If the phrases “Sit on it!”, “Correct-amundo!”, “Wah wah wah!”, and “Aaaaayyyy!” warm your heart and bring back memories of beloved characters that defined your childhood, you’re not alone! Happy Days was one of the most popular and longest-running sitcoms in the history of television, as well as one of the most influential. As with any show, however, there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. There are plenty of interesting and unexpected facts about this show, its history, its stars, and its impact. So without further ado, let’s hit that jukebox and take a trip down memory lane by looking at 42 little known facts about Happy Days.
Without question, one of the most memorable moments in the sitcom’s history came in the premiere episode of Season 5, “Hollywood,” and gave us the infamous moment in which the Fonz “jumped the shark” to demonstrate his level of coolness to some youngsters in Hollywood. This moment has become incredibly ingrained in pop culture. Critics and fans now use the expression “jump the shark” to describe the moment in which a TV show either starts to diminish in quality or starts to deviate from its original concept and morph into something different and, presumably, less desirable.
While there is no doubt that a character performing a bizarre larger-than-life stunt on water skis surely marks a divergence from the show’s original premise as a nostalgic family sitcom about teenagers growing up, the term may not be justified insofar as it means the beginning of the end of a show—Happy Days continued for another seven full years after this episode aired.
The inspiration for the now infamous “jump the shark” scene came not from the writing room but rather from a pretty unlikely source. Series star Henry Winkler’s father had really wanted his son to showcase the fact that he knew how to waterski and encouraged him to insist that the writing staff work those skills into a storyline on the show.
Henry initially had no interest in doing this, but his dad’s wishes eventually won out and the rest, as they say, is history.
When producers sought to cast the would-be smash hit musical film Grease in the late 1970s, Happy Days was at the height of its popularity. In the middle of it all was Fonziemania. Unsurprisingly, Grease's filmmakers had originally sought out Henry Winkler to star in the lead role. Winkler actually turned them down out of fear that playing another character so similar to the Fonz would harm his ability to be taken seriously down the road. So, in a sense, I guess we can thank Henry’s career planning for giving us John Travolta.
As the popularity of the Fonz grew and the show began to focus more and more on him, the show’s original main star Ron Howard, who played the character of Richie Cunningham, was approached by show executives and asked if he would be comfortable if they changed the name of the show to “Fonzie’s Happy Days” to try and capitalize on the character’s popularity for a ratings boost.
While Howard was fully supportive of his colleague Winkler’s rise to stardom, he felt that changing the very name of the show to focus on another character would have been unfair to him and not in the best interest of his career. Out of respect for Howard, the executives kept the name as it was.
As many of us already know, series star Ron Howard would go on to become one of Hollywood’s most successful directors in the decades following Happy Days. Howard’s directing aspirations had already set in while on the show, and he was even offered a chance to direct some episodes to gain experience in the field. Howard surprisingly turned down this opportunity because he didn’t feel that it was in the show’s best interest to be under his inexperienced direction rather than that of the legendary, veteran TV director that the show already had at the helm, Jerry Paris.
One of Ron Howard’s first major successes as a film director was for the 1982 comedy Night Shift, which starred none other than his former Happy Days co-star, Henry Winkler.
Few shows have ever approached the number of spinoffs, spinoffs of spinoffs, and connections to other series that Happy Days has had. Aside from technically being a spinoff of another show itself (Love, American Style), the Happy Days universe gave us such classics as Mork & Mindy, Laverne & Shirley, and Joanie Loves Chachi. That’s in addition to some not-so-classic shows like Blansky’s Beauties and Out of the Blue. By most people’s count, a total of 10 additional series are part of this universe. Not bad for a simple family sitcom!
Despite the multitude of gimmicks and shticks from this show that have gone on to achieve iconic status in pop culture, it also had its share of forgettable ones. A great example of this is the season in which the show’s teenage heartthrob character, Chachi Arcola, began to wear a red bandana tied around his leg in every episode. Producers intentionally inserted this odd fashion choice into the show to spark the next big fad. Alas, it never quite took off and the bandana would soon disappear from the show.
