‘Happy Days’: Pat Morita Dishes On What It Was Like Working With Castmate Ron Howard

by Clayton Edwards
(Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)

Pat Morita played Arnold Takahashi on “Happy Days.” As the owner of the popular diner, his character interacted with most of the main cast. So, he was able to work alongside the young stars of the show. His character, or at least his character’s diner, provided much of the connective tissue of the show.

Many moviegoers will remember Pat Morita as the iconic Mr. Miyagi from the “Karate Kid” films. However, like so many others, he got his first big break on “Happy Days.” He discussed his time on the show with the Television Academy Foundation in an interview in 2000.

Pat Morita Talks About “Happy Days” Castmate Ron Howard

When the interviewer asks Morita about his “Happy Days,” castmate, he says, “Ron, I think, Howard is going to have a future one day,” he says with a straight face before breaking into a laugh.

According to Morita, his “Happy Days” castmate was the only guy he had ever met who went to film school. Howard wanted to be more than an actor. He wanted to know the process of filmmaking inside and out. So, he studied all aspects of the process. Then, Morita notes, he waited patiently to apply all that he had learned. About this Pat says, “Ronnie really deserves all the success that he’s worked for.”

He went on to talk about seeing Ron Howard in London long after “Happy Days,” had ended. Morita and his family were in London for vacation. His wife and daughter had gone shopping and he was having tea. Then, out of nowhere, Ron Howard walked into the place where Morita was hanging out. He yells for Ron, and they ended up reconnecting and having a nice afternoon together. About Ron Howard, Morita said, “Everybody knows he’s just a sweetheart of a guy.”

Morita on Henry Winkler

Ron Howard wasn’t the only “Happy Days,” alum that Pat Morita remembered fondly. He also spoke a little about working with Henry Winkler. About Winkler’s performance on the show, he said, “I’ve got to tell you, I’ve never said this to anyone before but watching Henry be The Fonz and turn it on and turn it off and do it and make the kinds of decisions that you make when you’re building a character when you’re building a story… God, he was the best at it.”

Morita said it was mesmerizing. Winkler would be The Fonz until the cameras stopped rolling. Then, when it was time for lunch or when they were done for the day, he just turned it off. Pat said that Henry Winkler was a very warm soft-spoken guy. So, seeing him step in and out of the gruff greaser character was amazing and inspirational.

In fact, Pat Morita credits Henry Winkler’s performance on “Happy Days,” as the inspiration for how he approached the role of Mr. Miyaga. So, not only did the show give Morita his big break but also working on the show prepared him to step into what might be his most iconic role.