If catchphrases like “Aaaaayyyy!” or “Wah wah wah!” or “Correct-amundo!” warm your heart and take you down memory lane, then you’re not alone! Happy Days was one of the most popular, influential, and longest-running sitcoms in television history. There are very few shows that inspired as many spinoffs and spinoffs of spinoffs as Happy Days.
Like any TV show, there’s a lot more to everyone’s favorite sitcom than meets the eye. There are several unexpected facts about the show, its history, and its stars that even the biggest fans probably don’t know. From Mork the Ork’s origin story to John Lennon visiting the set, we’re looking at our favorite lesser-known facts about Happy Days!
The Idea For the Show Originated During a Snowstorm
In the winter of 1971, Michael Eisner was stuck at Newark airport during a massive snowstorm. That’s when he bumped into Tom Miller, the head of development at Paramount Pictures. As time went by, the two realized they weren’t going to be flying anytime soon. That’s when Eisner told Miller, “Tom, this is ridiculous. We’re wasting our time here. Let’s write a show.”
But when the script wasn’t accepted, Miller and Eisner rewrote it, despite the fact that the market research department said that a ’50s theme wouldn’t work. The second script was accepted as a pilot and filmed in 1971 under the title of New Family in Town. However, Paramount passed on making it into a weekly series and instead sent it to the “dumping ground of failed pilots”—Love, American Style.
Garry Marshall Had a Different Idea for the Show’s Name
After the success of George Lucas’ American Graffiti in 1973, American audiences had a newfound interest in the ’50s (although the film was set in 1962). That’s when Garry Marshall thought that Eisner and Miller’s unsold pilot could maybe work. He and ABC recast the unsold pilot and turned it into a weekly series.
While reminiscing about the show in an interview with The Guardian, Marshall revealed that he wanted to call the show COOL. However, test audiences reported that COOL reminded them of a cigarette brand, so ABC rejected the idea. The show’s producer, Carl Kleinschmidt, then said, “How about Happy Days? That’s what we’re going to show.” Marshall and ABC loved the idea.
Ron Howard Signed On to Avoid Going to Vietnam
Ron Howard wasn’t interested in filming another series. He had recently enrolled at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts with the dream of becoming a director. However, there was a slight problem standing in his way. Howard had a low draft number, which meant he was almost guaranteed to be drafted.
Although Uncle Sam was no longer allowing students to defer the draft, Howard could get a deferment if his job was directly related to the employment of 30 or more people. So Howard signed on to film the pilot in ’71 as Richie Cunningham. While the pilot never sold, Howard was off the hook since President Nixon ended the draft shortly after filming ended.
Fonzie Was Almost Played by a Monkee
When actor Henry Winkler got a callback after his first audition of Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli, he was surprised to see that the other person up for the part was former Monkees’ drummer Micky Dolenz. According to Dolenz, Winkler later admitted that he thought to himself, “Oh crap, Micky Dolenz is here. I’ll never get it!” when he walked into the room.
But while the former Monkee was Marshall’s preferred choice due to his recent guest appearance as a biker on Adam-12, there was a problem with his height. Marshall worried that the height difference between 6-foot Dolenz and the rest of the cast would be problematic. So, instead, they went with Winkler, who stands at 5 feet 5 inches.
Henry Winkler Had a Problem with His Scripts
Winkler went on to play some of the most memorable characters in TV history before establishing himself as a respected film director. But what fans (or anyone for that matter) didn’t know was that he suffered from severe dyslexia. Winkler would often ad-lib and insert his own jokes into the script to hide the fact that he couldn’t actually read the words in front of him.
“I grew up thinking I was stupid, and once that becomes your definition of yourself, you need a jackhammer to rid yourself of it,” Winkler told The Daily Mail in 2011. “I had no confidence.” Winkler’s ability to think on his feet, as well as his love for overcoming challenges, was what drew him to acting.
