Happy Days is one of the most popular and iconic TV shows in U.S. history. It made stars of cast members such as Henry Winkler and Ron Howard and launched a host of famous faces and numerous spin-offs.
The legendary sitcom ran for almost ten years and remained one of America’s most popular shows.
But behind the scenes, there were many secrets that the cast and crew kept to themselves—until now. Let’s take a look at the hidden truths of the real people behind the hit TV show.
Nowadays, years after the sitcom has gone off the air, the name Happy Days are pretty much synonymous with the timeless hit show. Couple that with the catchy theme song, and you certainly couldn’t imagine it being called anything else, right?
Well, you may not know that initially, the show had an entirely different name!
The hit sitcom was initially going to be called Cool. This would certainly be accurate for Henry Winkler’s character, the Fonz, but we think the real title captures the overall nostalgic and upbeat nature of the show better.
And that wasn’t the only title they considered…
Another title the producers considered was renaming the original to something more focal on the show’s main character.
Once the show’s creators realized just how popular Fonzie was becoming with viewers, they thought about renaming Fonzie’s Happy Days.
However, the rest of the cast wasn’t particularly fond of this idea, as it diminished the importance of their characters.
Out of respect to the other stars such as Ron Howard, they decided to stick with Happy Days as the show’s title.
What’s in a Name
And the stars of the show weren’t the only real-life people who had input into the titles and names chosen for the show.
The truth was, show creator Garry Marshall named many of the main characters after real-life people who he had encountered from his youth and throughout his career.
Richie Cunningham was a real person who Marshall knew from church, and Potsie Webber was one of his wife’s old classmates.
But one of the most iconic character’s names took inspiration from Marshall himself.
Even if you’re not a Happy Days fan, most people are familiar with Henry Winkler’s character, Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli.
But did you know that the legendary greaser was initially named Arthur Masciarelli?
This is the Italian version and original name for Marshall’s last name as a nod to his heritage.
However, the creators didn’t think that “The Mash” had quite the same ring to it, so they went with Fonzarelli in the end—the name ended up being one of the most iconic in TV history.
One of the most iconic features of the classic show Happy Days is its nostalgic setting, portraying American life’s slice back in the 1950s. Filmed in the 70s and 80s, this means it was set 20-30 years in the past, providing the audience with a classic look at a bygone era.
But in fact, the creators initially wanted to set the show even earlier—way back in the 20s or 30s. But Garry Marshall, having grown up in the 50s himself, wanted to put the sitcom in that iconic time.
Home is Where the Heart Is
Every Happy Days fan will know that the iconic hit show is set in the beloved town of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But what many people don’t know is that the actual house used for the show is not in Wisconsin, but California!
This was producer Tom Miller’s idea—he had been born and raised in the Midwest, and he thought that the setting of Wisconsin would appeal more to the average American and reach out to more viewers in a relatable way.
We all know the classic Happy Days theme song—the catchy tune is almost as recognizable as the iconic TV show itself. Who can help but hear those familiar notes and not break out in song as we wait for the entertainment to begin?
But actually, the theme tune was originally a very different—and equally recognizable—hit song. The original theme tune was Bill Haley’s classic “Rock Around the Clock,” which spent a whopping eight weeks at the top of the charts in 1955.
Haley recorded a brand new version in the 70s exclusively for the show.
Now that the show has cemented itself well and truly into American culture, it’s impossible to imagine anyone playing the iconic roles that made them all-stars beloved by the nation even today. But did you know that the cast and characters’ lineup looked very different from the faces we know and love today in the original pilot episode?
Even though we know Tom Bosley as the beloved patriarch Mr. Cunningham, in fact, in the first episode, he was played by someone completely different!
Howard Gould played a role in the pilot before he opted out due to other time commitments.
Nowadays, Happy Days remains one of the most popular shows in history, despite being filmed almost fifty years ago. But the truth was, the pilot episode did not impress networks as much as the producers had hoped—and ABC passed on the series when they first watched it!
After watching George Lucas’ movie American Graffiti, another nostalgia project starring Ron Howard changed their minds.
And this movie was connected to the hit show in another secret way, too.
As the movie American Graffiti came out before Happy Days began, many assume the hit show’s premise inspired it.
But it was Ron Howard’s performance in the show’s pilot that inspired George Lucas to hire him for this movie and cast him as the iconic role of Steve Bolander.
And that worked out well, as it later convinced the network to pick up the show!
But there were even more secrets behind Howard’s casting as his character Richie Cunningham.
