No question, during the Happy Days heyday, Tom Bosley was America’s dad.
Richie and Joanie called him Dad. Their friends called him Mr. C. Bosley was so gracious when not in character, the younger folks on the Happy Days cast referred to him as their substitute father.
During an interview in 2000, Bosley said what attracted him to the role of Howard Cunningham was how his relationship was written with Richie.
“After rereading the pilot script,” Bosley said, “I changed my mind because of a scene between Howard Cunningham and Richie. The father/son situation was written so movingly, I fell in love with the project.”
Bosley said he almost turned down Happy Days. Originally, Howard Gould played Howard Cunningham when the Happy Days pilot ran as part of the anthology series Love American Style. Gould had other projects, so he couldn’t be in the series when it was picked up by ABC. You’re probably familiar with Gould. He played Rhoda’s dad, Martin Morgenstern on Rhoda, a spinoff of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Then in the 1980s, Gould was a recurring character on Golden Girls. He played Miles, who was Rose’s boyfriend from 1989-92.
Bosley appeared on all 255 episodes of Happy Days. In an interview 10 years before he died, Bosley said he still received letters from fans of Happy Days.
Bosley Told Happy Days Fans He Was Great Dad Because Someone Wrote His Lines
Bosley said the letters would start, “‘I wish you were like my father.’ And I tell them, ‘No you don’t. Because, you see, in television, I’m a good father because somebody writes words that I say. But when I go home to my family, I have to ad-lib 24 hours a day.”
In real life, Bosley had only one daughter. His first wife, Jean, suffered from brain cancer. So Bosley went home each night after filming Happy Days to help care for his young daughter, Amy Baer. She’s now a producer and one of the most successful women in Hollywood.
He died in 2010 at the age of 83. Members of the Happy Days cast were devastated.
“He saw us go through our … marriages, getting our first homes,” said Don Most, who played Ralph Malph, Richie’s friend. “He really was our Dad in so many ways.”
Henry Winkler, who played The Fonz, said Bosley would give him advice in the most fatherly kind of way on the most benign sort of issues.
“When you are going into buying a house and you needed to get insurance and stuff like that, he would break it down, he would explain it,” Winkler told People magazine. “And then he would tell you who you had to talk to and find a good an insurance person and so on and so forth and you knew at least what the right questions were to ask.”
Ron Howard, who played Bosley’s Happy Days son, said:
“Tom’s insight, talent, strength of character and comic timing made him a vital central figure in the Happy Days experience,” Howard said. “A great father and husband, and a wonderful artist, Tom led by example and made us all laugh while he was doing it.”