A look back at the “Happy Days” cast that rocked and rolled on the hit 1970s sitcom.
Believe it or not, Happy Days started out as a failure. Created by Garry Marshall, the pilot didn’t get picked up, so it aired as part of the anthology series Love, American Style. It didn’t just slip through the cracks, though; watching it convinced George Lucas to cast Ron Howard in the movie American Graffiti, and ABC to turn it into a series. Smart decision on ABC’s part: the show became their second longest-running sitcom of all time.
Set in 1950s Milwaukee, the show centered around the Cunningham family: parents Howard and Marion, and kids Richie and Joanie, as well as the mysterious Chuck, who disappeared sometime during Season 2 and was never mentioned again. With their friends Ralph Malph, Potsie, and The Fonz, they made their way through the lighter side of life in 1950s America, occasionally dipping their toes into slightly more serious issues like racial equality and drug use. Mostly, though, the series was known for its memorable tag lines like “Sit on it!” “I’ve still got it!,” Fonzie’s inability to say the words “wrong” or “love,” and Richie’s happy recitation of the first few lines of the Fats Domino hit “Blueberry Hill.”
Among its multiple spin-offs, Happy Days launched two bona fide hits: Laverne & Shirley, which ran for eight seasons, and Mork & Mindy, which made Robin Williams a household name.
One of its more dubious distinctions? Happy Days was where the expression “jump the shark” was born. After Fonzie jumped over a shark on water skis in one fateful episode, fans felt the show went into a quality tailspin. Nothing dulled the star power of its cast, though: let’s take a look at where they are now.
RON HOWARD – Richie Cunningham
We found it very hard to get any information on Ron Howard, as he seems to have disappeared into the woodwork. Perhaps a reader has a lead on what he’s been up to? Kidding! Ron Howard has gone on to have an incredibly distinguished career in film and television. His start wasn’t too shabby, either: before he turned 10 he was already making a name for himself in movies like The Music Man and TV programs like The Andy Griffith Show. But he was always more interested in directing than acting, and left Happy Days in 1980 to focus on it full time.
He didn’t turn his back on the show completely. Along with Henry Winkler and Don Most, he loaned his voice talents to the hard-to-watch-but-findable-on-You-Tube cartoon series The Happy Days Gang, narrated by Wolfman Jack. The premise: Richie, Fonzie, Ralph, a dog named Mr. Cool, and a “chick from the future” traveled through time in a quest to find their way back to 1957 Milwaukee.
As we all know, Ron Howard did a lot better for himself after he got out of 1957 Milwaukee. His numerous directing credits include Cocoon, Apollo 13, Night Shift, Splash, Backdraft, Parenthood (co-written with other members of the Happy Days creative team), and EDtv, among others, and in 2002, he won Oscars for directing and producing A Beautiful Mind, starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly. Howard has proven himself as an award-winning, immensely talented director who coaxes brilliant performances out of his stars: eight different actors and actresses have won Oscars under his direction. He was also a producer, the narrator, and sometime guest star on Arrested Development, which has of course included recurring appearances by other members of the Happy Days gang.
Fun fact: In 1980, Howard directed the TV movie Skyward, written by Anson Williams. It starred Bette Davis, along with Marion Ross and other sitcom stars Howard Hesseman (WKRP in Cincinnati) and Lisa Whelchel (The Facts of Life).
HENRY WINKLER − Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli
Henry Winkler may be one of the smartest people around. When Happy Days was at its peak, driven in no small way by the popularity of The Fonz, Winkler kept his salary relatively modest in exchange for a percentage of syndication profits, making him a multi-millionaire. Aaayyy!
His post-Happy Days credits could fill pages. In addition to his more celebrated stints on Arrested Development, Royal Pains, and Parks and Recreation, he’s also a regular on Children’s Hospital. He’s also a director, a producer, a cartoon voice on multiple shows, and an author: he’s written almost 20 books in his Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Under-Achiever series about a 4th grader with dyslexia. (Winkler himself is dyslexic, although he wasn’t diagnosed until he was in his 30s.) He’s also written a book about fly fishing, and is an accomplished photographer. If that’s not enough for you, he has also appeared in four Adam Sandler movies, starting with The Waterboy.
