Column: ‘Happy Days’ a feel-good show despite the decade’s complexities

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 6, 2005

I’m not sure why I opted to watch ABC television’s &uot;Happy Days Reunion&uot; special Thursday night. It likely had something to do with my fascination of the original 1970s show.

I figured it would be a little hokey and I was right, but it was still fun to relive some of the funnier clips.

The entire cast appeared for the reunion show, Marion Ross (from Albert Lea) and Tom Bosley, who played Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham; Ron Howard and Erin Moran, the Cunningham children, Richie and Joanie; and their friends, Don Most (Ralph Malph), Anson Williams (Potsie Weber), Scott Baio (ChaChi, Joanie’s love interest), and of course, Henry Winkler, the infamous Arthur &uot;Fonzie&uot; Fonzarelli, the show’s bad boy.

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Unlike many of today’s shows depicting family life, there was an uncomplicated story line, which often revolved around a simple message gleaned from a simpler time &045; the 1950s.

That is not to say &uot;Happy Days&uot; was filmed during a simple time &045; it first aired in 1974, a time when the U.S. was recovering from the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal featuring former and late President Richard Nixon. Drug use, though not a new trend, had certainly escalated and become a serious public concern.

I was 12 in 1974, and not aware of our country’s complexities &045; I just knew I liked &uot;The Fonz&uot; and gang.

The show was set in Milwaukee, Wis., and followed the life events of a traditional nuclear family of four. Richie was a junior in high school when the show aired.

Apparently, millions of viewers liked the concept because the program ran a successful 11 years &045; the final show was broadcast July 12, 1984.

My favorite episode, along with millions of viewers, was the one in which Richie and his friends went on a &uot;panty raid&uot; (is that term and activity even on the radar of today’s youth?) and ended up hilariously dressed in girl’s nightgowns and wearing what I call shower caps, huddled together in one of the dorm’s single beds trying to avoid detection by the strict matron.

I learned Thursday night that Fonzie was not allowed to wear his trademark leather jacket in the early episodes. It took a letter from creator/executive producer Garry Marshall requesting Fonzie be cleared to wear the jacket in scenes which featured his motorcycle.

The studio execs approved.

Marshall then made sure every scene Fonzie appeared in, also included the motorcycle, which explains why he drove it into Arnold’s in one episode.

It sure doesn’t seem like 30 years have passed since the &uot;Happy Days&uot; cast visited our homes and I paid particular attention to how they had aged.

Tom Bosley has lost his robust physique and Ron Howard, wearing his now-trademark baseball cap, is bald. Otherwise, they looked pretty much the same as when they starred in the TV show, with a few more wrinkles and gray hairs. I did appreciate that Henry Winkler has gotten more handsome. I’m not sure if he has really aged that well, or if my assessment is based more on the fact I just like Henry Winkler &045; a lot.

I was also pleased Marion Ross came across on scene as a Midwestern gal. While watching the show all those years ago, I didn’t know she hailed from Minnesota. Now that I call home the town she lived in at one time, it means more that she be true to our values. I wasn’t disappointed.

All in all, when the &uot;Happy Days Reunion&uot; show ended Thursday night, I felt good about life in general, remeniscent of when I used to watch the program every week. That feeling is all too rare when watching TV these days.