Happy Days Gave Robin Williams His Big Break
Robin Williams touched the hearts of countless people over the course of his career. However, before he made people laugh in Mrs. Doubtfire or earned praise for his performance in Good Will Hunting, he was cast as oddball alien Mork from Ork on Happy Days. According to actor Anson Williams, it was Al Molinaro who brought Williams to the set.
He had taken an improv class with the funnyman and thought he would be perfect for the part. Molinaro’s recommendation was backed by Ronny Hallin, the show’s casting director, and Marshall’s sister, who had seen Williams performing on the street. When he came in for the audition, Williams was asked to take a seat, but instead set his head down on the chair. He was cast immediately.
Pat Morita Had Problems with His Accent
Born in California, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita spoke unaccented English just like any other American. Prior to filming his first scene, director Jerry Paris told Morita that he had to “pick an accent.” Apparently, the network executives thought that an Asian character, like Arnold, should speak with an accent. So Morita went with an exaggerated Chinese Pidgin English accent, but after about six weeks, the network told him it didn’t work.
Why? Because he was Japanese- American, not Chinese-American. Quick on his feet, Morita came up with the explanation that Arnold’s last name was Takahashi, which is a Japanese last name. So that meant that Arnold was the son of a Chinese mother and a Japanese father. ABC went along with the backstory and agreed to let Morita keep his accent.
Pinky and Fonzie Were Meant to Last
The Season Four opener of Happy Days was a highly hyped event. The big news was that Fonzie was finally going to find true love with Leather Tuscadero’s older sister, Pinky. Roz Kelly was cast as Pinky after she caught ABC’s Fred Silverman’s eye and became somewhat of a pet project of his.
Silverman envisioned a “female Fonzie,” who received a massive amount of press coverage in the summer of 1977. However, Kelly was a bit too brassy and abrasive for the cast’s taste. She frequently fought with producers as well as her fellow cast members, especially Henry Winkler. “I grew up on welfare, so I don’t relate to rich kids,” she said of Winkler, who studied at Yale. After three episodes, Pinky was quietly written out of the series.
John Lennon Paid the Cast a Visit
Urban legend says that John Lennon took his 10-year-old son Julian to meet the cast of Happy Days because they were huge fans of the show. It has recently come out that this wasn’t exactly the case. Lennon, his son, and his former girlfriend, May Pang, visited the set while Happy Days was filming their fourth episode, meaning that only one or two episodes had aired at the time.
As it turns out, the trio was simply on a tour of Paramount Pictures and had just finished sitting in on a full taping of The Odd Couple when they met the cast of Happy Days. Lennon loved ’50s nostalgia and was apparently thrilled with the idea behind the show, according to Pang.
“The Fonz” Wasn’t His Original Name
Before Garry Marshall was born, his father changed their last name, Masciarelli, to something more American sounding. So, in tribute to his Italian roots, Marshall decided to name one of his characters Arthur Masciarelli, whose obvious nickname was “The Mash.” However, there was just one problem.
Not only was M*A*S*H ranked number four on TV, but it was also owned by CBS—ABC’s rival network. Not wanting to remind audiences of the hit show’s existence, Marshall axed the moniker and instead went with Fonzarelli or The Fonz. It was a wise move, especially because both Happy Days and M*A*S*H ended up being scheduled in the same Tuesday night slot. Also, it’s hard to imagine the coolest TV character from the ’70s having a name that is reminiscent of soft potatoes.
Henry Winkler Didn’t Actually Jump the Shark
While Winkler isn’t particularly athletic, he does know how to water ski, which is how writers came up with the idea for the infamous “jump the shark” episode. The actor surprisingly did all of his stunt work for the episode, except for the actual jumping over the caged shark.
The show’s producers didn’t want to take the chance of Winkler accidentally getting hurt. However, the stunt backfired and became famous in pop culture to describe the downhill spiral of a hit television show. The stunt was so unlike Fonzie and so far removed from the Happy Days world that some people say that it was the beginning of the end of the hit show’s reign.