Robbed of the Part
Before Ron Howard took on his now-legendary role in the hit show, the producers had initially been placed someone else in the part of Richie Cunningham. That person was teen idol Robbie Benson, who was slated to begin as soon as the show commenced.
But secretly, Benson didn’t think he was right for the part, and Garry Marshall agreed with him. Together, they came up with a plan to throw his audition to get Ron Howard in for the party instead.
Thanks to his role as Richie Cunningham, Ron Howard became a household name and one of his generation’s most popular actors. However, Howard wasn’t that keen to take on the role—or any acting roles!
The TV star-to-be wanted to be a director, but he decided, in the end, to take on the role, for a reason you might not expect.
This was around the Vietnam War, and Howard decided to take the job as being employed meant he could avoid being drafted into military service.
The cast was delighted for Howard to join the team—which is more than they could say for some other people.
An Affair to Remember
One of the most iconic and fondly remembered storylines of the classic show was the long-awaited love interest for Fonzie’s breakout character.
The fourth season of the show opened with the three-part story arc called “Fonzy Loves Pinky.” As Fonzie had become one of the most popular characters on American TV at that time, fans were rapt to see him fall in love with a female version of his name.
Their romance got almost as much press coverage as the royal wedding between Prince Charles and Princess Diana!
Trouble in the Ranks
Unfortunately, even though Pinky was meant to be a romantic lead and love interest for Winkler’s Fonz, the actress behind the character did not quite gel with the cast in the way they had hoped.
Roz Kelly, who joined the show as Fonzie’s girlfriend Pinky, was rumored to fall out with many of the other actors in the cast, and later revealed to People magazine that the whispers of strife on set were indeed true.
Because of these tensions, Pinky’s character was subtly written out of the show and mentioned only twice in the rest of the series.
And Pinky wasn’t the only character who made a sudden or mysterious departure from the show. Do you remember Richie and Joanie’s older brother, Charles “Chuck” Cunningham, played by Gavan O’Herlihy? No? That’s because he had appeared in the first two seasons of the show but then was written out slowly before never being seen in an episode ever again.
But why would the writers introduce a brother, only to subtly get rid of him?
There were two personal reasons behind this decision.
There were two reasons behind the writers’ decision to write Chuck Cunningham out of the show. The first one was simply that he didn’t seem to be a popular character, and audiences did not engage with him in the way they did with other much-loved characters.
The other reason was more complicated: over the first two seasons, the lovable Fonz character had become seen as something of an older brother figure to Richie. As he was so mega-popular, the name of Chuck simply wasn’t needed anymore.
But the truth was, the character of Fonzie could have turned out very differently.
I’m a Believer
Nowadays, it’s pretty impossible to imagine anyone other than Henry Winkler in the iconic and genre-defying role of Arthur Fonzarelli, otherwise known as Fonzie or The Fonz.
Initially a supporting character, Fonzie proved so popular with audiences that he was considered the show’s breakout role. Even today comes to define many fans’ viewers of the sitcom.
But did you know that Fonzie was almost played by someone very different? Micky Dolenz, the lead singer and actor in the classic band The Monkees, almost took part—but was considered too tall for the role.
And that’s not the only way that Fonzie could have turned out different.
Fonzie’s iconic feature and his ultimate coolness are undoubtedly the super stylish outfits he rocked throughout the show.
His white t-shirt and tight pants made him a stud, but the most iconic part of his outfit was for sure the now legendary leather jacket.
But did you know that the network did not approve of this jacket and wanted him to throw it out?
They had very different feelings about this jacket and the right outfit for The Fonz.
The truth was that the show’s producers felt that the leather jacket made Fonzie look like he was in some sort of gang. They didn’t want to glamorize gang culture or violence, so they wanted to put The Fonz in a pale windbreaker instead. Can you imagine?
Fortunately, Marshall stood his ground, explaining to the TV execs that a leather jacket wasn’t a gang thing but merely the correct garb to wear while riding a motorcycle.
Eventually, the producers relented, and style history was made.
Grease is the Word
And Fonzie wasn’t the only famous greaser who producers wanted the now-iconic Henry Winkler to play. Winkler eventually became so popular that the creators of the classic movie Grease asked him to play the role of Danny Zuko.
Can you imagine—two classic roles in leather jackets for one actor!
But actually, this is the exact reason that Winkler said no—he didn’t want to become typecast and only play studly greaser types.
Well, this was only one of two reasons behind this surprise decision.
It wasn’t just the risk of being typecast that put Henry Winkler off from taking the iconic role of Danny Zuko in Grease.
Remember the legendary movie, and what made it so famous? It wasn’t just the fab outfits and charismatic leads. It was also the catchy and brilliant songs—and this is the precise reason that turned Winkler off from the role.
