When Happy Days premiered on January 15, 1974 as a mid-season replacement for ABC, it began a 10-year journey as a refuge from the barrage of daily headlines indicating malaise, frustration, and tension—particularly in the second half of the 1970s with inflation, gas shortages, and the Iran hostage crisis. Based in mid-1950s Milwaukee, Happy Days revolved around teenager Richie Cunningham confronting the growing pains associated with his evolution from adolescence to adulthood.
Initially filmed as a one-camera show covering serious topics backed by humor—racism, the Cold War, the Quiz Show Scandal—Happy Days skyrocketed once it changed to a studio audience format in 1976. Richie had two universes—his friends and his family, with the two sometimes intersecting. Played by Ron Howard, Richie had a special friendship with Fonzie. Where Richie was clean-cut, Fonzie was tough. Where Richie was book smart, Fonzie was street smart. Where Richie wore a letterman’s sweater, Fonzie wore a leather jacket.
Once Happy Days went before a studio audience, Fonzie became an iconic television character, played by Henry Winkler. Fonzie’s trademark exclamation “Aaaaay!” became a fixture for Happy Days.
The genesis of Happy Days occurred on February 25, 1974. “Love and the Happy Day,” an episode of ABC’s comedy anthology Love, American Style, centered on the characters of Richie Cunningham and Potsie Webber. Anson Williams played Potsie on both “Love and the Happy Day” and Happy Days.
Garry Marshall, the creator of Happy Days, spearheaded the cast’s softball team, which played games for charity across the country. In a 1978 article for Associated Press, Dennis D’Agostino quoted Howard on the team’s makeup. “Henry really wanted to get into this thing, and pitching was the thing we thought he could do,” explained Howard. “Donny Most (Ralph Malph) is probably our most consistent [sic] hitter for average and power, and also very good in center field. I’m the Tom Paciorek type myself.”
Paciorek, a journeyman outfielder and first baseman, played for several teams in an 18-year career, compiling a batting average of .282:
- White Sox
Winkler basked in the atmosphere of the game. “This is great,” said the New York City native. “We get to go out and play a little ball. We’re winning. A lot of people I’ve never seen are giving me a lot of warmth and I get to eat a stadium hot dog.”
Cathy Silvers played Jenny Piccalo, the flirtatious best friend of Richie’s sister, Joanie. In her 2007 book Happy Days Healthy Living: From Sit-Com Teen to the Health-Food Scene, Silvers wrote, “One day on the set Garry Marshall arrived with the exciting news that we were going to Germany and then to Japan on USO tours (United Service Organizations). He said, ‘We’re going to pay our respects to the men and women stationed overseas, far from their families and homes, in service for the safety and protection of our country. Anyone want to come?’
“Henry stood up and said, ‘We all do!'”
Happy Days spun off Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy, two other juggernauts for ABC. Joanie Loves Chachi…well, that’s a different story altogether.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 25, 2016.