When The Fonz, Richie Cunningham, and the rest of the gang from “Happy Days” hit the airwaves at ABC they immediately became a sensation. The TV series ran for 11 seasons and led to various spin-offs including “Laverne & Shirley” and “Mork & Mindy.” The TV series ran from January 15, 1974, to September 24, 1984, and it continues to play in syndication more than 30 years after the series finale aired. In celebration of the TV series that launched Ron Howard’s career into the stratosphere, we bring you the best facts from “Happy Days.”
The Show Was Originally Set In The 1920s
When Garry Marshall set out to create the show he was approached by Paramount executives Michael Eisner and Tom Miller with a series that took place in the 1920s. Marshall told the men he knew nothing about flappers. He agreed to write a TV show that took place in his teen and young adult years — in the 1950s.
The Show Was Originally Called ‘Cool’
Garry Marshall originally called the TV series ‘Cool’ but test audiences said it made them think of smoking cigarettes. When producer Carl Kleinschmitt heard from test audiences he quickly came back and said, “How about calling it Happy Days? That’s what we’re going to show.” The name immediately stuck and played well with test audiences and the show’s eventual massive viewership.
Ron Howard Joined The Cast To Avoid A Trip To Vietnam
Ron Howard wasn’t looking to join another TV series and had enrolled at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts with the goal of becoming a director. When he realized his draft number was low, Howard attempted to grab a college deferment. The U.S. government ran out of deferments for college students but was offering them to people who worked for a company with at least 30 other employees who relied on them. Paramount was a large company that could offer Howard a deferment. Howard signed on to play Richie Cunningham. The pilot didn’t test well but Nixon ended the draft before the soon-t0-be famous director could be sent overseas.
American Graffiti DID NOT Arrive Before Happy Days
There’s a general misconception that the movie “American Graffiti” predates “Happy Days.” The George Lucas directed 1973 film was released before “Happy Days” which led ABC to order the series for primetime. In fact, George Lucas got his hands on a copy of “Love and the Happy Days,” an episode of “Love, American Style,” to determine if Ron Howard could convincingly play an 18-year-old high school student. That series would eventually become “Happy Days.”
Henry Winkler Was Nearly A Monkee
The Fonz almost didn’t become a character on “Happy Days.” Henry Winkler was given a callback after his first audition for the TV series, “The Monkees.” Micky Dolenz showed up for the role of the band’s drummer and Winkler immediately knew he wouldn’t get the role. In a funny twist of fate, Dolenz had also auditioned for the role of Arthur Fonzarelli. Dolenz was denied the role because he was three inches taller than Ron Howard.
Henry Winkler Could Barely Read The “Happy Days” Scripts
Henry Winkler grew up in a family with German-born parents who referred to him as dummer hund (“Dumb Dog”), because he had a hard time learning to read and didn’t perform well in school. Winkler was later diagnosed with dyslexia, but not until he was 31-years-old. When he was asked to audition for “Happy Days” he made up the six lines he was supposed to memorize because of his learning disability. “That’s not in the script,” the producers pointed out. Winkler replied, “I know but I’m giving you the essence of the character and if I get the part I’ll do it verbatim.”
A New Version Of “Rock Around The Clock” Was Recorded For The TV Show
Bill Haley had already become famous for his song “Rock Around the Clock” which he performed with Bill Haley & His Comets. The song topped the Billboard charts in 1955. When “Happy Days” first premiered the first episode included the original song. Haley would go on to record a new version that was used exclusively for the TV series. His new version was used for the first two seasons of “Happy Days.”
Pat Morita Had To Make Up His Accent And Nearly Failed
California-born Noriyuki “Pat” Morita doesn’t have a foreign accent. As a native English speaker, he was told his character Arnold needed to have an accent. Morita was tasked with picking an accent. He went with an exaggerated Chinese Pidgin English dialect. Six weeks later Morita was approached by a standards and practices representative. They said for politic correctness reasons — he could no longer play Arnold, since he was obviously a Chinese-American. Morita quickly shot back that Arnold’s last name was Takahashi, which meant he was the product of a Japanese father and Chinese mother.
Fonzie Had No Love For Pinky In Real Life
TV producers thought The Fonz should have a love interest so they introduced Pinky in 1977. Actress Roz Kelly was brought in for a three-part story arc titled “Fonzie Loves Pinky.” It turns out the actress was abrasive and the cast didn’t get along with her. I grew up on welfare, so I don’t relate to rich kids,” she told People magazine in 1976. Winkler was a Yale-educated actor and she couldn’t relate to him on a personal level.
John Lennon Loved The Show And Visited The Set
At the height of “Beatles Mania” singer John Lennon made a visit to the set of “Happy Days” in 1975. Potsie actor Anson Williams recalled the visit. He said Lennon drew doodles for cast members and signed autographs. However, Williams was too shy to visit with Lennon and didn’t get a keepsake out of the visit.
Robin Williams Got His Big Break In A Strange Way
Robin Williams auditioned for the role of the alien Mork from Ork. The TV series was getting ready to feature a dream sequence and Williams gave one of the most legendary auditions of all time. The actor showed up at the audition and immediately stood on his head in a chair as he read his lines. Henry Winkler recalled that the episode titled, “My Favorite Orkan” was hard to film because Robin Williams had everyone in stitches the entire time.
Gary Marshall Used His Family Members Names For Characters On The Show
As a doting family man, Gary Marshall used every opportunity possible to name characters on “Happy Days” after his own family members and friends. He went to school with a kid named Potsie Webber and he attended church with a “nice boy” named Richie Cunningham. Fonzie was originally going to be named Arthur Masciarelli, after Marshall’s original last name, but “The Mash” didn’t test as well as “The Fonz.”
Henry Winkler Could Have Jumped The Shark, But He Didn’t
While Winkler was not a particularly athletic person in real life, he was actually really good at waterskiing. In fact, the jumping the shark episode was written with Winkler’s skills in mind. However, the show’s producers didn’t want their star to get hurt so he was forced to use a stunt double for the now infamous jumping the shark scene.
The Cast Played On A Softball Team Together
Garry Marshall was responsible for creating the “Happy Days“ All-Star Softball Team, with both cast and crew members participating. Marshall wanted his staff to blow off some steam while promoting the TV series at the same time. The cast would play against other celebrity teams prior to MLB games. The cast also toured and played in games at military bases in Europe and Japan.
Ron Howard Wanted Richie Cunningham To Age
When he was in negotiations for his role as Richie Cunningham, Howard made it clear that he wouldn’t play a high school kid forever. The show’s producers agreed that Richie Cunningham would actually age and go off to college as the TV series continued to develop. This was for the best because nobody wants to see a 25-year-old guy playing an 18-year-old kid forever.