Back in the day, Happy Days stole our hearts and made us nostalgic for the “good ole days.” Surprisingly, some things weren’t always so great.
Not So Lucky
Even though actress Erin Moran found success on Happy Days as character Joanie Cunningham and later in the spin-off Mork & Mindy, she was not always so lucky. At one time, she was evicted from her California home and left totally homeless for a brief period. Sadly, in 2012 E! News reported that Erin Moran was broke and homeless again.
Bizarre Name Change
When the show was first created it was not supposed to be called Happy Days. Gary Marshall revealed in his book Wake Me When It’s Funny, that the show was originally supposed to be called Cool. Marshall’s memoir explained that the test audiences thought the name “cool” sounded too much like a cigarette brand. Then the creators thought about changing the name to Fonzie’s Happy Days, but Ron Howard did not like that name either. Producer Carl Kleinschmitt saved the day with the suggestion of Happy Days and it obviously stuck!
The Real Fonz
Many do not know that the famous drummer and lead singer of The Monkees, Micky Dolenz, was originally considered for the role of “The Fonz.” Producers ended up changed their minds because Dolenz was too tall for the role. The drummer stood at 6 feet tall and was deemed too tall for his co-star Ron Howard who only stood at 5’9″. Micky Dolenz was fine without Happy Days and ended up finding success with The Monkees and afterward, he did voice-overs for many Saturday morning cartoons including The Scooby- Doo Show.
Bye Bye Pinky
Remember when Happy Days had a three part story called “Fonzie Loves Pinky”? Well, it turns out that in real life actress Roz Kelly and actor Henry Winkler did not get along very well. Roz Kelly was written off of the series after just three episodes. She just never jelled with the cast. Later on, she told People magazine that she did not have much in common with the cast. She said, “I grew up on welfare, so I don’t relate to rich kids.”
Long Live Happy Days
Happy Days ran for 11 seasons which means it was one of ABC’s longest running series! It even outlasted its many spin-offs including Mork & Mindy and Laverne & Shirley. The success of the show was pretty surprising considering the first season was not a huge hit. It is incredible that it ended up being one of the highest rated shows in the 1970s with a total of 255 episodes. The ratings jumped from 49th place in the second season to 1st place in the fourth season.
ABC is a family focused broadcasting company, and the execs were worried that the leather jacket Fonzie wore might send the wrong message. They suggested he wear a windbreaker instead, but director Gary Marshall was adamant and eventually won out. Now Fonzie is regarded as one of the coolest guys in television. Virgin Media even said, “He was the coolest dude in suburban America on the classic sitcom Happy Days. He wore a jacket; he got all the chicks; he even made the thumbs-up sign look good.”
Actor Ron Howard agreed to play Richie Cunningham so he wouldn’t end up in Vietnam. Howard was already planning to attend USC’s School of Cinematic Arts before he signed on for Happy Days. Howard was concerned about the draft and he shared he had a “horrible draft number [he] was number 41 or 42 and they were not accepting college deferments.” He did not want to go Vietnam so instead, he was able to get a work deferment. Fortunately, he was hired for Happy Days and Paramount helped Howard get out of being drafted.
He Couldn’t Read
Many fans did not know that at 31 years old, Winkler was diagnosed with Dyslexia. Unfortunately, it was an issue he struggled with his entire life. In an interview with Emmy TV Legends, it was revealed that as a child, Winkler was very anxious because of his undiagnosed dyslexia. He also shared that his relationship with his parents was strained due to their attitude towards his learning disabilities. His father would call him a “dumb dog.” During his audition for Happy Days, he ad-libbed the script because he couldn’t read it fast enough.
Pick an Accent
Even though actor Pat Morita was born in California and spoke perfect English, producers wanted him to have an accent. He played along and spoke in a Chinese Pidgin English Dialect despite the fact he was Japanese. Then a couple weeks later, Morita was told that he couldn’t play the role of Arnold as Chinese because it was not “politically correct” since Morita was Japanese. Morita thought quickly on his feet and said that the character was half Chinese and half Japanese so he could keep the role.
