‘Happy Days’: How Breakout Success of ‘Fonzie’ Led to Other Stars’ Frustration

by Chris Haney
happy-days-how-breakout-success-fonzie-led-other-stars-frustration

Fans of the classic ’70s TV show Happy Days loved “The Fonz,” but that didn’t necessarily apply to Fonzie’s co-stars on the sitcom.

Happy Days first aired in 1974 to moderate success behind its central character, teenager Richie Cunningham, played by Ron Howard. Set in Milwaukee in the 1950s, the show originally focused on Richie, his family and their friends.

Early on, Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli was a secondary character who occasionally made appearances on the show. However, it didn’t take long for actor Henry Winkler’s character to blow up and turn the once minor role into a household name.

Fonzie’s seemingly overnight fame made the show’s ratings skyrocket. But for the rest of the show’s cast, the dynamic changed everything and led to jealousy and frustration. Things came to a head when the show’s producers moved to change the title of the show to Fonzie’s Happy Days.

In the end, the show kept its original name after Howard spoke up, but a divide had been created within the cast.

‘Happy Days’ Cast Feels the Fonzie Overload

Actor Marion Ross who played Richie’s mother, Marion Cunningham, shared details in her memoir My Days: Happy and Otherwise. She revealed how difficult it was for the cast following Winkler’s abrupt rise to fame. The show had already earned top ratings, but the other actors had trouble being in Fonzie’s shadow. All of a sudden, the main characters in Happy Days felt like they were taking a backseat as bit characters.

“The fact that Henry had risen to be the show’s breakout star, it did make the rest of us feel like we were supporting players,” Ross wrote.

Additionally, Ross shares an anecdote of Howard feeling dejected on set because of “The Fonz” craze. After some prodding, Ross got Howard to open up about feeling the “Fonzie overload.”

“I will never forget the day when, though the show was sitting strongly in the number one slot in the ratings, a dejected Ron Howard came into my dressing room and flopped into a chair,” she wrote.

“It’s just all about the Fonz,” Howard told Ross. “Every damn day it’s the Fonz this and the Fonz that. There are other people involved with this show other than him, ya know!”

Yet Ross made sure to differentiate Howard’s thoughts about Fonzie compared to Winkler. She said that Winkler “never acted like he was the star or was better than anyone else.”

Howard and Winkler ‘Like Brothers’ Today

In 2006, Howard spoke with Archive of American Television. He admitted that the show’s producers started to take Happy Days in a different direction, but spoke highly of the cast and Winkler.

“The show did shift [toward Fonzie] and I continued to have great parts,” Howard explained. “The fantastic thing was, it was a wonderful ensemble, we always treated it as an ensemble.”

“Henry Winkler and I were kind of like brothers,” he continued. “And he was sort of like a big brother to me in a lot of ways. We worked well together, and [Happy Days] became a huge hit.”

Winkler also spoke to the Archive of American Television in 2006, and agreed with Howard’s sentiments.

“[Howard] is my brother today. Stacy [Winkler’s wife] and I are the godparents of his children,” Winkler said of Howard.

“[Howard] said, ‘God forbid, if anything happens to Cheryl [Howard’s wife] and to me, take them. You can bar mitzvah them if you want. Take them,’” Winkler joked.

Although the cast may have had some pent-up frustrations over the popularity of “The Fonz,” fans will be glad to know there were happier days in the end.

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