‘Happy Days’: Tom Bosley Revealed the Scene in Pilot’s Script That Convinced Him to Join Show

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Tom Bosley, America’s dad on Happy Days, revealed that one simple scene swayed him to sign on with the series.

We’re talking early, 1970s era television. Bosley already knew that the original Happy Days, which was called New Family In Town, was a no-go. That pilot ended up on the anthology series Love American Style. This was a second chance to get it right.

Bosley was looking for his next show, after finishing up a part as Sandy’s boss on the Sandy Duncan Show. Bosley talked about how he found the part of Howard Cunningham on Happy Days during an interview with the Archive of American Television.

“The casting director thought I probably was going to be perfect for Happy Days,” Bosley said in 2000. “And so I was in New York, hosting the 20th anniversary of City Center or something like that. And my agent calls me up and says there’s a script waiting for you at the hotel. When you get back, look at it. I looked at it.

“When an actor is waiting for the new TV season and hoping for a series, he’s somewhat reluctant to take the first one that comes along,” Bosley said. “Oh, why didn’t I take that one, that’s a much better one than this one, you know.

“For some strange reason, there was one scene in the pilot between the boy and his dad, when they started talking about him meeting a girl. And he’s in the shower and I’m sitting on the toilet seat talking to him. And I said this is really interesting, this is good writing.”

Bosley Was Sold on Happy Days By An Episode About Richie and Mary Lou

Bosley was sold on Happy Days. The episode was about Richie and a nice girl named Mary Lou Milligan. Potsie set them up. But Mary Lou had a reputation for going all the way with boys. And Richie discovered none of her reputation with the other boys was true. So he talked to his dad about it.

Richie Cunningham: My friend lied to everybody about a girl.

Howard Cunningham: Oh. Well, it’s obvious that the lie is bothering him, and he ought to go back and tell the truth.

Richie Cunningham: To everybody? I mean, even Fonzie?

Howard Cunningham: What’s a Fonzie?

This episode kicked off Happy Days on Jan. 15, 1974. Bosley played Richie and Joanie’s dad for a decade, for all 255 episodes.

He always said that he took on the role because of the relationship his character had with his son. Back in 1986, he said he very nearly turned down the part.

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

Bosley died in 2010. Ron Howard, who played his Happy Days son, lauded Bosley.

“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,” 

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