One day in 1975, a surprise visitor dropped by the set of Happy Days. No one expected one of the most famous musicians in the world, John Lennon, to just show up unannounced! The former Beatle was a huge fan of the series and even signed autographs for crew members. It turns out that his son Julian Lennon was also a big fan of the show and that was how John decided to pop in one day. Anson Williams recalled that Lennon was nice and “somewhat shy.”
Breaking The Fourth Wall
The finale episode of Happy Days on September 27, 1984, had featured a unique message to viewers. In the final episode, Tom Bosley, who played the role of Howard Cunningham, broke the fourth wall and spoke directly to the camera. During the marriage reception scene, Bosley thanked all of the viewers for their longtime support of Happy Days. He looked directly at the camera and said, ”Thank you all for being part of our family – to happy days.”
Originally, there were three kids in the Cunningham family. Most fans only remember Richie and Joanie Cunningham. The eldest brother Chuck Cunningham was phased out. The eldest son supposedly went to college with a basketball scholarship. Fonzie ended up bringing that older brother vibe to the show instead. Even Garry Marshall admitted, “we realized that Fonzie was really the ‘big brother’ character the show needed.” In the final episode of Happy Days, Howard comments that he is proud of his “two kids” and Chuck is not mentioned at all.
The phrase “jumping the shark” actually comes from the episode in the fifth season premiere of Happy Days when Fonzie jumps over a shark while he in water skiing. The phrase is now also used in many other ways. Interestingly, the scene was created to showcase Winkler’s real skiing skills. Ironically, a stunt double ended up performing the scene for Winkler. The scene was too dangerous and Winkler has already hurt himself during another scene where he jumps his motorcycle over fourteen barrels.
Who’s Arnold Anyway?
Even though actor Pat Morita played the role of Arnold, it was not actually his real name. In one episode of Happy Days, “Arnold’s” real name was revealed. His character is called Arnold because the restaurant he owns his called “Arnold’s.” The story goes that the restaurant was called Arnold’s before he bought it and he could not afford to change the name. In the episode, Morita explains the history of the name and states that his real name is Mitsumo Takahashi.
Happy Days did not start out strong like most shows that end up becoming successful. At the end of the first season, the show was nearly canceled due to low ratings. By the second season, Happy Days was falling out of the Top 30. One thing turned it all around. Thankfully fans latched on to the Fonzie Character and kept the show on the air for another ten seasons. The popular show ended up being one of the highest-rated shows of the 1970s even though it took them some time to get there.
Originally, before Happy Days was created, Paramount executives Michael Eisner and Tom Miller approached Garry Marshall about the time period of the show. The executives had thought about setting the show in the 1920s or 1930s. However, Garry Marshall said he had no idea how to write about that era and did not know enough about flappers. Instead, he pulled inspiration from a time he knew well – the 1950s. Marshall grew up in the 1950s and could easily create a story that took place during that time.
In an interview on Oprah’s Where Are They Now, Anson Williams revealed how he almost missed his audition for Happy Days. Anson said he got a call for an audition for a 50s show and on his way there his car broke down and he ended up being hours late. Once he arrived, the receptionist told him that he was lucky because “they hadn’t cast Potsie yet.” Williams asked, “What’s a Potsie?” Thankfully producers were impressed by his audition, and he received a callback!
When Robin Williams was first featured as the character Mork on Happy Days, the producers added in a special inside joke that most people did not catch on to. As Mork shows up on set during his first appearance on the show, he is looking at The Andy Griffith Show on television. The Andy Griffith Show featured a young Ron Howard. Then, Mork shares that he really enjoyed the Andy Griffith Show, especially the character Opie who was played by Howard.
Some observant fans may recognize the motorcycle that the Fonz used in another film. Interestingly, the motorcycle that was featured on Happy Days that Fonzie used to ride was the exact same model as what Steve McQueen used in The Great Escape. The motorcycle in The Great Escape was only used per McQueen’s request because he was a talented motorcyclist. McQueen’s character stole the iconic motorcycle to escape. The Great Escape was filmed years before Happy Days in 1963 so they can be credited with first introducing the cool ride.
