Anson Williams said he struggled with fame when Happy Days became a hit. Strangers called him by his character name Potsie, and he feared that’s all he’d ever be known as. He confided his fear with Ron Howard, the star of the show, who had a poignant and humble response.
Williams told On Milwaukee in 2014 about the exchange, and how it changed his life. He recalled the conversation after the reporter asked if people calling him Potsie 50 years later bothered him.
“The nice thing about it is that when people say ‘Potsie’ there is always a smile on their faces,” he said. “I am grateful for the opportunity to be on the show, to be Potsie. But once, I was complaining to Ron (Howard) about being Potsie all the time and he said, ‘What are you complaining about? I get ‘Richie’ and ‘Opie.’”
Howard continued, “Anson, you have to earn your name. They know us by the show, but we earn our name.” He was so right. And now, I think it’s wonderful, wonderful that people know me as ‘Potsie’ and Anson.”
He also joked with the reporter about The Fonzie statue in Milwaukee. She wanted to know if he’d ever visited it.
“… It’s funny because people have asked, ‘Are you jealous you didn’t get a statue?'” he said. “Are you kidding?! He bought me a house. Being on the show was one of the greatest gifts of my life. I am honored to have been a part of it.”
Williams, 71, continued to act after the show ended, but went on to become a prolific television director later in his career.
Williams Owes Success to Janitor Co-Worker
In his memoir “Singing to a Bulldog,” Anson Williams said that if it weren’t for an “alcoholic, illiterate janitor” he met when he was 15, he wasn’t sure he’d have found his way in Hollywood. The name of the book comes from a scene in Happy Days where creator Garry Marshall said he’d have Williams “singing to a bulldog” because it was funny whether Williams was a good singer or not, he told On Milwaukee.
Williams grew up in a dysfunctional home. He said his dad was abusive and his family was poor. Williams got a job as an assistant janitor at a department store in Burbank, California. That’s where he met Willie, a black man in his 50s, who was the head janitor.
Willie and Anson Williams would talk after hours.
“He would take out a flask and took the time to find out who I was and what I was good at. He said things to me like, ‘You special, boy. You’re gonna do something great in life.’
“He told me, ‘You don’t look at the mountain, you climb the mountain.” This changed my life. He gave me so many life lessons and they were amazingly important and timely for me. I never forgot them, or him.”
Williams dedicated the first chapter of his memoir to Willie, who died when Anson was 19 — before he was famous on Happy Days.