‘Happy Days’: This Actor Got His Start in Another Classic Sitcom

by Suzanne Halliburton

Talk about your Happy Days mainstay. Big Al Delvecchio was a cook and owner of Arnolds, the malt shop, the “it” spot in the neighborhood social scene.

Big Al was played by Al Molinaro. He had a face everyone recognized, although maybe you couldn’t quite place him. Think back to earlier 1970s TV. Big Al got his start on the Odd Couple.

Happy Days creator Garry Marshall also gave the Odd Couple TV life. The show ran from September 1970 until March, 75. And it truly was ground-breaking. Marshall morphed a Broadway play into a fairly successful TV show.

The Odd Couple featured two divorced men living together. Tony Randall played Felix, a fastidious photographer who could not stand mess and disorder. Jack Klugman was Oscar, the messy sportswriter who drove Felix crazy. Both Randall and Klugman won Emmys for their work on Odd Couple.

So, How Did a Happy Days Character Fit in with the Odd Couple

And where does Happy Days and Al Molinaro come in? Molinaro was Murray, a New York cop who was one of Oscar’s running buddies. A running joke on the show was the size of Murray’s nose. In one episode, Murray couldn’t open the apartment door, so he stuck his nose in the peephole.

Oscar noticed. “Oh, hi Murray,” he called out.

Before his roles in Odd Couple and Happy Days, however, Molinaro paid the bills by owning a collection agency and working as a real estate agent. In fact, he did very well in those businesses, enough so that he could pay for acting and improv classes without worrying about a paycheck. He met Penny Marshall in one of the classes. And Penny Marshall introduced him to her brother, Garry, who cast him as Murray. By then, Molinaro was living in New York.

In 1976, Pat Morita decided to leave his recurring role in Happy Days. He was Arnold, the owner of the malt shop. So Garry Marshall turned to Molinari. Big Al was a main character for four seasons. Molinaro was in 145 episodes, which placed him in longevity just beneath characters like Ralph and Potsie.

On Happy Days, Al eventually married Chachi’s mother, Louisa. So his character continued in the spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi. He and Anson Williams also started a Midwestern diner chain called “Big Al’s.”

During a Happy Days reunion show in 1992, Molinaro said of the series:

“In the industry, they used to consider us like a bubble-gum show,” he said. “But I think they overlooked one thing. To the public in America, Happy Days was an important show, and I think it was and I think it still is.”

Molinaro died in 2015. He was 96. Generations of Happy Days fans always will know him as Al. But he was Murray, the cop, too.