Not because Winkler hates music—he loves music—but because he admitted himself, he doesn’t have much in a singing voice.
But another of Winkler’s weaknesses would turn out to be his greatest strength.
Another challenge that Winkler had to overcome as he was building his glittering career was dyslexia. This meant that reading lines and live table reads were incredibly difficult for him, unable to read the script as quickly as others in the cast.
But in typical Fonz style, Winkler turned this to his advantage—improvising his lines and scenes to cover up when he struggled to read.
Rather than being a negative, this is what made Fonzie such a vivid and memorable character.
Being set in the 1950s, Happy Days featured many iconic objects and imagery from that classic era. One of the whole show’s unique items was, of course, the much loved (and maligned!) jukebox at the gang’s favorite hangout, Arnold’s.
It was coin-operated, but fan-favorite Fonzie had a particular skill and could turn it on by merely banging it.
This was a running gag throughout the show, emphasizing Fonz’s innate coolness and magic touch.
But there was another secret behind this jukebox that even the biggest fans may not know.
The jukebox became one of the most beloved elements of the iconic show, becoming almost a kind of character on its own.
As well as Fonzie displaying his unique magic and cool touch, it also provided some of the most brilliant soundtracks and 50s-style jives for the characters and audiences to enjoy.
But did you know that the same person sang every single song on that jukebox? And it was none other than Anson Williams.
That’s right—nerdy but lovable Potsy was the voice behind all those iconic tracks!
One Giant Leap
Have you ever heard the phrase “jumping the shark”? It’s a popular showbiz expression, referring to when a TV show has strayed too far from the original premise, becoming less believable, lower in quality, or simply just bonkers.
Well, the phrase originated from one pivotal scene in Happy Days. In one of the later seasons, the world watched in amazement as Fonzie—still dressed in his leather jacket—went water skiing and pulled off the impressive feat of jumping over the shark.
Many critics pinpointed this as the show descended from witty sitcom to a more slapstick comedy.
As this fantastic but bonkers scene divided viewers, many people had merely one question on their lips—where on earth did this crazy jumping-the-shark scene idea come from?
The truth was, the inspiration came from an unexpected source. Henry Winkler’s father, who was incredibly proud of his son’s waterskiing skills, continually pestered the writing staff to incorporate this into the show.
Rumor has it that Winkler himself had no desire to pull off the feat—but his father got his way in the end!
But there were even more secrets behind the scenes of this famous moment.
We all know that the Fonz is one of the coolest characters in TV history—if not the coolest of all time! So it makes sense that the actor behind the famous stud would also be similarly talented and smooth.
That’s why it’s no surprise that Henry Winkler did all of his stunts throughout the show, showing himself to be an impressive athlete of his own accord—especially in the waterskiing episode.
However, the producers did not let him do the famous shark-jumping moment himself—Winkler wanted to, but they felt it was too risky for their central star.
What Not to Wear
Of course, Fonzie is not Fonzie without his leather jacket. And by the time the writers put together the jumping the shark scene, they knew that too!
Gone were the days of wanting Winkler to wear a pale windbreaker—they knew that Winkler had to wear his iconic jacket at all times.
And that’s why you see it in his famous stunt scene—but behind the scenes, it was a little different.
For this moment, the creators had Winkler wear a specially designed waterproof leather jacket—with the lining removed from the inside!
As iconic as the Happy Days gang’s favorite hangout was, it was nothing compared to the diner himself’s the legendary owner— Matsuo “Arnold” Takahashi.
Arnold was a Japanese-Chinese restaurateur who put up with the gang’s many complaints about its cleanliness and food quality—despite never doing anything about it!
But did you know that Arnold’s iconic accent was wholly fabricated?
The actor behind the character, Pat Morita, is a native Californian with an American accent!
Arnold’s accent sounds pretty authentic—but it caused some secret problems behind the scenes.
Being a native English speaker, Pat Morita spoke English with a regular American accent. However, for his role as Arnold, the producers wanted him to talk with a distinctive accent as part of his character, visibly Asian.
So Morita began speaking in an exaggerated Chinese accent. But this also posed problems.
The issue was, Morita himself was Japanese, not Chinese, and the creators felt it was wrong to have him play a Chinese character.
However, Morita quickly responded that his character was half-Chinese, half-Japanese, and could keep his part.
And this distinct accent would crop up once again for Morita in another iconic role years later.
The Fab Fan
Being one of the most popular and iconic shows of its time, it came as no surprise that Happy Days had its fair share of celeb fans.
