‘Happy Days’ Star Pat Morita Once Revealed How He Wanted to Be Remembered

by Katie Maloney
(Photo by Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)

How does a movie superstar like Pat Morita want to be remembered? Hint: It doesn’t involve his role on Happy Days or In The Karate Kid.

Undoubtedly Pat Morita is an acting icon. He quickly became an on-screen hero to millions of adults and kids as the wise and endearing Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid movies. He also landed an essential role in the hugely successful television show Happy Days. During the show, Morita played Arnold, the hilarious owner of Arnold’s Drive-In, everyone’s favorite hangout. However, Pat Morita wanted to be remembered for more than just the characters he played. During an interview, he shared what he hoped his legacy would be.

“I guess I’d like to be remembered for having touched a lot of lives in happy ways. Positive ways,” said Morita. “I’d like to be remembered as a guy who might have been a failure as a husband but he was a hell of a daddy. If I make it to the pearly gates, I’d like God to say, ‘Where the heck have you been man? We’ve been waiting for you! Let’s party. You know how many of your friends are up here waiting for you man?’,” says Morita with a laugh.

Morita passed away in November 2005. We can only hope there was a group of friends waiting to invite him to the party.

Pat Morita as Arnold in Happy Days

Arnold Became A Key Character On Happy Days

Pat joined Happy Days after the show had already taken off. In previous seasons, Morita’s character, Arnold, was referenced but never seen. Producers of the show wanted viewers to see Arnold during the upcoming season. So they began the casting search for Arnold. During an interview, Morita shared that casting wasn’t as easy as producers had thought it would be.

“They try everybody, they try long, short, wide, brown, black, beem, boom, male, female, dwarfs, elephant-teen. Just every possible kind of person,” said Morita. “And nobody’s happy with a selection of Arnold. Third episode into the season their shooting. And I get this call from Gary to please be on the show. ‘We’ll send you a script. Don’t worry, it’s going to be funny he said’,” remembers Morita.

Pat Morita Almost Got Fired From the Show

Morita flew to the set and prepared for his debut all week. Then just minutes before he was set to start filming his first Happy Days episode, the producer told him that he needed to do an accent. Panicked, Morita resorted back to his days working at a restaurant.

“So naturally, going back to the old Chinese restaurant days. One of the fun things I used to do was mimic the cook. Not to make fun of him. But because that was the only way he understood English,” said Morita.

So, Morita played Arnold with a Chinese accent. Until one day, a Standard and Practices representative arrived on the set of Happy Days. The representative told producers that Morita could not play Arnold because Morita is Japanese and Arnold is Chinese. To portray a Chinese man onscreen while Morita was not Chinese himself would be politically incorrect and offensive. Morita had to immediately think of a way to save his job on Happy Days.

“The actor’s survival syndrome kicked in and I said, ‘Arnold doesn’t have a last name. So it’s Arnold Takahashi. He speaks Chinese because during World War II he was in French Indochina and he had a Chinese mother who got knocked up by a Japanese Colonel who died in the war. So she bring him to Milwaukee and taught Arnold that English talk like this (using the Chinese accent),” said Morita with a laugh. “And they said ‘I’ll buy it.’ And they walked out.”