‘Happy Days’: Howard Cunningham Actor Tom Bosley Revealed Why He Took on Show After First Rejecting It

by Suzanne Halliburton

How different would Happy Days have been if someone other than Tom Bosley played Howard Cunningham?

Bosley was America’s dad for a decade worth of shows on Happy Days. But he said in an interview in 1986 he almost turned down the role.

“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.”

Howard Gould was the original Howard Cunningham. He played the part in the pilot. But Gould turned down the role in the series because he had other projects.

You may not be familiar with Gould’s name, but if you’re a fan of classic TV, you know his face. He played Martin Morgenstern on Rhoda, a spinoff of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Martin was Rhoda’s dad.

Then in the 1980s, Gould was a recurring character on Golden Girls. He played Miles, who was Rose’s boyfriend from 1989-92. In all, Gould appeared on 300 television shows and 20 movies, including The Sting.

Tom Bosley Brought a Broadway Background to Happy Days

Bosley enjoyed a high-profile career, too. After he joined the Happy Days cast, Bosley appeared in all 255 episodes of the show. He talked about the original pilot, which didn’t get approval from a network for four years. The pilot was made in 1970 and originally called New Family In Town.

It eventually became Love in the Happy Days and was included in the anthology show Love, American Style in 1972. ABC thought the show had the same sort of Middle America appeal as the popular movie American Graffiti. Love in the Happy Days became, simply, Happy Days. The show ran from 1974 through 1984. It was so popular that it put down more roots through the network. Spinoffs included Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy.

But Bosley was known for more than Happy Days. He came to the role as a Tony winner for his work in Fiorello! On Broadway, he played Fiorello La Guardia, the former mayor of New York.

And after he said goodbye to Howard Cunningham after 255 episodes, he was on other series. Bosley had a recurring role in Murder, She Wrote. And he was Father Frank Dowling on the Father Dowling Mysteries.

In an odd coincidence of fate, both men who played Howard Cunningham died a month apart in 2010.

Bosley was 83 when he passed away from heart failure. He’d been recently diagnosed with lung cancer and had undergone chemotherapy.

His former co-stars mourned the passing of Bosley, who was a father figure to so many.

“We acted together, traveled together and played charades together,” said Henry Winkler, who played Fonzie. “He was a loving husband, a doting father and a fantastic grandfather. He will be so missed but never forgotten by the Winkler family or the world.”