By the end of the series, all of the major recurring characters are somehow related to one another, with the exceptions of Ralph Malph and Potsie Weber. Various marriages that take place in the later seasons result in the Cunninghams, Fonzarellis, Arcolas, Phillips, and even Al from Arnold’s Diner all being one big happy clan.
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Happy Days may have been one of the first shows to fall victim to a strage “curse.” It’s commonly known as the “McGinley Curse”—the claim that as soon as any show hires character actor Ted McGinley to join its cast, it is not long before the show’s run comes to an end. McGinley joined the cast of Happy Days in Season 8 to play the Cunninghams’ nephew, Roger Phillips, and remained a part of it through the last four years of its life.
In addition to Happy Days, McGinley has starred in the final seasons of an alarmingly high number of popular shows, including Married With Children, The Love Boat, The Practice, and Dynasty. He definitely seems like a nice guy and a good enough actor to keep landing jobs on major shows, but I can’t say I wouldn’t feel a slight panic for the future if he got added to the cast on any of my favorite shows!
Clips from Happy Days were spliced together with some new footage from a remade version of the set by the rock band, Weezer, to create a music video for their 1994 hit song, “Buddy Holly.” Highlights of this throwback video included former cast member Al Molinaro reviving his role from the show, and an old clip of the Fonz dancing, edited to look like it belonged to the new song. If you feel like checking this video out on YouTube, as one commenter pointed out, you’ll be in the 2020s watching a 1990s video of a 1970s show set in the 1950s. I sure hope you can handle that!
When former Happy Days cast member Erin Moran passed from cancer in 2017, her former on and off-screen boyfriend and co-star, Scott Baio, made a number of shocking and controversial comments. Baio implied that she passed from an overdose. Despite a hasty apology from Baio in the aftermath and his insistence that he was merely repeating what he had heard misreported in the media, not everyone was so quick to forgive the mishap.
Specifically, the late Moran’s brother posted on social media that Baio had better “pray I never run into you.” Ouch!
One of the many things we have to thank Happy Days for is introducing the world to the late comedy genius Robin Williams. When show creator Garry Marshall’s son requested that his father find some way to work a storyline involving UFOs and aliens into the show, the episode “My Favorite Orkan” was born. After being blown away by the then unknown Williams’ audition, Marshall selected him to play the part of Mork the alien, and a mere four days later he was signed by the network to star in his own spinoff series. That takes a certain kind of talent!
Happy Days was one of those shows that was on the air for so long that the storyline of whatever was happening in the later seasons had little, if anything, left to do with the initial storyline from when the series began. Evidence of this is that the same actress, Linda Purl, played two different, unrelated characters on the series at the two opposite ends of the show’s run—with few even noticing or having any reason to object.
Purl played Richie’s high school sweetheart, Gloria, in Season 1, and then Fonzie’s girlfriend, Ashley, in Season 10. This probably raises so many questions for those trying to keep track of how all the parts of the show’s extended “universe” relate to each other.
Anson Williams, the actor who played Richie’s dopey friend Potsie Weber, is a real-life cousin of Dr. Henry Heimlich, who created the famous Heimlich maneuver for rescuing people from choking.
Apparently someone thought that trying to profit as much as humanly possible off of Scott Baio’s popularity with teenage girls in the early 1980s was a good idea, because for some otherwise inexplicable reason, Baio, who has himself acknowledged that he has no musical training whatsoever, had a short-lived singing career which included recording and releasing two albums as well as a single titled “How Do You Talk to Girls.” Hunt these recordings down on YouTube if you dare.
In Season 10, when it was decided that the Fonz was going to enter into a serious relationship with a divorced single mom, the child actress chosen to play her young daughter was Heather O’Rourke, famous for having starred in the film Poltergeist earlier that same year. Tragically, O’Rourke passed suddenly of heart complications at the age of 12 just a few short years later.
Many of her Happy Days co-stars attended her funeral, with Henry Winkler even serving as one of her pallbearers.
