In the late 1970s, the classic television show Happy Days had been on the air a few years already. The show was an absolute success and skyrocketed star Henry Winkler from an occasional actor on the series to a household name.
For the rest of the cast, the change in dynamics wasn’t as pleasant.
Ron Howard said at some point ‘Happy Days’ felt like a boy band
At the heart of Happy Days from its debut was actor Ron Howard playing the central character of teenager Richie Cunningham. The show, set in 1950s Milwaukee, revolved around Richie, his friends, and his family.
The show was going well and enjoying modestly good ratings until Henry Winkler and his character, Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli, became famous seemingly overnight.
Howard told the Archive of American Television in 2006 his main objection with the series’ producers was its movement in the direction of changing the show’s name to Fonzie’s Happy Days. In the end, the show’s name remained Happy Days once Howard made his objection known.
“The show did shift [toward Fonzie] and I continued to have great parts,” he said. “The fantastic thing was, it was a wonderful ensemble, we always treated it as an ensemble.”
Marion Ross said Ron Howard was upset by Fonzie’s fame
In her memoir, My Days: Happy and Otherwise, actor Marion Ross who played Richie’s mother Marion Cunningham recalled the bittersweet experience of Winkler’s sudden fame. All the show’s actors benefited from it, yet at the same time, felt like anonymous actors in the Fonzie star’s shadow.
“The fact that Henry had risen to be the show’s breakout star, it did make the rest of us feel like we were supporting players,” she wrote.
Ross described having Howard visit her dressing room and the discouragement that was plain on his face.
“I will never forget the day when, though the show was sitting strongly in the number one slot in the ratings, a dejected Ron Howard came into my dressing room and flopped into a chair,” Ross wrote.
The actor finally got it out of her on-screen son that he was feeling “Fonzie overload.”
“It’s just all about the Fonz,” he told Ross. “Every damn day it’s the Fonz this and the Fonz that. There are other people involved with this show other than him, ya know!”
Ross noted that Howard’s feelings were about the Fonzie character and not towards Winkler, who she said “never acted like he was the star or was better than anyone else.”
Howard and Winkler remain good friends
Howard continued in his interview saying, “Henry Winkler and I were kind of like brothers and he was sort of like a big brother to me in a lot of ways. We worked well together, and [Happy Days] became a huge hit.”
Winkler for his part agreed with Howard, telling the Archive of American Television in 2006, “[Howard] is my brother today. [Winkler’s wife Stacy] and I are the godparents of his children.
“[Howard] said, ‘God forbid, if anything happens to [Howard’s wife Cheryl] and to me, take them. You can bar mitzvah them if you want. Take them.'”