Ralph Hector Malph, one of the character’s on Happy Days had parents with hilarious names. Happy Days creators named Ralph’s parents Mickey and Minnie Malph. His father was an optometrist making him Dr. Mickey Malph played by Jack Dodson. Even more interesting is that Ralph’s parents were changed in later seasons of Happy Days. When Happy Days first started, his parents were Hazel and Harry Malph and they were dress store owners. We do not know why the creators of the show changed Ralph’s parents twice.
Lots of people love to keep special trinkets with them for good luck. Most people carry a picture of a loved one in their wallet but not the Fonz! Our TV tough guy carries a pic of the Lone Ranger! Fonzie loved the Lone Ranger. He was so devoted to the Lone Ranger that in one episode The Fonz got to meet the Lone Ranger. In the episode, the Fonz is completely star struck as the Lone Ranger hands him a bullet to keep with him as a symbol of their friendship.
The Fonz’s real name was Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli, but the only people who ever called him Arthur were Mrs. Cunningham and his girlfriend Ashley. When his full legal name was said, it was not because he was in trouble. On the contrary, Mrs. Cunningham usually called “Mrs. C,” always called Fonzie by his full first name in an affectionate and loving way. We can credit the Happy Days producer and writer Bob Brunner for creating Fonzie’s nickname that most people use today.
Many films and TV shows at the time were set in the 1950s besides Happy Days and American Graffiti. There was a lot of nostalgia during the 1970s for the 1950s and as a result, many people thought that the idea for Happy Days was based on the popular film American Graffiti, but it’s just not true. The pilot for Happy Days was filmed before the film. The pilot and rejected by producers but following the film’s success they revisited the project.
On Happy Days, Richie Cunningham would do almost anything to pick up women. Anytime he was feeling especially lucky with the ladies, he would sing his favorite song. The song BlueBerrry Hill by Fats Domino always got Richie Cunningham into a good mood! If he saw a girl that he thought he could pick up, Cunningham would belt out, “I found my thrill … on Blueberry Hill.” Richie would reference the song when he was frustrated too and would call his enemies “bucko.”
Some of the actors on Happy Days had real musical talent. Both Scott Baio who played Chachi Arcola, and Anson Williams who played Potsie Weber, received recording contracts after appearing on Happy Days. Producers wanted them based on their musical work while on the series. The actors used their musical talents on the show when their characters created a band that would perform at Arnold’s Drive-In and other venues. Williams really sang the lead vocals in the band. After Happy Days, Scott Baio went on to record an album called The Boys Are Out Tonight.
Real Life Rock Star
The Happy Days character who had a recurring role as bass player Leather Tuscadero was also real life pop star Suzi Quatro when she was on the show. She was the first female bassist to score several hits on the Billboard Top 100. Many people credit Quatro for “breaking barriers to women’s participation in rock music.” Her debut on Happy Days greatly helped her career. One of her songs on the show, “Stumblin’ In” reached number 4 in the US!
Actor Tom Hanks and Garry and Penny Marshall loved to work together! First, Tom guest starred in the episode “A Little Case of Revenge” on Happy Days as Dwayne Twitchell. His character ends up fighting Fonzie. Then five years later Hanks was the star of Big directed by Penny Marshall. Marshalls and Hanks did not want to stay away from each other for long because five years after Big, Hanks starred in Marshall’s film A League Of Their Own.
There was one episode of Happy Days where Henry Winkler’s Jewish identity was put on display through his character, the Fonz. In the episode, the Fonz and Joanie decide to place a bet with a cheerleader on who would win a dance competition. In the scene, Fonzie gets up and starts dancing to Hava Nagila, a traditional Israeli folk song that is typically played at Jewish celebrations. This makes sense for actor Henry Winkler as he is Jewish but less so for his character Arthur Fonzirelli.
Do you know what Chachi Arcola’s real name was? Charles. Charles certainly does not have the same ring to it as “Chachi.” The name “Chachi” completely stuck to the character, so much so that the Happy Days spin-off show was called Joanie Loves Chachi. Scott Baio’s character was named after a street where Garry Marshall, the show’s creator, had lived. Even the show Friends references the name Chachi. In the first episode of the first season of Friends, Rachel says, “but Joanie loves Chachi!”