A number of the Happy Days stars have gotten politically active in recent years. Ron Howard and Henry Winkler teamed up and revived their characters for a 2008 political ad supporting then presidential candidate Barack Obama. Meanwhile, Scott Baio is an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump and even spoke on his behalf at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
While many people tend to fondly remember Happy Days as a show about high school and growing up, the main gang had already graduated from high school partway through the show’s fourth season, meaning that for the remaining seven and a half seasons, i.e. the vast majority of the show’s run, the show had expanded far beyond that original premise. I guess we always tend to just remember things the way we want them to be!
Many of the names used on the show were based on real people and places from Garry Marshall’s life. For example, “Richie Cunningham” had been the name of a young churchgoer Marshall knew from childhood, while “Potsie Weber” was the name of one of his wife’s childhood schoolmates. The more you know!
You would never be able to tell, but Henry Winkler has actually suffered from dyslexia for his entire life, including throughout the years he spent playing the Fonz on TV. For most of his formative years, his condition was left undiagnosed, which caused him a lot of insecurity. Today, Winkler dedicates a great deal of his time to helping those who suffer from dyslexia, and has even authored a children’s book series which highlights this very issue.
One of the most memorable aspects of Happy Days was its catchy and instantly identifiable theme song. For the first two seasons, the show featured a different, but also noteworthy, song. This original theme was a re-recorded version of the epic 1954 rock ‘n roll classic “Rock Around the Clock." In this version, original singer Bill Haley came back to recreate his old hit song specifically for the show. The song helped bring the setting to life and give it that nostalgic 50s feel.
From 1980 to 1982, possibly the most bizarre spinoff Happy Days ever gave birth to aired Saturday mornings on ABC. Titled The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang, this was an animated show in which cartoon versions of the Fonz, Richie Cunningham, a girl named Cupcake, and a puppy sidekick named Mr. Cool got their hands on a time machine and went on wild adventures together. Yes, this is a real thing.
Everyone knows that the Fonz and his leather jacket are inseparable, right? Apparently not! When the series first began, network executives had insisted that the character not be allowed to wear a leather jacket. They said it made him look like a “hoodlum.” After some negotiation, they agreed that he could wear the jacket, but only in scenes where he’s on or around his motorcycle. The reasoning? So as not to encourage poor motorcycle safety among young, impressionable viewers who may try to imitate his behavior.
Naturally, the show’s producer Garry Marshall took this opportunity to instruct his writers to always find an excuse to put Fonzie alongside his motorcycle in as many scenes as possible. Finally, the popularity of the character’s image became too big for the network to refuse any longer. But never fear. If you search hard enough through the early episodes, you can still find some clips of the beloved Fonz in a clearly out-of-place light blue windbreaker!
A minor controversy erupted between network executives and actor Pat Morita, of Karate Kid fame, when he appeared on Happy Days. Morita, an actor of Japanese descent, played the character of Arnold, the Chinese diner owner. The network worried that it was inappropriate and racially insensitive. They asked him to stop playing the character for this reason, but Morita thought on his feet and instantly came up with a backstory to justify the character’s apparent mixed ethnicity. Morita claimed that Arnold’s father had been a Japanese soldier who met and courted his Chinese mother, only to be lost in WWII.
Naturally, his mother then raised him on her own. Thanks to her, he picked up Chinese mannerisms and an accent. This was enough to satisfy the network, and the character lived on.
Only two members of the cast managed to make it into every single episode of the series without exception—Henry Winkler achieved the feat as the Fonz, while Tom Bosley did so as the Cunningham family patriarch, Howard. Following closely behind was Marion Ross as the Cunningham matriarch, Marion—who appeared in a total of a whopping 252 episodes.
Happy Days star Scott Baio starred in his own reality show, which was titled Scott Baio is 45...and Single. The show saw Baio revisit past relationships in his life to try and deal with his personal commitment issues, before ultimately proposing to his girlfriend on-air. One of the lucky ex-girlfriends who appeared on this show? You guessed it—his former Happy Days co-star and sweetheart, Erin Moran.
