1 9 7 4 – 1 9 8 4 (USA)
256 x 30 minute episodes
Happy Days revolved around the Cunningham family in the latter days of the 1950s in small-town Milwaukee – the heart of middle-class America.
Howard Cunningham ran the local hardware store and attended club meetings at the Leopard Lodge, while Marion (like all good TV Mums) spent her time in the kitchen.
Their son, Richie, hung out at Arnold’s Drive-in with his pals Ralph Malph and Potsie, trying to be as cool as the coolest greaser in town, Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli – aka The Fonz or just plain old Fonzie.
Richie’s sister, Joanie, tagged along whenever she wasn’t at her friend Jenny Piccolo’s house. The Cunningham’s also originally had an older son, Chuck, but he mysteriously disappeared after the first season.
When the series started, Richie and his pals were using fake ID’s to sneak into bars and struggling to find dates. By the time the show ended, their teenage problems had given way to decidedly adult topics like marriage and children.
The Fonz soon became the sitcom’s central character and one of the most beloved TV personalities of all time.
The character of Arthur Fonzarelli was so popular, there was talk of changing the title to Fonzie’s Happy Days. ABC also wanted to give the Fonz his very own sitcom. They resisted both ideas as they did not want to ruin the carefully crafted chemistry of the hit show.
But the public and the network demanded more. So ABC answered the call with two Happy Days spin-offs.
First came Laverne and Shirley. Fonzie’s friends Laverne De Fazio and Shirley Feeney first appeared in a 1975 Happy Days episode. In 1976 they were given their own show.
Two years later, in February 1978, Happy Days was used as a launching pad for Robin Williams’ space alien character, Mork. That year, Williams was starring in the sitcom Mork and Mindy.
The young stars of Happy Days grew up during the show’s ten and a half year run and so did their characters. Richie and his pals graduated from high school, then attended the University of Wisconsin.
The adult Potsie never realised his teenage dream of becoming a singing star and ended up working at Mr Cunningham’s hardware store.
When actors Ron Howard and Donny Most left the series in 1980, Richie and Ralph Malph joined the army and were shipped off to Greenland.
Even the Fonz gradually lost his rebellious image. In the show’s final years, he became co-owner of Arnold’s, manager of Bronco’s Auto Repairs, and an Auto-shop teacher at Jefferson High.
In 1980 major changes began to take place in both the cast and storyline. Richie and Ralph graduated from college, joined the army, and were shipped off to Greenland (Ron Howard and Donny Most had 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, a shop teacher at Jefferson High, and operator of Bronco’s Garage. He 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.
Potsie, the perennial college student, went to work for Mr C. at Cunningham Hardware. But by this time it was the 1960s and the focus of the show 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 Happy 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 ’60s generation were Joanie’s independent, boy-crazy friend Jenny Piccalo, who was finally seen after years of only being referred to; Roger’s rambunctious younger brother Flip; and Howard’s teenage niece KC, who lived with the Cunninghams for a year.
Happy Days survived until mid-1984 – an astonishing ten and a half years. By 1984, it was obvious the new characters had failed to hold on to the show’s once-loyal viewers. NBC’s The A-Team was consistently beating Happy Days in the ratings.
The 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. And so the series finally ended on 12 July 1984.
This show was a big part of my teenage years. I would rush home from high school on my bike, pour myself a glass of Coke or ten and settle down in front of the TV. My favourite episodes were the ones featuring Suzi Quatro as Leather Tuscadero.
Unfortunately, the show gradually lost its 1950s look until everyone had permed hair and it seemed the cast had been magically transported to the 1970s.
Happy Days began life as a 1972 episode of Love, American Style called ‘Love and the Happy Day’.
The theme originally used for the show was Rock Around The Clock by Bill Haley. This was eventually replaced by the purpose-built theme Happy Days.
Micky Dolenz of The Monkees auditioned for the role of Fonzie. The character was originally to be named Arthur Maschiarelli (the real surname of creator Garry Marshall) and nicknamed “Mash.” ABC made Marshall change the character’s name because it might remind people of M*A*S*H (1972) which aired on a rival network.
Fonzie rode at least two different bikes on the show. The initial model, ridden in the earlier episodes, is the subject of some dispute among bike buffs. It was most likely a Harley Sportster (Winkler himself merely refers to the early bike as a “hog,” but adds that it was so big all he could do was lean against it). The bike ridden in the later episodes was a Triumph.
Arthur ‘Fonzie’ Fonzarelli
Charles “Chachi” Arcola
Arnold (Matsuo Takahashi)