Years after Happy Days first aired, news surfaced that cast members were not getting paid for the show’s merchandise. According to the cast members, they were not getting paid what they were owed in their contracts. As a result, the Happy Days Stars filed a lawsuit to settle the money. Finally, in 2012 CBS reached a settlement with the cast members. Each actor received $65,000 out of the $10 million they initially wanted and they were “satisfied with the outcome. [They] will continue to receive all of the merchandising royalties promised in [their] contracts.”
Libraries Are Cool
Once the show became successful Garry Marshall was asked to encourage literacy through the series. In response, the show had the Fonz go to the library and check out a book. As a result, registration for the library went up 500%. After Happy Days went off the air, Henry Winkler continued to make literacy a top priority and wrote children’s books. In 2013, Winkler was even named a “Literary Hero” from the National Literacy Trust.
Now everyone who is a fan of Happy Days can personally visit The Fonz. In 2008, a large bronze statue of Henry Winkler as his character Fonzie was unveiled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Fonz statue stands at the south end of the Rock Bottom Brewery outdoor seating area. An autograph session was held afterward for loyal fans. The statue depicts Fonzie wearing his classic leather jacket and jeans. He is also giving his two-handed thumbs up. The statue was intended to bring more tourism and interest to Milwaukee.
Rock Around The Clock
Bill Haley & His Comets recorded an original version of his hit, Rock Around The Clock, for the Happy Days theme song. The original song from the 1950s actually returned to the American Billboard charts in 1974 when it was used for the show. The song played over the credits for the first two seasons! Then for season 3-10, Rock Around the Clock was replaced by the Happy Days theme that is widely recognized today: “Sunday, Monday, Happy Days, Tuesday, Wednesday, Happy Days…”
Henry Winkler Saves The Day
During the height of Happy Day’s popularity, a young troubled teenaged boy called the studio saying he was contemplating suicide. When he called, he requested to speak to Henry Winkler because his idol was Fonzie. Henry Winkler agreed to take the call. He then gave the young man a pep talk which turned out to save the boy’s life. Though we do not know what was said in the phone call, it was obviously a successful conversation because Winkler convinced him to give life another chance.
A Real Greaser
It was revealed in a Vanity Fair article that when Henry Winkler was the star of Happy Days as the Fonz, Paramount studios considered him for the role of Danny Zuko in Grease. He was an obvious pick over John Travolta because Winkler was already the star of Happy Days as another greaser type. Shockingly, he turned down the role because he did not want to get typecast into only playing 1950s teenage greasers. Fortunately, Winkler did not end up getting stereotyped in his future roles.
Sometimes it was not possible to obtain the rights for certain songs from the 1950s so Happy Days figured out another way to get around the issue. The show had one of their actors, Anson Williams who played Warren “Potsie” Weber record songs for Happy Days that would be played on the famous jukebox. Most fans remember the catchy song, “Pump Your Blood” that Williams sang in the episode Potsie Quits School. He also sang the song “Deeply” in the episode Graduation.
America’s Favorite Pass time
If you wanted to be on the show, you needed to know how to play softball! In fact, the cast and crew played on a team outside of the show together. Garry Marshall, the creator and executive producer of Happy Days, had the great idea to create a Happy Days All-Star Softball Team. Marshall made sure to include the cast and crew members on the team. It ended up being a great way to blow off steam and raise money for charity as they would often play other celebrity teams.
Taken From Real Life
Does life imitate art or does art imitate life? For Happy Days creator, Garry Marshall, art certainly imitated his real life. Garry Marshall pulled inspiration from his real life to name his characters on Happy Days. The character Potsie Webber was named after a real former classmate of Marshall’s wife. The character Richie Cunningham was also named after a “nice boy” from Church that Marshall knew! Fonzie’s name was even supposed to be Arthur Masciarelli which was Marshall’s original last name. They ultimately decided to use Fonzie because “the Fonz” sounded better.
Oldest Cast Memeber
When Al Molinaro passed away in 2015, Marion Ross became the oldest living cast member. She is currently 88 years old and has quite an active acting career in the last decade. Ross played Nurse Jackie on Grey’s Anatomy in 2010. She was also a guest star on a number of popular shows including The Middle and Two and a Half Men. Her two adult children have also gone on to follow in her footsteps and work in the entertainment industry too.