Tag Archives: Henry Winkler

SCHLEMIEL, SCHLEMAZEL…

27 Jan

35 years ago tonight, on Tuesday, January 27, 1976 “Laverne & Shirleypremiered on ABC.

The “Laverne & Shirley” marquee at Paramount Studios where the series was taped, June 1979.

The show starred Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams as bottle-cappers at a Milwaukee brewery. Like “Happy Days” the show was set in 1950s.

Technically “Laverne & Shirley” was a spin-off of “Happy Days” since the characters of Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney once went on a double date with Richie Cunningham and The Fonz. But in truth, that episode of “Happy Days” was just one way the producers tested out the new characters. Traditionally speaking, a spin-off is when a regular or recurring character from a series is given their own series. Prime examples of this would include “The Jeffersons,” “Lou Grant” and “Frasier.”

This writer at the historic Paramount Pictures gate on the lot where “Laverne & Shirley” was taped, June 1979.

The mid-season replacement series shot straight to the top of the ratings, finishing its short first season as the #3 primetime series. The next year it was #2, followed by two seasons as TV’s #1 show. By the 1979-1980 season “Laverne & Shirley” had dropped out of the top 10 for good.

Laverne & Shirley” ran for eight seasons (7 ½ really). In the fall of 1980 the setting moved from Milwaukee to California, and then in 1982 Cindy Williams left the show. It ran for one final season with just Laverne, no Shirley and left the airwaves in May 1983.

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HAPPY DAYS & HAPPY NIGHTS

15 Jan

 

“Happy Days” marquee at Paramount studios, 1979.

37 years ago tonight, on Tuesday, January 15, 1974 the 1950s came to life on TV screens across America when “Happy Days” premiered on ABC.          

The main characters from “Happy Days”

What many don’t realize is that “Happy Days” was first introduced almost two years earlier in a segment of the anthology series “Love, American Style.” I remember seeing the episode and the segment, called “Love and the Happy Days,” when it first aired in February 1972. Actors Ron Howard, Marion Ross, and Anson Williams were in both the segment and the series. One notable difference was the casting of Harold Gould as Howard Cunningham.

The original cast of “Happy Days”

It’s easy to tell that this is a very early publicity shot from “Happy Days.” Aside from the young age of Erin Moran as Joanie, we see the Cunningham’s oldest child, Chuck. Originally portrayed by Gavan O’Herlihy, the character of Chuck was never given much to say or do and by 1975 he was unceremoniously dumped into the TV trash bin, never to be heard from again. It was like he never existed.

The other clue that this is an early publicity shot is that Fonzie is wearing a cloth jacket. ABC feared that if the character wore a leather jacket he might come across as a hoodlum. But as the show grew in popularity Fonzie wore that leather jacket and Henry Winkler became a star of the show.

Henry Winkler as the Fonz.

I previously discussed a conversation I had with Winkler in 1977, so I won’t rehash it here. But he told me that ABC Entertainment President Fred Silverman actually wanted to change the name of the show to “Fonzie’s Happy Days.”

Notice the foreshadowing in this Henry Winkler Fact Sheet. Near the bottom Winkler notes that he “can teach water-skiing.” Can you say “jump the shark?”

By the way, one of the writers of that first episode of “Happy Days” was Rob Reiner. In 1974 he was best known as an actor on “All in the Family” but at the time he was also the brother-in-law of “Happy Days” producer Garry Marshall.

<THIS DATE IN TV HISTORY

30 Oct

 

Chevy Chase autograph signed in October 1976

34 years ago tonight, on Saturday, October 30, 1976, Chevy Chase appeared in his last episode of “Saturday Night Live” as a cast member. The show, then called “NBC’s Saturday Night,” was produced that night at the NBC studios in Brooklyn for the third week in a row (see previous post for the reason).  It was also the night Buck Henry became the show’s first 3-time host. The autograph above was signed by Chevy sometime during that week.                                        

T-shirt identical to the one I presented to Chevy Chase on October 30, 1976

At that night’s dress rehearsal I presented Chevy with a silk-screened T-shirt that a friend and I created. The photo above shows my identical T-shirt as it looks today 34 years later. One difference though; I actually wore my shirt. I doubt Chevy ever wore his. It may be difficult for young people to understand just how popular Chase was at the time. He was the first break-out star from SNL, leaving after just 1 year on the show to make movies. (This was the 6th episode of season 2 and the series’ 30th new episode). The first film Chase released was “Foul Play” with Goldie Hawn in 1978.

 Also on this date…                                                

Paul Messina and Henry Winkler in the garden of NYC's Gracie Mansion, 1977

65 years ago today, on Tuesday, October 30, 1945, Henry Winkler was born in New York City. Best known for his years playing Fonzie on “Happy Days” Winkler has since appeared in many other shows as both a regular cast member and recurring character. The photos above and below were taken at New York City’s Gracie Mansion in 1977.                                           

Paul Messina and Henry Winkler at NYC's Gracie Mansion, 1977

 When I asked him that day in 1977 about ABC Entertainment President Fred Silverman’s involvement in expanding the role of Fonzie on “Happy Days,” Winkler got quite defensive and sharply replied, “Lemme tell you something. Fred Silverman wanted to make the show “Fonzie’s Happy Days” but Ron Howard wouldn’t stand for it, and I don’t blame him.” Thus I learned that an insightful question, that pushes buttons, can get you a wonderful and sincere response.

©Photos by Paul Messina

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