‘Happy Days’: The Cast Member Who Was ‘Consumed’ With Proving Themselves to Everyone

The cast of 'Happy Days'
The cast of ‘Happy Days’ | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

When Happy Days debuted on ABC in 1974, the cast and crew were excited about the new series and expectant of its success.

One cast member, however, spoke openly about their initial dread of losing their job. The actor explained their energy was poured into “constantly auditioning” for producers and fellow cast mates, anything to feel affirmed as a performer.

‘Happy Days’ was influenced by this movie

Promotional poster for 'American Graffiti', 1973
Promotional poster for ‘American Graffiti’, 1973 | Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

The long-running series ran on ABC from 1974 to 1984. Featuring beloved faces from television including Ron Howard, the show was a refreshing slice of Americana and soon took off as a ratings hit.

Set in 1950s Milwaukee, the program was inspired by the 1973 film American Graffiti, as Marion Ross explained in her memoir My Days: Happy and Otherwise.

“Released in August of 1973, American Graffiti became a huge blockbuster hit – one of the top-grossing films of that year – and then went on to receive five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture,” she wrote.

“A wave of 1950s and ’60s nostalgia swept America, and ABC, which had previously snubbed [executive producer Garry Marshall’s] belief that the nation was ready for a good healthy dose of simpler times, was now desperate to get a nostalgia show,” Ross continued.

Marion Ross was cast as Marion Cunningham

Marion Ross as Marion Cunningham on 'Happy Days', 1975
Marion Ross as Marion Cunningham on ‘Happy Days’, 1975 |
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

RELATED: ‘Happy Days’ Henry Winkler on Ron Howard’s Emotional Departure: ‘When I Said Goodbye to Richie, I Said Goodbye to Ron’

As the actor stated in her memoir, getting cast on a sitcom on a major television network was not something she expected would happen. Not, she said, at her age.

“The night Happy Days debuted, I was a 46-year-old divorced woman who was the mother of an 11-year-old girl and a teenage son,” she wrote. “I was thrilled that Happy Days had been picked up. I never allowed myself to think the show would become a big hit; none of us did.”

Ross also pointed out that she and Marion Cunningham were not very much alike.

“I couldn’t help but think that while I may have looked the part, there was a world of difference between Marion Cunningham and Marion Ross,” she said. “Marion Cunningham didn’t have a career outside of the home, didn’t drive, and always made sure her hair was perfect.”

Ross was determined to prove herself to the ‘Happy Days’ cast and crew

Tom Bosley and Marion Ross, 1982
Tom Bosley and Marion Ross, 1982 | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

As happy as she was to be a member of this clearly rising show, Ross felt she needed to frequently make sure those around her knew she deserved to be there.

“As soon as I had each new script in my hand, right after making sure Mrs. C. was safe, I would highlight my lines, rev myself up, and just read the bejesus out of each word from our first table read to our final run-through,” Ross admitted.

The red-haired actor felt especially at first, that she had to ensure her employment.

“I felt that to keep my job, I was constantly auditioning before Garry, the other producers, the directors, the writers,” she continued. “Hell, I was consumed with proving myself to everyone, including the technical crew, production assistants, and craft services people.”

Clearly, Ross did a lot right: she remained with the cast until its final season in 1984 and her Happy Days character Marion Cunningham is considered one of the most beloved moms in television history.