The Cast Worked Hard and Played Harder
Part of the show’s long-lasting success is credited to the Happy Days All-Star Softball team, which Marion Ross says, brought the cast closer together. Garry Marshall thought that a softball team was not only a great way for his cast and crew to blow off steam but also to raise money for charity.
“And I had a uniform with my own mitt with my name on it and my own bat!” Ross told interviewers in 2018. Ron Howard played right field, and Scott Baio and Marshall played first base. “I’m a 53-year-old woman telling my girlfriends, ‘Sorry, I can’t go shopping because I’ve gotta go to ball practice.'” The team toured military bases in Europe and Japan and often played against other celebrity teams before MLB games.
Fonzie and His Windbreaker?
Many fans are surprised to know that the show’s producers had a hard time convincing ABC executives to let Fonzie wear his signature leather jacket. Fearing that a leather jacket was associated with gangs and criminals, they ordered Fonzie to wear a windbreaker. “It was very hard to be cool in a golf jacket with a very, very flimsy collar that would not stay up,” Henry Winkler later said.
So Garry Marshall came up with the idea that executives agreed to. Fonzie could wear a leather jacket, but only when he was standing next to his motorcycle. This led to some funny scenes of Fonzie working on his motorcycle in his apartment or riding it around Arnold’s. Once the show became a hit, ABC allowed Fonzie to wear his jacket sans a motorcycle.
The Idea for Mork Came from Garry Marshall’s Son
No matter what he did, Garry Marshall couldn’t convince his young son to tune into Happy Days. “I said, ‘why don’t you like it?'” Marshall recalled on NPR. “He said, ‘well, there are no space people.’ He wanted Star Wars. He wanted aliens.” So Marshall decided to add a silly alien named Mork from the planet Ork, who meets Fonzie and then convinces him that it’s a dream.
Audiences loved the character, who was played by the late Robin Williams, so much that Marshall decided to give the character his own spinoff show, Mork and Mindy. Unlike Happy Days, the spinoff was set in the present-day in the 1970s. The series was William’s first major acting role, and he quickly became famous for his improv chops.
ABC Executives Wanted to Change the Show’s Name
As the show grew in popularity, so did one of their stars—The Fonz. As the show began to focus more and more on the popular character, network executives thought to change the show’s name to “Fonzie’s Happy Days.” They saw this as the perfect chance to capitalize on the audience’s love for the character and boost ratings.
While the show’s main star, Ron Howard, was comfortable with his fellow costar’s sudden rise to stardom, he was not comfortable changing the name of the show. Howard felt that changing the show’s name to focus on another character would be detrimental to his career. Out of respect for the actor, ABC decided to keep the name as it was.
Victim to the McGinley Curse
Happy Days was possibly the first show to fall victim to the “McGinley Curse,” by which a show’s run comes to an end as soon as the sitcom hires actor Ted McGinley. The actor was hired to play Cunningham’s nephew, Roger Phillips, in Season Eight and remained a part of the cast until its end four years later.
In addition to starring in the final years of Happy Days, McGinley also starred in the endings of several other sitcoms, including The Love Boat, Married With Children, The Practice, and Dynasty. However, according to McGinley, there is no such thing as the McGinley Curse. In fact, he is hurt by the accusations. “It’s not fun to read those sort of things,” the actor told NBC in 2004.
Before He Was Richie Cunningham
Ron Howard grew up on set. Literally. He appeared in his first movie, The Frontier Woman, in 1956 when he was only 18 months old and made his theatre debut at the age of two in the production of The Seven Year Itch. Howard made frequent television appearances here and there and eventually caught the eye of The Andy Griffith Show’s producers.
In 1960, he first appeared as Andy Griffith’s son, Opie, and earned nationwide fame. Despite the fact that Howard was a famous child star, his father requested that he remain enrolled in public school at John Burroughs High School. It was also around this time that Howard began to explore the world of filmmaking and frequently played around with his Super 8 camera on set.
