Ron Howard had established himself as a fine actor when he joined Happy Days but things did get a little rocky. Howard, who starred as Richie Cunningham in the ABC sitcom, was facing a crossroads of sorts. Network executives noticed how much more popular Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli, played by Henry Winkler, became during the show’s run.
They thought it would be a good idea to change the show’s name to Fonzie’s Happy Days. They wanted to squeeze out as much popularity and audience share as possible. This idea didn’t go over too well with Howard. He knew that his contract called for him to appear on the show.
“But I told them if you really want to change the name of the show to that, I would rather go back to USC and film school and what I was doing before the show launched,” Howard said during a joint interview with Winkler for The New York Times.
Henry Winkler Pushed For No Name Change on ‘Happy Days’
What was Winkler’s attitude about this name change business? He told the news outlet, “I said, ‘If you do that, it is an insult to everybody I’m working with. Why fix something that isn’t broken? We are really good. I live in the family and that’s why I’m successful. I’m asking you, if you never listen to me again, leave it alone.’”
People reported that Howard, in a November 2021 interview on The Graham Norton Show, said that there were attitude changes afoot against him at one point. “It was a really interesting kind of paradoxical situation because the show began and the Richie Cunningham character was the undeniable lead of the show,” Howard said. He also said that Winkler was “remarkable” as “The Fonz.”
As it turns out, those executives listened and left the name alone. Happy Days ran for 11 seasons on ABC with it getting solid ratings for most of its run. Besides Howard and Winkler, other cast members included Marion Ross, Tom Bosley, Anson Williams, Don Most, and Erin Moran.
While the show’s success kept it on course, Winkler appeared to let it go to his head. Garry Marshall oversaw the show’s production. He had previous success on ABC with another sitcom, The Odd Couple. So he established a relationship that worked with the network.
Story Shows Garry Marshall’s Influence On Cast
Winkler said Marshall, who created Happy Days, was “generous” yet he wasn’t going to sit around and let bad behavior get rewarded. Winkler shared a story to make his point even clearer when talking with the Times.
“One time, when he was announcing the guest cast, I said, ‘Garry, we have to hurry up because I’m flying to Arkansas,’” Winkler said. “He nodded, put down the microphone, grabbed me by my shirt, put me against the wall, and said, ‘Don’t ever do that again, because they have every right to be recognized like you.’ He kept us in line.”
Winkler had interrupted Marshall while he introduced the Happy Days cast, including guest stars, to the studio audience. Getting interrupted while doing that did not sit well with Marshall as Winkler remembered.
Everything between Winkler and Howard, though, appears to be quite good. After all, Winkler is the godfather of Howard’s four children.
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