Fun fact: Winkler’s biggest competitor for the role of Fonzie was Monkee Mickey Dolenz. Lucky for Winkler, they were looking for someone a little shorter: Dolenz is 6′ 1″, which would make The Fonz tower over Richie, Potsie, and Ralph, and appear more menacing. Winkler is a friendly 5’ 6”.
TOM BOSLEY – Howard “Mr. C” Cunningham
Until he stepped into the role of Howard Cunningham, Tom Bosley was best known for his Tony Award-winning role as Fiorello La Guardia in the Broadway musical “Fiorello!” He also had some small TV roles, including an appearance in the 1969 pilot for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, which starred Joan Crawford and was directed by Steven Spielberg. His other TV appearances included Bonanza, Bewitched, and The Streets of San Francisco.
After his long run on Happy Days, Bosley stayed in America’s living rooms by starring in Glad Bag commercials throughout the 70s and 80s. He was always on hand for various Happy Days reunion specials and events, often taking the opportunity to tease Ron Howard about never casting him in any of his movies. He starred in Father Dowling Mysteries, and had a recurring role on Murder, She Wrote, having first worked with star Angela Lansbury back in 1964 in the movie The World of Henry Orient. He also appeared on The Love Boat as half of a couple with former TV wife Marion Ross.
The cast really did see him as a father figure: Erin Moran cites him as her acting mentor, and he helped Anson Williams negotiate his very first mortgage.
Sadly, Tom Bosley died of lung cancer in 2010, at age 83.
Fun fact: Despite being well known for playing a Catholic priest and numerous Protestants, Bosley was actually Jewish.
MARION ROSS – Marion “Mrs. C” Cunningham
While Ron Howard got his big break at age six, Marion Ross didn’t get hers until she was 46. She’d had some small parts in various films and TV, but once Happy Days kick-started her career, she never stopped. At 86, she’s still going strong, giving the ubiquitous William Shatner a run for his octogenarian money.
She did some guest roles on The Love Boat (marrying Captain Stubing in the final episode), Night Court, and MacGyver, but it was her work on the short-lived series Brooklyn Bridge that scored her two Emmy nominations. She went back to the stage after that, co-starring in Arsenic and Old Lace with another famous TV mom, Jean Stapleton (All In The Family). She got herself another Emmy nomination for her recurring role on Touched By An Angel, and appeared multiple times on That 70s Show, The Drew Carey Show, Gilmore Girls, and Brothers & Sisters.
Ross isn’t limited to live action: she also plays SpongeBob SquarePants’ grandmother and Mr. Lopart’s mother on Handy Manny. And more recent guest spots have included Hot in Cleveland, Anger Management, The Exes, and Two and a Half Men.
She speaks fondly of her Happy Days cast, particularly Henry Winkler (with whom she’s still close), and credits the regular baseball games the cast played for their good relationship. She’s still so proud of her time on the show that she refers to her San Fernando Valley home as “Happy Days Farm.”
Fun fact: Ross played the Brady girls’ pediatrician in an early episode of The Brady Bunch.
ANSON WILLIAMS – Potsie Webber
You may not see Anson Williams’ face on the small screen much these days, but he’s still there, following in the footsteps of Ron Howard and making a name for himself as a director.
In addition to directing episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and Star Trek: Voyager, Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, Charmed, Baywatch, Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place, he was a mainstay on The Secret Life Of The American Teenager, sitting in the director’s chair there for five years.
He’s also a successful businessman: Williams co-owns Starmaker Cosmetics, and Physicians Prefer, which specializes in “drug-free solutions to debilitating problems.” (Like Don Most, he has a well-developed LinkedIn profile where you can find such things.) Entrepreneurship came early: during the show’s run, he opened a chain of diners called “Big Al’s” with co-star Al Molinari.