After Ron’s Success on Happy Days
Howard’s role as Richie Cunningham on Happy Days launched him into international stardom. During the show’s run, he married his high school girlfriend, Cheryl Alley, and also appeared in John Wayne’s final film, the Shootist, in 1976. After Happy Days wrapped in 1984, Howard had his eyes on becoming a film producer and director.
In 1977, he directed his first film, Grand Theft Auto, which starred some familiar faces, including Garry Marshall and Marion Ross. Howard went on to become a celebrated film director and producer for films like The Da Vinci Code, Apollo 13, Cinderella Man, and A Beautiful Mind, for which he earned an Oscar for Best Director.
Henry Winkler as The Fonz
Actor Henry Winkler, the pocket comb, leather coat-wearing tough guy, had the ladies in a Fonzie Frenzy. His character was an anti-hero and guardian angel to Richie and the rest of the gang. The actor got his first big break on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1973. Just one year later, he was third billed on the drama The Lords of Flatbush, opposite Perry King and Sylvester Stallone.
Talk about a career jump! After Happy Days came to an end, he continued with his TV show appearances. He’s guest-starred in Parks and Recreation and Arrested Development, alongside Ron Howard. Winkler made a guest appearance on 8 Simple Rules in 2003 and was actually one of the last people to speak to John Ritter before he died unexpectedly.
Marion Ross Was in a Hard Spot
The show’s strict housewife, Marion Cunningham, was played by actress Marion Ross. She was proper in every aspect of life, especially when it came to calling people by their full names. There were no nicknames in Marion’s book, well, unless you were Chachi.
Ross, who was 45 years old when she was first cast on Happy Days, says that she was going through a difficult time in her life. She had appeared in several films and TV shows such as Sabrina, Lust for Life, and Teacher’s Pet. But by the time Ross reached her 40s, the offers became scarce, and her marriage began to fall apart. With a looming divorce, Ross’s situation wasn’t great.
Ross After Happy Days
When Happy Days ended in 1984, she went on to do voice-over work as Grandma SquarePants on SpongeBob SquarePants, as well as Ms. Wakefield on King of the Hill. She was also cast as a guest star on Gilmore Girls, The Drew Carey Show, Brothers & Sisters, Nurse Jackie, and Grey’s Anatomy. In 2018 at the age of 90, Ross announced that she was officially retiring from acting.
Today, Ross lives near Encinitas, California. Her two adult children are also in the entertainment business. Her son Jim Meskimen is an actor and has appeared in How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Boondocks. Her daughter Ellen Plummer was a writer and producer for the hit show Friends.
Erin Moran’s Self-Destructive Behavior
Actress Erin Moran played Joanie Cunningham on Happy Days and later starred in the spinoff series Joanie Loves Chachi. The actress really grew up before fans’ eyes. In fact, she was only eight years old when she first worked with Garry Marshall on the film How Sweet It Is.
She then went on to appear on 18 different productions before being cast as a Cunningham when she was 14 years old. Unlike her costars, Moran didn’t act as much after her Happy Days success. Her parents were unstable and unsupportive, and Moran eventually succumbed to self-destructive behaviors that sadly plague many young actors. The actress sadly passed away in April 2014 from lung cancer. She was only 56 years old.
Scott Baio’s Teen Idol Fame
Actor Scott Baio was cast as Fonzie’s cousin and Joanie’s love interest, Chachi Arcola when he was 16 years old. Up until then, he only had two credits to his name. In 1976, he played the role of Bugsy Malone alongside Jodie Foster in Alan Parker’s film Bugsy Malone. Four years later, he worked with Foster again in the teen drama Foxes.
During Baio’s time on Happy Days, he earned two Emmy Awards nominations for his performances in the TV movies Stoned and All the Kids Do It. His character’s trademark catchphrase, “Wa wa wa,” reportedly came from Baio, always asking “What what what?” on set. After Erin Moran’s death, Baio received backlash for his comments that drugs and alcohol led to her death, which led him to publicly apologize.
