Old School Americana & Nostalgia


How ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Grease’ Nearly Traded Male Stars

How ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Grease’ Nearly Traded Male Stars

Can you imagine a world where John Travolta starred in Happy Days and Henry Winkler starred in Grease? It almost happened. 

As some may already know, Happy Days spun out from an episode of the anthology series, Love, American Style. In one story, Ron Howard first brought Richie Cunningham to life when he and Potsie, played by Anson Williams, tried to impress some ladies with a brand-new television. 

That episode was such a hit that Garry Marshall turned it into one of the most iconic series ever to grace TV. Most of the roles were re-cast, but Howard and Williams continued playing Richie and Potsie. 

Years later, fans—including Williams—learned that Travolta was originally considered for William’s part. Had that happened, he likely would have stayed with the spinoff. In 2017, Williams joked with Studio 10 that Travolta owed him a “thanks.”

“You know, it’s funny,” he said, per Gold. “I didn’t even know he auditioned until I was interviewed by Marilu Henner. And she told me, years later. Well, I told Marilu to tell John I saved his career by me getting the part and not him.”

‘Grease’ Originally Intended to Cast ‘Happy Days’ Legend Henry Winkler As Danny

In the late ’70s, while Happy Days was still in its prime, Grease director Randal Kleiser began envisioning bringing the then-play to theaters. And when he imagined his lead cool guy, Danny, all he could see was Henry Winkler’s face. So, he asked Winkler to consider the role. 

At that time, Winkler was terrified he would be forever typecasted as a character similar to the Fonz. So, he turned down the now infamous role despite fears that he’d never find onscreen work again. 

“It was so bad that not only could I not find work, but I was sitting at my desk at Paramount, and I literally thought, ‘Am I ever going to find anything with as much impact as the Fonz?’,” Winkler told CNN correspondent Chris Wallace. “How will I know? Will anybody ever ask me? I’m not getting any offers.”

Winkler said he was a “damn fool” for not starring in Grease

“I thought, ‘I’ve played the Fonz. I don’t wanna do it again. But it’s already happened, I’m already typecast,’” he regretfully recalled. “I should’ve just shut up and had a really good time making that movie.”

In 2019, he visited Access Hollywood and once again shared remorse over the long-lost opportunity. But he admitted that Travolta was better equipped to play the character. 

“I was on drugs at that moment [I said ‘no’]’!” he joked. John Travolta went on – not only that, I can’t sing – he went on to be brilliant in Grease and bought a plane.”