‘Happy Days’: How Pat Morita Made the Most of His Limited Appearances on the Classic Series

by Suzanne Halliburton

Happy Days fans, ask yourself this question. Which beloved diner owner made more appearances in the family comedy? Pat Morita’s Arnold? Or was it Big Al played by Al Molinaro?

Morita’s Arnold seemed entrenched within Happy Days and classic TV fans everywhere. But he appeared in only 26 of the show’s 255 episodes. Meanwhile, Big Al, who started as a cook at Arnold’s, appeared in 146. He even was in 17 episodes of spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi.

Truthfully, fans of Happy Days loved each diner owner. It’s where Richie, Fonzie and the gang gathered for burgers and shakes, with a bit of dancing. The only spot possibly as popular was the Cunningham’s living room. Al actually was the first to appear in the series. But we grew to love Matsuo “Arnold” Takahashi when he made his Happy Days intro in the two-part episode called Fearless Fonzarelli. That was back in 1975, when Fonzie wanted to jump 14 garbage cans stacked in the parking lot of Arnold’s. Fonzie thought his coolness was waning. And in his mind, doing jumps made perfect sense.

Happy Days used a show, within a show format. The episode featured a show called “You Wanted To See It” for Fonzie’s jump. It was based on “You Asked For It.” Jack Smith hosted both the real show and the one on Happy Days. He asked who was “fearless.” Arnold quipped “No, I chicken.”

When Morita left for his own series, Happy Days made the handoff from Arnold to Al in 1976 during a three-part season premiere called “Fonzie Loves Pinky.” That was when the show thought it gave Fonzie the perfect girlfriend, Pinky Tuscadero.

Morita’s final Happy Days appearance was in in the premiere of the final season in 1983. That episode was “Because It’s There.”

Seen here in 2000, Happy Days star Pat Morita showed off his Karate Kid moves. (AFP PHOTO/Paul J. RICHARDS/Getty Images)

After Happy Days, Morita Landed Iconic Mr. Miyagi Role in Karate Kid

After Happy Days, Morita found his perfect role, He became Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid movie franchise. The first movie came in 1984 and it earned Morita an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He played the iconic character in three more Karate Kid movies. In the fourth, he was tutoring eventual Academy Award winner Hilary Swank rather than Ralph Macchio.

Morita had another try at TV stardom. He portrayed Lt. Ohara in a cop show called Ohara. The series lasted two seasons, but was pulled because of low ratings. He also earned an Emmy nomination for playing Tommy Tanaka opposite Kirk Douglas in Amos.

Morita died in 2005 at age 73. Meanwhile, Molinaro went into business with Happy Days co-star Anson Williams. The two started a diner franchise called Big Al’s. Molinaro died in 2015. He was 96.