Scott’s Post Happy Days Are Rocky
In 2007, Baio married Renee Sloan, whom he had met at the Playboy Mansion 17 years prior, shortly after the birth of their daughter, Bailey. Sloan was initially pregnant with twins but lost one of the babies at 11 weeks. In 2015, Sloan was diagnosed with a meningioma brain tumor and then cerebral microvascular disease two years later.
Fortunately, Sloan is happy and healthy today. Baio, on the other hand, has found himself in hot water in recent years. In 2016, he accused Nancy Mack, the wife of Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, of assaulting him because of his right-wing political affiliations. He was also accused of sexual misconduct in 2013. The accusations resurfaced in 2018.
Don Most: The Triple Threat
Actor Don Most was cast in the role of Ralph Malph. He made his onscreen debut on Emergency! just weeks before the premiere of Happy Days, in January 1974. Fans had a soft spot for Most’s character. After leaving the show in Season Seven, Most made a few guest appearances on Star Trek: Voyager, Diagnosis: Murder, and Glee, among others.
In 2016, the actor released a swing music Christmas CD, Swinging Down The Chimney Tonight. The following year, he toured the United States performing a swinging set of 1950s songs, alongside a seven-piece band. Today Most lives with his wife, Moran, who is the daughter of burlesque star Margaret Hart Ferraro, in Los Angeles. The couple has two daughters.
Anson Williams Heimlich
Before hitting big on Happy Days, actor Anson Williams was just a high school student who was captain of the track team and acted in school productions. His full name is Anson William Heimlich, the nephew of the doctor credited with the maneuver used to treat choking victims, Dr. Henry Heimlich.
After filming Happy Day’s pilot episode in 1971, which appeared as a segment in Love, American Style, he reprised his role as Potsie Weber in the Happy Days series. In the first season, Williams was billed second after Ron Howard and the season focused mainly on their characters. But as Fonzie and the rest of the family grew in popularity, Potsie was joined by Ralph Malph, and the two characters became inseparable.
Not Keeping Their End of the Bargain
Unlike his costars Ron Howard and Don Most, Williams remained on the series until its end in 1984. Since then, he’s directed tons of hit TV shows such as Baywatch, Melrose Place, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Lizzie McGuire, and 7th Heaven. In 2011, Williams and four of his Happy Days costars sued CBS, which owns the rights to the show, for $10 million dollars.
The actors claimed that they had not received money from show-related merchandise, such as lunch boxes, t-shirts, trading cards, and games. According to their contract, the actors were entitled to five percent of all net proceeds. However, the judge rejected the group’s claim. They settled with CBS, and each received $65,000 as well as a promise by the network to honor their contracts in the future.
From Beginning to End
Actor Tom Bosley was cast in the role of Howard Cunningham after the character’s original actor, Harold Gould, left to work on another project. So besides the Love, American Style pilot, Bosley appeared in every single Happy Days episode, making him and Fonzie the only characters to do so.
After the sitcom ended, Bosley starred in the TV series Murder, She Wrote, and Father Dowling Mysteries, as well as acting in supporting roles in numerous films up until his death in 2010. He sadly passed away from complications from a staph infection during his treatment for lung cancer. The actor was 83 years old. He is survived by his wife, actress Patricia Carr, and his daughter Amy Baer.
Big Al’s Dream
Al Molinaro played diner owner Al Delvecchio, who replaced Pat Morita after Season Three. Interestingly enough, his father was a prominent restaurant and hotel owner in Wisconsin. Maybe that’s why the actor played the part flawlessly? Molinaro launched his acting career later in life. He originally worked in real estate so he could have enough money when he pursued his lifelong dream of becoming an actor.
After the sitcom ended, Molinaro and Anson Williams opened a chain of diners called Big Al’s, but the business went under after a few years. In 1994, he reprised his role as Al from Happy Days in Weezer’s music video for their song Buddy Holly. The actor passed away in 2015 from an infected gallbladder. He was 96 years old.