Nostalgia for the 1950's became big
business in the mid-1970's, and leading the wave was this updated version of
teenage life in the mid-1950's. It started modestly and built in popularity
until in the 1976-1977 season Happy Days was the number one program in
all of television. Along the way it made a major star out of one if its
Happy Days changed
dramatically from the series that premiered in 1974. Originally
it was the story of two high-school kids, Richie Cunningham and his pal Potsie Weber,
at Jefferson High in
Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Howard Cunningham, Richie's father, ran a hardware
store while Chuck was Richie's college-bound older brother and Joanie his
13-year-old kid sister. Richie and most of his friends hung out at Arnold's Drive-In,
a malt shop near the school.
Richie was supposed to be the
innocent teenager and Potsie his more worldly pal. So as not to make the show
too much like Ozzie & Harriet, however, the producers added some slightly
more extreme counterpoint in the person of the greasy-haired motorcycle kid, Fonzie.
That was the move that made the show a hit. Instead of the fairly hackneyed Richie-Potsie
relationship, the show came to center on the relationship between the "cool"
dropout Fonz, and the "straight" kids represented by Richie. Henry
Winkler made the character of Fonzie three-dimensional, vulnerable as well
as hip. One of the classic episodes, which ran traditionally every Christmas,
was the one that first showed the Fonz's own pad, a dingy, cluttered room
with his motorcycle in the middle of the floor - and only a tiny, pathetic tree to
indicate that it was Christmas. Too proud to admit to being alone for
the holidays, the Fonz - whose father had deserted him at the age of three - nevertheless
allowed himself to be brought into the Cunninghams' home to share in their
As Fonzie's popularity spread (his thumbs-up gesture
and "aaayyh!" became trademarks), the show became a bigger and
bigger hit. Winkler moved from his original fifth billing to third, then second
behind Ron Howard and finally first when Howard left in 1980. But ABC claimed
that there would be no spin-off series, because without the Richie-Fonzie
contrast there would be no Happy Days. Not only did Fonzie's billing
change as the series grew, but so did his residence. During the 1975-1976 season
he moved into a small apartment over the Cunningham garage. He was thus always available to give Richie advice
about life and girls (the Fonz made every girl in Milwaukee swoon).
in the cast were fairly minor in the early years. Dozens of high-school kids came
and went, and Richie's older brother disappeared from the family
early on, never to be referred to again. Arnold, the Japanese who owned
Arnold's, first showed his face in 1975 but was replaced by a new owner, Alfred, in
1976. (Pat Morita had gotten his own series that fall,
Mr. T and Tina.
He returned for occasional episodes beginning in 1982). Two lower-middle
class girls who turned up briefly in 1975 - on a double date with Richie
and Fonzie - quickly went on to a series of their own,
Laverne & Shirley. Chachi arrived in 1977, as Fonzie's young cousin, the same season that Richie
began going steady with Lori Beth, with the performers who played both roles
turning up together on an NBC series, Who's Watching the Kids, the
following fall as well.
of the most popular characters passing through was Pinky Tuscadero played by Roz
sexy motorcycle queen who wrapped the Fonz around her little finger - as "cool"
as he was, she was "cooler". An old girlfriend of his, she
roared into town in September 1976 with her Pinkettes (Tina and Lola,
played by Doris Hess and Kelly Sanders) to join the Fonz in a demolition derby. A season later her sister Leather Tuscadero
(played by rock star Suzi Quatro) turned up on a couple of episodes with her rock group, the Suedes.
guests on the show ranged from Buffalo Bob Smith (Howdy
Doody) to John Hart (The Lone
Ranger), Frankie Avalon, and Jack Smith,
onetime emcee or
You Asked For It. Jack played the host of the mythical
You Wanted To See It
show in an episode where Fonzie set a new world's record by leaping his
motorcycle over 14 garbage cans behind Arnold's Drive-In, on live TV.
the 1976-1977 season ended, Richie and the gang graduated from high school and
it seemed that Fonzie, the dropout, might be left behind. But at the last minute
it turned out that the Fonz, while working days at various garages, had
been going to night school and would get his diploma too. Richie, Potsie and Ralph enrolled at the
University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, with Fonzie still around (though not enrolled) to advise them on love and life. Richie enrolled
as a journalism student and Potsie as a psychology major, while Ralph followed
in his father's footsteps to become an eye doctor - though he really wanted to
be a comedian.
1980 major changes began to take place in both the cast and the story line of
Happy Days. Richie and Ralph graduated from college, joined the army, and
were shipped off to Greenland (Ron Howard and Donny Most left the
show). From there the unseen Richie
corresponded with and eventually married Lori Beth - by telephone, with
Fonz as his stand-in. Lori Beth visited him from time-to-time and in 1981 gave
birth to a son, Richie, Jr. Back in Milwaukee, the Fonz had become so straight
that he was now a co-owner
of Arnold's Drive-In, a shop teacher at Jefferson High, and operator of
Bronco's Garage. "Mr. Cool" had a close brush with serious romance in 1982-83
when he fell for divorcée Ashley Pfister and her cute daughter Heather, but it
didn't last. In 1983 he joined Marion's nephew
Roger Phillips, an English teacher and basketball coach at Jefferson High,
in a new career. Roger had just been appointed principal of the rowdy George
S. Patton Vocational High School, and Fonz joined him there as Dean of Boys!
the perennial college student, went to work for Mr. C. at Cunningham Hardware.
But by this time it was the 1960's and the focus of the program turned
increasingly to the next generation, particularly the rocky teenage love of Joanie and Chachi. They
did their own spin-off
show, Joanie Loves Chachi,
for a time in 1982, but they never left
Days entirely. After a try at a singing career, Joanie enrolled in college and
signed on as a trainee teacher at Roger's vocational school. Others of the 60's
generation were Joanie's independent, boy-crazy friend Jenny Piccalo, who was finally seen after years of only being
Roger's rambunctious younger brother Flip; and Howard's teenaged niece K.C.,
who lived with the Cunninghams for a year.
final season was a time of reunions and farewells. Richie and Lori Beth
returned in the fall for a visit, with Richie, Jr., in tow, and another baby on the
way. Then Richie headed for Hollywood to pursue his dream of becoming a
screenwriter. In the series' final episode Richie and other former regulars
returned one last time as Fonzie bought a home and adopted a young orphan named
Danny, and Joanie and Chachi were finally married - by Al's look-alike brother, Father Delvecchio.
With "both" their children now married (even they had forgotten Chuck), Howard and Marion thanked the audience for
being part of their family, and made a tearful farewell.
In its later years Happy
Days became something of an institution. In 1980 it was announced that the Fonz's leather jacket
was being enshrined in the Smithsonian Institution. Three years later the
Days cast visited the real-life city of Milwaukee, and
residents lined the streets to welcome them "home." Mr. C. got the key
to the city, and the Fonz said "Aaayyh!"
The origin of this immensely
successful series was a skit that appeared on Love, American Style in
February 1972, titled "Love and the Happy Days," and starring Ron Howard and
Anson Williams. The original theme song for the series was Bill Haley's famous
1955 hit record "Rock Around The Clock,"
which promptly became a best-seller all over again in 1974 as a result of its
exposure on the show. It was later superseded as the theme by an original
composition, "Happy Days," which was itself on the hit parade in 1976.
ABC aired reruns of Happy Days
on its daytime lineup from September 1975 to March 1979, and an animated
Saturday morning version from November 1980 to September 1983.