‘Happy Days’: Ron Howard Explained Why Tom Bosley Was a ‘Vital Part’ of What Made Show Great

by Suzanne Halliburton

If you’re a Happy Days fan, you loved Howard Cunningham. He was dad to Richie and Joanie, husband to Marion and Mr. C to everyone else.

Tom Bosley played Howard Cunningham on every Happy Days episode but the pilot. He was linked to the show for all of its 11 seasons. Bosley was the middle-aged father of a middle-class family right in the middle of middle America. He was a happy anchor of Happy Days.

Bosley died in 2010 at the age of 83. At when Bosley died, one of the biggest stars of Happy Days lauded his TV dad.

“Tom’s insight, talent, strength of character and comic timing made him a vital central figure in the Happy Days experience,” Ron 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,” Ron Howard, who played Bosley’s son, Richie Cunningham, said.

A few years after Happy Days ended its run, Bosley said that he was convinced to do the show’s pilot because of the Howard Cunningham character. He’d been a no, at first.

“After rereading the pilot script, I changed my mind because of a scene between Howard Cunningham and Richie,” Bosley said in 1986. “The father/son situation was written so movingly, I fell in love with the project.”

Happy Days Wasn’t a Go With Networks for Years

It took a while to get Happy Days on the air. Back in 1970, the pilot was called New Family in Town. But it collected dust in the network reject bin. In fact, it was only after ABC saw the success of the movie American Graffiti that the network decided to greenlight the project. TV shows about families living their lives in another decade could be popular with viewers.

Still, the show wasn’t entirely Happy Days. The show’s name was changed to Love in the Happy Days. It launched in 1974 as part of the anthology series Love, American Style.

Howard, who also played a teenager in American Graffiti, was in both the pilot and the series. But Bosley was not. Many of the characters from the pilot were recast.

But Bosley was known for more than Happy Days. He came to the role as a Tony winner from his work in Fiorello! And after he said good bye 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.

Bosley also returned to Broadway, originating the role of Maurice, Belle’s dad, in Beauty and the Beast.

He was far more than Howard Cunningham, but Bosley always will be known for the role.