However, the cast and crew, now superstars in their own right, couldn’t help but be starstruck when one particular famous face turned up to visit the show’s set.
In 1979, they were amazed when a mysterious British man turned up unannounced on set—and it was none other than former Beatle, John Lennon.
Lennon’s son was a huge fan of the show, and so he brought him along to visit the set—and signed a few autographs for the stars along the way.
And it wasn’t just the former Beatle that made an exceptional appearance on set.
Back on screen, the classic show invited another guest star on for several episodes—none other than legendary funnyman Robin Williams.
But in fact, Williams was a completely unknown name at the time—and it was his role as hapless alien Mork that catapulted him into comedy stardom.
Henry Winkler later revealed that filming Williams’ episode was the biggest challenge in his acting career—as it was so hard not to laugh!
A Whole New World
Robin Williams’ special cameo on Happy Days brought him worldwide recognition, and the fans of the show were delighted with this different appearance.
Mork’s character was so successful that it inspired its spin-off TV show, Mork and Mindy, which ran for four seasons and was nominated for two Emmy Awards.
Mork and Mindy were so successful in their own right; many fans do not even know it originated as a spin-off of Happy Days!
And it’s not the only successful spin-off spawned by the hit show.
The success of Happy Days and the various characters of its ensemble cast simply couldn’t be contained in just one singular show. As well as the hilarious alien sitcom Mork and Mindy, Happy Days spawned a host of popular spin-off shows, featuring beloved characters from the original.
Laverne & Shirley featuring the two titular characters ran for eight seasons and was nominated for two Golden Globes and a Primetime Emmy Award.
Other spin-offs from the show included Joanie Loves Chachi, Blansky’s Beauties, and Out of the Blue.
And that’s not the only way that the show branched out into other programs.
As well as all the successful spin-offs inspired by the legendary sitcom, another completely different version of the show briefly appeared on TV.
The animated series The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang featured a cartoon version of the Fonz, and the same concept was behind the equally popular animated show Laverne & Shirly with The Fonz.
The show was so popular that it gained fans across all different storylines and media—and all ages!
One of the most endearing and special qualities of the show was the unique bond between everyone in the Happy Days gang. Despite their storylines’ ups and downs, fans loved to see the strong friendships emerging and growing between them.
And it wasn’t just onscreen that the cast was the best of buds—they hung out together in real life, too!
The cast even formed a softball team together, playing against other celebrity teams and raising money for charity.
Up Close and Personal
Although the show’s whole cast got on pretty well, one particular friendship and offset had tongues wagging.
That was between Henry Winkler and Marion Ross, who played Richie’s mother, Mrs. Cunningham.
“We just adored each other,” Ross admitted to Entertainment Weekly of her friendship with Winkler. “He always made such a fuss over me, and it would fluster me so. The more flustered I would be, then the more he would do that to me. We’re very, very close friends. I just adore him.”
Even though Henry Winkler made his name the iconic and endlessly cool character The Fonz, he didn’t drift away from the spotlight after the surface was finally laid to rest.
After Happy Days came to an end, Winkler carved out a successful career as a comic and serious actor—appearing in shows such as Arrested Development and Parks & Recreation.
As well as his acting exploits, Winkler is also a successful author!
Having overcome his battle with dyslexia and inspired to help others, Winkler has now written almost 20 books for children!
And Henry Winkler isn’t the only former Happy Days star that has made a successful career for himself in later years.
As we know, Ron Howard was initially reluctant to take on the role of Richie Cunningham because his real ambition was to be a director.
His directing skills and desires were so evident that Happy Days’ producers offered Howard the chance to direct a few show episodes.
Surprisingly enough, he turned this down, as he didn’t want to take on such a hit show before gaining good experience.
But years later, his ambitions would well and truly pay off.
We know that Ron Howard’s lifelong dream was to become a well-respected film director even during his Happy Days years. And sure enough, after the show wrapped up, Howard went on to prove himself as one of the greatest directors in the industry, with movies such as Parenthood, Apollo 13, and Splash under his belt, as well as A Beautiful Mind, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Director.
One of his earliest directing projects, Night Shift, also starred his Happy Days pal Henry Winkler!
And Winkler and Howard weren’t the only stars of Happy Days who went on to achieve bigger and better things. The other colossal star to come out of the classic sitcom is probably not the actor you think!
Remember the charismatic and yet background character of Arnold, who owned the gang’s favorite diner? All the problems with his accent in the early days paid off years later—when Pat Morita landed Mr. Miyagi’s role in The Karate Kid.
Mr. Miyagi became one of the most famous movie history characters, and Morita was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.