star. "There's me and Julia Roberts. She's 19 or 20 there. We paid her just over minimum. Now, they pay her twenty million dollars. Same girl! It's a big mark up!"