Happy Days Story

When "Happy Days" was created in the '70's, the U.S.A.was in a crisis period, with the Vietnam war going on, and economic inflation. This situation influenced even the happy world of TV shows, so the world started to look back to the past years and the nostalgic revival of the Fifties began. In 1970 the ABC tried to get back to Thirties and came up with a new edition of a popular show called "I Remember Mama", thinking that the Thirties were better than Fifties, but Gary Marshall (already famous in TV and cinema) preferred the Fifties and proposed a new project fora tv-series. So Marshall created the Cunningham Family, and he wrote the pilot episode"A New Family In Town" (the first 30 minutes of Happy Days!) with Ron Howard, Marion Ross and Anson Williams in their known roles, but Mr Cunningham was played by Harold Gould. The outcome was disappointing, and so ABC used it as an episode of "Love,American Style" with the title "Love and Happy Days". Meanwhile, the revival of the Fifties grew with the musical "Grease" and with the success of the film "AmericanGraffiti" (even if it deals with events of 1962). In this way, "our" tv-series, even if conceived some years before, took advantage of this success and was eventually realized. ABC advised Marshall to recover the old project and to add some new features: gangs of "bad boys" and cars.Together with Tony Miller and Ed Mikis, Marshall got back to his old work and decided to use the subject of the gangs in a different manner: softly. This led to the creations of the character of the Fonzie. To tell you the truth, setting the showin the Fifties was only an opportunity to talk about the problems of adolescents without thinking of drugs, etc. The main philosophy was that if the story takes place in the Fifties, they wouldn't have to face such problems. Thus Marshall & C. decided the central plot of the series should be family, adolescents problems (especially love), the "great Fonzie" and the moments of reflection (where any other problems could be argued).With this structure, they had to choose the right actors. For the character of Fonzie, Marshall thought that the right actor should have been a tall boy, blond hair, strong, who expresses himself without talking like a tough guy. But one day Tom Miller met Henry Winkler and said he was the perfect man for the job. When Marshall saw him he thought that Winkler was the right look for the Fonzie character, even if he was far from his idea. Marshall imagined Fonzie being a guy who had dropped out of school, older than Richie, and more of an expert than the others guys. Due to the impossibility of showing brawls on TV, Fonzie was made to be an ex-member of the Falcons gang (the name was taken from Marshall's gang when he was young). "Fonzie" was not the first name given to that character: at first Marshall thought to an Italian name, like "Carmina Ragusa", "the great Ragoo" but he was not completely happy with it until "Arthur Fonzarelli", "the great Fonzie" came out. The actress Marion Ross had already played Mrs Cunningham in the original pilot, so Marshall let that be. In the pilot, Joanie was played by an other actress, but Marshall preferred Erin Moran, because she was funnier and he had already worked with her. ABC suggested Robby Benson for Richie, because they thought that Ron Howard too stereotypical for the role (even if he played Richie in the pilot), but Marshall went with his gut instinct and chose Ron. The name of "Richie Cunningham" was the name of a friend of Marshall. In the pilot, Mr Cunningham was played by Harold Gould, but when they started working on "Happy Days", he was commited to another project, so they chose Tom Bosley. Normal Tom Bosley was also chosen because he has already worked in TV and he was more of an expert than the others, so he could help out the other young actors. Anson Williams was the right actor for Potsie (whose name was taken from a school mate of Marshall's wife) He also played Potsie in the pilot episode.Don Most was present at the screen tests, but he was rejected for his red hair like Ron Howard. But Don was too funny not to be used, so Marshall created the character of Ralph Malph exactly for him. This was how Marshall and his collaborators chose the cast of the new tv-series which drew many crowds and giving an incredible success to the actors, first in America and then all over the world. After choosing the actors and the themes, and before starting the shots, it was necessary to fit the tv-series into an efficacious temporal and geographical point of view. Even if Marshall was born in NewYork, he preferred Milwakee, the native city of Tom Miller, because it seemed a compromise between East and West America. They also chose a neutral enviroment to simplify the work of the scriptwriters, in this way they were not tied to the specific features of a place. At first, the audience was puzzled by this enviroment, but then it started to love the characters, and it was no longer a problem. Three years had passed since the pilot on "Love, American Style" and a set of sixteen episodes for tv wascreated in 1974. The character of the Fonz was an idea of Marshall, but when it was created ABC considered it too be too much of a bully Marshall wanted a strong guy, who expressed himself without talking (in the first episode Fonzie says only a few words),whereas ABC wanted a more normal Fonzie. After the first episode Marshall went to Hawaii to work on his other series, "The Odd Couple" and he left everything to his friend Bob Brummer. When he came back he found a strange thing: Fonzie wore a wind-breaker and moccasins and he was like the other characters! ABC forced Brunner to modify Fonzie's character. Winkler was disappointed because of it and Marshall was enraged and he asked to be responsible for the changes: "who uses a wind-breaker to drive his motor-bike?" ABC gave up on the condition that Fonzie wore his leather jacket only on his motor-bike... and Fonzie appeared always on the motorbike! Marshall wanted a realistic character, but ABC was afraid of creating too much of a hard character. However, the bully of the fifties had his own moral law, with many traditional values: God, Country and Family. Thus they decided to focus on this "good side" of Fonzie. In January 1974, ABC broadcasted the first episode of the series and it was suddenly a success. After the first two seasons, two changes were made to deal with competitors and to make Happy Days funnier: at first Marshall reduced the external shots to increase humor, which is more controllable with internal shots. Secondly, they started to act facing an audience,because they stated that actors played their parts better with the audience. It was another success, bigger than ever. With the third season, Marshall thought to give more importance to Fonzie because he was the most beloved character. Also Winkler gave his contribution to make the Fonz interesting: he created the famous "Hey hey hey" and other expressions directly on the stage. Thus the new password for ABC was "to give more importance to Fonzie" and Marshall had to modify the statement of the series another time, without altering the nature of the Fonz. This time the solution was to move Fonzie into the Cunningham's house in the first episode, in this way the audience looked at Fonzie much more as an hero than as a bully, in this third season the "good" side of the Fonzie came out... and also his motor-bike became more important. So they created the episode in which Fonzie set the record of jumping garbage cans. You probably think that the other actors would not appreciate the important role of Winkler, but they all knew that Fonzie was the right man, the character people wanted and he was the real cause of the success of Happy Days. Also friendship was a basic element, especially between Winkler and Ron Howard, only in this way can you explain how Happy Days has been going on for ten years . Soon after Ron Howard and Don Most decided to leave the stage, some new characters were created to modify the show and to fit the audience's taste and let it into the story of television.

Informations, errors, corrections:
Giuseppe Ganelli

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