‘Happy Days’: Marion Ross Explained How World War II and Family Gave Her ‘Drive’ to Become an Actor

by Matthew Wilson

Marion Ross entertained audiences on sitcoms like “Happy Days” and various films. But she felt inspired to act since she was an early age.

Ross played Ron Howard’s mother Marion Cunningham on the series for all 11 seasons. In a 2019 interview with The LA Beat, Ross credited both her family and World War II with pushing her into acting. Ross grew up during the height of World War II and entertained her family as a child with some of her theatrics. For instance, she learned to cry on command at an early age.

“But by the time I was 10 or 11 when the [Second World] War was going on they would be telling stories about the war,” Ross told the outlet. “And people around the dining room table would say, ‘Look at Marion,’ tears are coming down [my face]. I was always very aware that people would watch me. Isn’t that funny? So it was interesting.”

Marion Ross’ Road to ‘Happy Days’

But Ross had no inclination at the time of being an actor. She didn’t really entertain the idea until she was about 13 years old. Ross said her mother always believed in her that she could do anything. Ross also had a younger brother, who was crippled. And she watched as he overcame challenges in life. This environment made Ross feel like she could shoot for the stars.

“But I didn’t decide to become an actress ‘till I was about 13. I lived in Albert Lee, Minnesota, a town of about 15,000 people. But my mother was a Canadian and I was raised on [the sentiment], ‘You can be anything,'” she continued.

While living in Minneapolis, Ross enrolled in the MacPhail School of Music and Drama. The school taught her the beginnings of acting and entertainment. But Ross didn’t really luck into the industry until she moved with her family to San Diego, California. While there, Ross started acting in school productions, something she continued into college at San Diego State.

After college, Ross ended up acting at the Globe Theatre, which was recovering still from World War II.

“I get on the train to go to California. It turned out to be a very good thing,” Ross said. “Because right after the war, the Globe Theatre went back to Balboa Park and was renewing itself. What a treasure the Globe Theatre in San Diego!”

All of this put Ross on a path to later star in the sitcom “Happy Days.”