And, of course, anyone who watched the show remembers him as a singer. Getting clearance for original, popular songs from the 50s wasn’t cheap, so they frequently had Williams re-record the songs, which is what viewers heard playing on the jukebox at Arnold’s. In 2014, he also published his memoir − “Singing to a Bulldog: From ‘Happy Days’ to Hollywood Director, and the Unlikely Mentor Who Got Me There” − where he reveals some behind-the-scenes scoop like the fact that John Lennon visited the Happy Days set with his son Julian, and Ringo Starr stopped by too.
Fun fact: Born Anson William Heimlich, Williams’ cousin is the famous Dr. Henry Heimlich, of Heimlich maneuver fame.
DON MOST – Ralph Malph
Don (sometimes Donny) Most originally auditioned for the role of Richie Cunningham. He didn’t get it, obviously, but Garry Marshall liked him enough to create the practical joker Ralph Malph, who stayed on the show until 1980 and then left, along with Richie, to join the Army.
After Happy Days, he appeared on numerous hit TV shows, including CHiPs, Baywatch, The Love Boat, Sliders, Star Trek: Voyager, and Diagnosis: Murder, which co-starred former castmate Scott Baio. He also appeared on Baio’s Charles in Charge. He’s voiced a number of cartoon characters, had some small film roles (including one in Ron Howard’s Edtv), and is known to Glee fans as “ginger supremist” Rusty Pillsbury.
These days, Most is doing a cabaret act with a 7-piece band. For $30-$60 and a $25 food and drink minimum, you can witness him sharing his memories of Happy Days and singing songs by Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, and Dean Martin.
Fun fact: Don Most went to the same high school as Barbra Streisand.
ERIN MORAN – Joanie Cunningham
Erin Moran played Richie’s little sister Joanie for almost the entire run of the series, leaving for a year in 1982 to co-star in the spin-off Joanie Loves Chachi. When it was canceled, she returned to Happy Days and stayed until the show’s end.
Afterwards, she did guest appearances on shows like The Love Boat, Murder, She Wrote, and Diagnosis: Murder (which co-starred Scott Baio). She appeared as a contestant on VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club in 2008 but since then, things haven’t gone so well for her. Moran’s life took a tragic turn in 2010 house in California was foreclosed on. Pal Henry Winkler was making efforts to get her a role on Arrested Development, but that didn’t work out.
Fun fact: Moran made her feature film debut at the age of eight, in How Sweet It Is! with Debbie Reynolds.
UPDATE: Moran passed away on April 22, 2017, at the age of 56 in Corydon, Indiana. The local sheriff’s department and county coroner’s office released a statement which said an autopsy “revealed that Mrs. Moran likely succumbed to complications of Stage 4 cancer.”
SCOTT BAIO – Chachi Arcola
Scott Baio got a taste of Hollywood early on and has stayed on the screen, big and small, ever since. At 16, he starred in the movie Bugsy Malone, along with fellow child star Jodie Foster. They worked together again four years later in Foxes, Adrian Lyne’s directorial debut.
Baio is a staunch conservative, which has caused a lot of controversy out there in the Twitterverse. But he’s never been afraid to wear his life on his sleeve: he’s starred in two different reality shows about his own life on VH1.
As an actor, he’s tireless. While he was still working on the spin-off Joanie Loves Chachi, he co-starred in the movie Zapped! with Eight is Enough star Willie Aames. After that, he and Aames moved on to Charles In Charge, which ran for 6 years. (Interestingly, the role of Charles was written for Michael J. Fox, who turned it down.) He did 41 episodes of Diagnosis: Murder with Dick Van Dyke, and guest starred in dozens of other shows, including The Nanny, Veronica’s Closet, and Touched By An Angel. Fans were thrilled when he joined Ron Howard and Henry Winkler in a recurring role on Arrested Development.
Baio now plays the lead on See Dad Run, which he also produces. It’s shot on the old Happy Days stage at Paramount, and he occupies the office once used by former boss Garry Marshall. He was thrilled when Marshall did a guest spot on the show, in an episode directed by Garry’s son Scott.
Fun fact: Baio was offered the role of Maverick in the 1986 movie Top Gun. He turned it down, and the role eventually went to Tom Cruise. He considers it one of his big regrets.