How Robin Williams Remembered Landing Iconic Role on ‘Happy Days’

by Suzanne Halliburton
Frank Edwards/Fotos International/Getty Images

Robin Williams earned a spot on Happy Days, in part, because of his ability to stand on his head.

And, Williams earned a guest-starring role on Happy Days because the then young comedian had no boundaries. He’d say whatever popped into his head. So acting like a character named Mork from the planet Ork was silly enough for Williams to embrace. And even if Mork sounded like anything but a character who should be hanging out with kids from Milwaukee, fans loved the silliness of it all.

When Williams died in 2014, the show Pioneers in Television paid tribute to the beloved comic actor by taking a look back at some of his past interviews. And his role on Happy Days was an obvious topic.

“An alien on Happy Days,” Williams mused, then he broke into a Spanish accent. “No se. It’s not that kind of alien.”

Then he explained the genesis of the character. Think Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia. Star Wars was the hottest movie in the world in 1977. So Happy Days creator Garry Marshall started hearing about it — at home.

“The idea was that Garry Marshall’s son had seen Star Wars,” Williams recalled. “And he thought, can’t we have an alien on Happy Days? “

Good question. How would Mork work with Fonzie, Richie and the gang?

“I would’ve have liked to have been there when Garry said (Williams breaks into his Garry Marshall imitation), ‘Well, I don’t know. It’s the 60s and there was no alien abduction. We’re definitely not doing any rectal probes.’

Then Williams reverts back to himself. “The idea that the alien on Happy Days came from that. Then they started auditioning pretty much every standup comic they could find to come in and play this alien. The day I went in for my audition, Richard Lewis, who was a great Jewish comic, is coming out and saying ‘I don’t speak Norwegian.’ What does that mean?

“Then I went in and basically started talking in this weird kind of helium voice, sat on my head, started off just playing. Cause I went ‘what have you got to lose?’ … I could do off the wall and do strange things and because I was an alien, it was OK.”

When you’re one year into your career, being silly and carefree at an audition can be pure bliss. In other interviews, Marshall said he learned of Williams because two of his sisters knew of him. Marshall wrote a column for People in 1989 and described why he selected Williams.

“When Robin Williams came on as a Martian, he was all over the place and was improvising some, and they gave him room,” Marshall wrote. “At the end of the episode, 300 people in the audience stood up and applauded, which is not usually done. It didn’t take a genius to know he could do his own show, and we made one for him, Mork & Mindy.”

The Happy Days episode was My Favorite Orkan. It came out in February, 1978. The plot? Richie sees a flying saucer and meets an alien named Mork. But no one believes him. Mork wanted to take Richie back to Ork. Actually, months later, Mork ends up in Boulder, Colo. with a new TV series. And pop culture history was made.