“Happy Days” star Ron Howard was a stickler for historical accuracy. Unfortunately for him, his castmates were firmly ensconced in the 1970s, even as they taped a show about 1950s kids.
In a Television Academy Foundation interview from 2006, Howard described how he used to tease his costars about their haircuts, which ended up looking quite different from the 1950s style.
“I was always teasing the guys,” Howard recounted. “Because I tried to keep my same Richie Cunningham haircut dutifully authentic all the time. But Anson [Williams] was trying to have a singing career. Donny [Most], you know, was single and didn’t like his short haircut. And, you know, after awhile, everybody had ’70s haircuts. And you know, I kept saying, ‘Whatever happened to the ’50s?’”
‘Happy Days’ Was Set in the 1950s
“Happy Days” ran from 1974 to 1984. But it took place during the 1950s. Series creator Garry Marshall actually had to convince Paramount executives not to set it in the 1920s or ’30s, which was their original idea when they approached Marshall about creating a show, per Mental Floss.
Marshall told the executives he didn’t know anything about the Roaring Twenties or the Great Depression, but he could write about his adolescence during the 1950s.
Most of the historical details in the show were thus drawn from Marshall’s memory, not from exhaustive research. In fact, Howard said the most research they ever had to do was to flip through a book put out by Life magazine looking back at the ’50s.
“I think all the research that we ever, ever did was we had a Life magazine look at the ’50s book that sort of sat around on a table the first year that we were shooting,” Howard told the Television Academy Foundation. “And we were occasionally urged to go scan it and look at it. That was really it.”
Watch Howard talk about historical accuracy here:
The Show’s Star Had a Very 1970s Problem
Howard reportedly joined the show at least in part to get out of going to Vietnam. The “Happy Days” star got a low draft number. And the government had stopped offering student deferments to college kids around that time.
But there was another way out. Howard could get an occupational deferment if his employment directly supported the employment of 30 or more people besides him. With the whole “Happy Days” cast and crew arguably depending on Richie Cunningham, Howard took the role.
Fortunately for Howard, Nixon put an end to the draft soon after they filmed the pilot, and it became a moot point. But Howard stayed on to do “Happy Days” anyway. And TV audiences are lucky he did, because “Happy Days” went on to become one of the most popular shows of its era.