Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Happy Days, and two of Hollywood's Most Famous Actor/Director/Producers

Happy Days was the start of retro, and the ultimate proof that you can never please a teenager. In the sixties, American teens rebelled against the perfect families of the 1950s seen in shows such as Father Knows Best so they could tune in to watch the blended family sibling rivalry in The Brady Bunch. in the 1970s, they mocked the ultra-fake cheeriness of the The Brady Bunch so they could return to the 1950s with Happy Days and its theme song, "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets! Then, in the 1990s, you could not pry American teens away from the set when That Seventies Show was on. What a long, strange trip it's been, America!

Ron Howard and Henry Winkler in the 1976 episode of Happy Days, "Fonzie's Apartment." 

One of the most interesting aspects of Happy Days, in my opinion, is what happened to the two main characters after the show--their careers did not simply "take off," Ron Howard and Henry Winkler became two of the most famous Hollywood superstars in history! Ron Howard has directed 35 films including The Da Vinci Code, A Beautiful Mind, Far and Away, and won two Oscars. Henry Winkler produced 39 films and won two Golden Globes--he's come a long way from The Fonz!

The Fonz, An American Idol

Although he didn't begin the show as the star, and in all fairness shared the star status with Ron Howard, there is no denying that Henry Winkler's character, Arthur Fonzerelli, A.K.A. Fonzie, or "The Fonz," was an American teen idol. The Fonz revived the black leather jacket look, slicked hair, and likely drove many parents in the 70s close to the brink of insanity as their children copied his favorite phrases, "Heyyyy..." and "Whooa..."

Fonzie was an unexpected cult figure. In fact, according to John Javna, author of Cult TV, who referred to The Fonz as "a cross between James Dean and Superman," the focus of the show was supposed to be primarily on the friendship between Ron Howard, who played the all-American boy Richie Cunningham, and his trouble-making friend, Potsie, played by Anson Williams. Instead, American teens were obsessed with The Fonz, who was supposed to be a supporting cast member. Now, his leather jacket is enshrined in the Smithsonian Institution!

Fonzie was a lady's man who generally had one lady beneath each arm. He had a special talent with juke boxes and vending machines--he smacked them on the top with his fist and they instantly cooperated. He was also known for his skill with motorcycles and cars.

Fonzie referred to Richie's father as Mr. C. Interestingly, Fonzie and Mr. C. were the only two characters who appeared in every episode of Happy Days.

The All American Family

The Happy Days plot was simple, a close resemblance to the popular family sitcoms of the 1950s with a bit of satire thrown into the mix. Richie Cunningham is a high school student in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His father, Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley) runs a hardware store.

The Cunningham Family. Clockwise, Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard), Marion Cunningham (Marion   Ross), Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley) and Joanie Cunningham (Erin Moran). 

Richie's mother, Marion Cunningham (Marion Ross) is a stay-at-home mom who does her best to run a tight household amid the usual teenage dramas. Richie also has a younger sister, Joanie Cunningham (Erin Moran) who becomes a major player later in the show when Fonzie's cousin Chachi (Scott Baio) is added to the cast and falls in love with Joanie.

The Cunningham family in a promotional photo for the show. Clockwise, Richie (Ron Howard), Joanie (Erin Moran), Marion (Marion Ross) and Howard (Tom Bosley). 

Richie also has two very close friends, Potsie and Ralph Malph. Potsie is played by Anson Williams. He is Richie's best friend in the beginning, though The Fonz becomes his friend and intimate adviser as the show develops. When this happens, Potsie is shown paired up with Ralph Malph. Potsie was one of four characters who stuck with the show through its entire run. Ralph Malph (Donny Most) was a side character who became a main player in the second season when he was paired up with Potsie. Ralph is a joker who follows up each joke with "I still got it!"

Potsie (Anson Williams), Richie (Ron Howard), The Fonz (Henry Winkler) and Ralph Malph (Donny Most) at Arnold's Drive-In, 1975. 

Richie, Potsie, and Ralph were known as "The Three Amigos" and spent most of their time at Arnold's Drive-In owned by Al Delvecchio (Al Molinaro) with the rest of the community's teenagers, including The Fonz and his many girlfriends.

Love, American Style Skit

Happy Days actually began as a skit on the popular classic anthology Love, American Style. The episode was titled "Love and the Happy Day" and aired in February of 1972. When the blockbuster film American Graffiti was released in 1973, the show inspired television genius Garry Marshall to create the sitcom Happy Days.

The first Happy Days episode aired on January 15, 1974 during the most popular prime time slot, from 8 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday nights. (I don't know why that was the most popular time, but I do know I never missed an episode!) The show ran until July 12, 1984 and ranked in the Top 25 seven times.

Eventually, Teenagers Grow Up...

The problem with having a family sitcom is eventually the cast grows up--they can't stay in high school forever. After a remarkable six years, Ron Howard decided to leave the show in 1980 to pursue a career in film. Richie Cunningham was written out of the show by joining the U.S. Army. Before he leaves, he marries his long-time sweetheart Lori Beth over the phone with Fonzie standing in his place. The couple returned to the show on occasion with their son, Richie Jr.

Ralph Malph also joins the Army, but Potsie goes to work for Richie's father as Assistant Manager of Cunningham Hardware. Fonzie falls in love, but he reminds the woman of her ex-husband and for the first time he is not only rejected, but broken-hearted. He eventually meets a young man named Danny who he wants to adopt, but he is turned down at first because he is a single father. Eventually, he adopts Danny and the two attend Joanie and Chachi's wedding together. 


Now here's some interesting trivia: Robin Williams first appeared as Mork on Happy Days and his show, Mork & Mindy is actually a Happy Days spin-off!

Robin Williams first appeared as Mork on Happy Days

In fact, Happy Days had a surprising number of spin-off shows, a testament to the brilliance of Garry Marshall. Marshall's daughter, actress and director Penny Marshall, appeared on Happy Days with Cindy Williams as friends of Fonzie, and they were so popular that they were given their own show, Laverne & Shirley. 

When Joanie and Chachi were dating they were a popular couple and eventually married. They also had their own show called Joanie Loves Chachi, but it was very short-lived, the victim of television politics, even though it finished in the Top 20 after its first season.


  • Javna, John. Cult TV. St. Martin’s Press. New York: 1985.
  • Lewis, Lisa Anne. "Happy Days." The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved April 9, 2013. 
  • Winship, Michael. Television. Random House. New York: 1988.


JoJo said...

There was also the older brother Chuck in the first few episodes who was written out and never mentioned again. I loved this show when it first started. Also, the phrase 'Jump the Shark' originated w/ Happy Days, because the episode when Fonzie jumped a shark was the beginning of the end of the show.

Darla Sue Dollman said...

I remember Chuck! I was trying to find information on him or a publicity photo and couldn't, which is odd. Chuck was in college. Great info about Jump the Shark! (I wish the rest of the readers could see this. There is a problem with the settings on this blog.)