Happy Days became one of ABC’s longest running shows when it hit 11 seasons on air, and it’s the only show more popular than I love Lucy on Nick at Nite’s throwback sessions. It was a nostalgic look back at Midwestern life in the 1950s and into the 1960s through the eyes of the wholesome Cunningham family. Think you know all about Richie, Fonzie, Potsie and the rest of the gang? Here are some surprising facts about the beloved show.
1. It Was Originally Supposed to Be Set in the 1920s
Happy Days is all things 1950s through and through, but originally it was planned to take place in the roaring 1920s. The Paramount executives went to Gary Marshall with the idea of making it about flappers, but he didn’t know much about that era. He put together a different pilot about a family getting their first TV in the 50s. The pilot was rejected, but the seed was planted for developing a show about that decade.
2. The First Choice for the Role of the Fonz Was a Monkee
At Henry Winkler’s first call back for the role of Arthur Fonzarelli, he thought the odds were against him when he noticed Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz at the read. He was right to worry since Micky was the preferred choice, but Henry was literally deemed a better fit with the rest of the cast because of his shorter height.
3. Henry Winkler Couldn’t Read his Script
Henry Winkler grew up dyslexic and when it came time to read his six audition lines he couldn’t do it. He just made them up and assured the casting directors that he was trying to give them a feel for the character instead.
4. The Original Show Name Idea Was “Cool”
Originally the show creators wanted to call the show “Cool,” but the test audience said that reminded them of cigarettes. Producer Carl Kleinschmitt said, “How about calling it Happy Days? That’s what we’re going to show.”
5. Ron Howard Joined the Cast to Avoid Vietnam
Ron Howard had just enrolled at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts to become a director, but he had a low draft number that could have become a problem. He needed to land a job at a large enough company that would miss his loss, and Paramount was just the place to do it. Ron Howard himself talked about this in an interview, saying this was on his mind as they were filming the quasi-pilot of Happy Days, which was originally an episode on Love, American Style.
6. Many of the Character Names Came From Gary Marshall’s Real Life
A lot of the character names on the show came from real people that the show’s creator/producer Gary Marshall had grown up with. Fonzie’s name was originally supposed to be “Arthur Masciarelli”, after Marshall’s original surname, but “the Fonz” sounded better than “the Mash.”
7. ‘Happy Days’ Actually Came Before ‘American Graffiti’
Many people think Happy Days was an offshoot of the George Lucas hit movie American Graffiti, which featured Ron Howard in a similar role. While American Graffiti actually came out first, it was that movie’s success and interest for the time period that encouraged the studio to revisit the Happy Days show which had been put on the shelf.
8. Fonzie and Pinky Didn’t Really Mesh
The concept of bringing in tough girl Pinky Tuscadero as a female version of Fonzie was more of an idea with a lot of press behind it than any sort of reality. The character, played by Roz Kelly, had a three episode romance with the Fonz, but she didn’t end up meshing with the cast and producers and was quickly written out of the show.
9. Bill Haley Recorded a Special Version of the Theme Song
The original theme song for Happy Days was “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets, but the hit version was only used for the first episode. After that a specially recorded version was used for the next two seasons. Later on, the theme song “Happy Days” was written and performed by Charles Fox and Norm Gimbel for the opening and closing credits.
10. Pat Morita Had to Come Up With an Accent
Pat Morita, who played Arnold the diner owner, was born in California and as American as they come, but the producers wanted him to have an accent on the show. He went with an exaggerated Chinese Pidgin English dialect, and then was told it didn’t work since he was Japanese-American. He came up with the idea that the character had a Japanese father and Chinese mother which saved him. You may also know him as Mr. Miyagi from the original Karate Kid movies.
11. The Cast Played Together On a Softball Team
Gary Marshall thought it would be fun to have a Happy Days All-Star Softball Team where all the cast and crew could play together, and that they did. They sometimes played other celebrity teams before Major League games, and they actually visited military bases in Europe and Japan.
12. The Jukebox Didn’t Always Play Real Songs
It can be expensive to get the rights to certain songs, so Anson Williams (who played Potsie) would sometimes provide the voice for whatever was coming out of the jukebox.
13. Fonzie’s Leather Jacket Came Later
Initially, the ABC executives thought the leather jacket made Fonzie look like a hoodlum so they put him in a blue windbreaker. He was allowed to wear the leather when his motorcycle was around, so they started writing in the motorcycle more and eventually it stuck. The iconic leather jacket is now proudly displayed in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.
14. Happy Days Had a Few Spin-Offs
There are some different versions of what is considered a spin off show, but depending on how you define them Happy Days had between two and eight. The most widely accepted spin offs were Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, and Joanie Loves Chachi. Then there was Blansky’s Beauties and Out of the Blue, followed by Chachi Sells His Soul and the animated shows The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang and Laverne & Shirley in the Army (which was later renamed Laverne & Shirley With Special Guest Star the Fonz.) Let’s just say, they certainly tried to milk the show for all it was worth.
15. The Phrase “Jumping the Shark” Originated On the Show
Remember, in season five, when Fonzie goes water skiing and literally jumps over a shark? People felt it was a turning point in over-the-top antics as a desperate ratings ploy, and the show never went back to full steam. The phrase “jumping the shark” is now used to indicate a show that has gone past the point of no return.
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