Both Ron Howard and Henry Winkler had each already played characters very similar to the ones they portrayed on Happy Days in previous acting gigs shortly before the series began. If you ever check out Howard as an All-American 1950s teenager in American Graffiti or Winkler as a tough, leather-clad greaser in Lords of Flatbush, you’d be forgiven for wondering when Potsie, Ralph, and Chachi were gonna show up to go hang out at Arnold’s!
Visitors to Washington, DC will forever be reminded of the iconic status Happy Days occupies in American popular culture. Fonzie’s original, unforgettable leather jacket has sat proudly on display in the Smithsonian since 1980.
I am sorry to report that, sadly, Fonzie’s iconic leather jacket...is actually fake leather. Yes, the most iconic example of one of the most legendary styles in modern fashion is not actually what it purports to be. I know how devastating this is. I’ll give you a few minutes to yourself…
The hallmark of how the public remembers many an iconic show is undoubtedly the show’s finale. Many of the greatest shows of all time have found unique and memorable ways to end off their run with a bang. Happy Days is no exception. After 11 years on the air, the series ended by doing something unexpected, that few ever dare to do. They broke the fourth wall.
In the middle of the final scene, the main characters from throughout the series reunite to celebrate a family wedding. Then, family patriarch Howard Cunningham interrupts his wedding toast to include what appears to be a not-so-subtle direct message to the viewers. He says: “Thank you all for being part of our family—to happy days!”
A popular urban legend suggests that when the Fonz signed up for a library card in a Season 5 episode, library card registration among children across America went up by over 500%. As cool as this would be, fact-checkers have some suspicions that there might just be a teensy, weensy bit of exaggeration here.
In one popular episode, writers introduced a new character named Pinky Tuscadero, who they intended to become Fonzie’s long-term girlfriend. However, the character only lasted a mere three episodes due to the fact that the actress playing Pinky, Roz Kelly, could not seem to get along with the rest of the cast. More specifically, she didn't get along with her on-screen love interest, Henry Winkler.
The enormous popularity of the show doesn’t seem to have ever died down completely, even in the decades since it has been off the air. The show was the basis for a hit musical in 2007. Hollywood insiders have also hinted at rumors of a new reboot TV version.
Unfortunately, not everything about the creation of the show was about a pure and unadulterated desire for nostalgic family entertainment. Ron Howard was at least partially motivated to pause his film school studies and accept the role of Richie Cunningham because it meant he could get a work deferment and not have to serve in the Vietnam War.
One of the show’s most beloved characters was Richie’s adorable and at times bratty kid sister, Joanie Cunningham, played by child actress Erin Moran. Unfortunately, Moran’s adult life was filled with serious tragedy and misfortune. In one particularly dark moment, Moran's landlord reportedly evicted from her home, and she was completely penniless.
“Jumping the shark” isn't the only infamous Happy Days trope. There's also Chuck Cunningham Syndrome. When the show began, the Cunninghams had an older son named Chuck as part of their family in addition to Richie and Joanie. Without any explanation, Chuck simply stopped appearing on the show by the middle of the second season. The writers of the show never referenced or acknowledged him again.
Hence, anytime a show abruptly removes a character and treats them as if they never existed, the character is a victim of “Chuck Cunningham syndrome.”
Prior to Henry Winkler showing up, producers considered another actor for the role of Fonzie—none other than Micky Dolenz, the lead singer and drummer from the Monkees.
Henry Winkler has often opened up about the difficult relationship he had with his parents growing up, and more specifically his father. Winkler feels that he will forever have an emotional void in his life due to his distant relationship with his father.
For virtually his entire adult life, Henry Winkler has held onto a spider plant. S childhood neighbor of his brought it to America with her after fleeing Nazi Germany.
Henry Winkler learned that he got the legendary role that would change his life forever on his 28th birthday. I’d say that’s quite the present!
The show’s original main character, Richie Cunningham, begins the first episode of the series with the line “Hi, Fonzie!” and then repeats it as the last thing his character ever says in the series finale.
My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.
Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
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