They were assembled as a family on television, and 34 years later they remain the real-life family of friends who shared so many “Happy Days” with millions of viewers who made the show one of the most beloved in American history.
“We never said goodbye,” said Anson Williams, who played Potsie on the show for its entire 11-year run that ended in 1984. “We were such good friends. We saw each other socially.”
Williams joined four other cast members in New York on Monday as TODAY kicked off a weeklong series called “Together Again: TV’s Greatest Casts Reunited.”
Checking in via satellite from Los Angeles were the two main characters of the show, Ron Howard, who played Richie Cunningham, and Henry Winkler, who created one of the most memorable characters in television history, the ultra-cool greaser known as “The Fonz.”
“It was a great life experience,” said Howard, who was just 20 when the show debuted. “Whenever I think about the show, I don’t think about the ratings, I don’t think about the business side. I don’t think about any of that. I think about the experience of being on the set, or being on the road at one of our promotional things, or one of our softball games; the love and the support that never, ever waned.”
“It is true,” agreed Winkler, who made leather jackets and slicked-back hair cool again. “We played softball as a team, as a cast team, every Sunday. We traveled all over the world. We traveled all over America. We played hard, we worked hard, and I’m very, very fortunate that these people are in my life.”
“I really did feel like a mother,” said Marion Ross, who played Marian Cunningham — “Mrs. C” in Fonz-speak. Now 79, Ross showed she could still play Mom to Howard, who’s sporting a beard these days.
“Ron,” she said, “I think you should shave, honey.”
Tom Bosley, who played Howard Cunningham, fell into his role as father and mock-chided Howard: “You don’t call. You don’t write.”
Seriously, said Bosley, 80, it was natural for him and Ross to become real-life parent figures to the younger cast members, especially Howard and Erin Moran, who played his sister, Joanie, and was just 14 when the show started.
“It had to be that way because Ron was young, Erin was young, so being a part of a family started to grow on the set,” Bosley said. “By the end of the run, after 10 and a half years, it was another family that had to say goodbye for a while.”
TODAY’s Matt Lauer observed that Moran went through puberty on national television.
“Yes, I did,” she laughed. While that wasn’t the easiest passage to go through, doing the show remains a fond memory. “It was so much fun with these guys,” she said. “They made it better, they made it easier. I loved it. I had such a good time.”
It was also an exciting time full of changes for the young cast members. Don Most, who played Ralph Malph, was just 21 when the show started, and he said the instant fame was like something out of “The Twilight Zone.”
“It was a hard thing,” he said. “All of a sudden, everything was handed to you on a plate. People knew you. Before, we were struggling to get dates, and all of a sudden, you’re advertised out there — it’ a whole different world.”
Garry Marshall was the writer and producer who created the show and the three spin-offs that it spawned: “Laverne and Shirley,” “Joanie Loves Chachi” and “Mork and Mindy.” The cast also credited Marshall and co-producer Tom Miller with making it timeless by placing it in the ’50s, and director Jerry Paris for making the comedy work.
“It was well written, well done,” said Howard, who had been a child star as Opie on “The Andy Griffith Show” and has grown up to be a hugely successful director. “I think we were a good cast. The premise was great because it drew the family together. It was nostalgia for the parents of that era, and it was a show about kids and about teenagers for the younger members of the family. I really do think it pulled people together on Tuesday nights.”
“You could tell stories about what was happening in the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s, the ’90s, the 2000s,” added Winkler. “But, because it was set in the ’50s, it felt as if you weren’t being hit over the head by a moral.”
Howard and Most left the show after seven years, and it became more about Joanie and her romance with Chachi, which suited Moran just fine.
“There wasn’t more pressure,” she said of her increased importance.
As the kid sister in the early years, she was always in and out, disappearing while the other characters carried the plot. “I didn’t like going upstairs all the time. I wanted to be with the cast more and have more to do. I loved it.”
The entire cast reassembled for the final goodbye show, and Moran admitted to getting misty-eyed every time she sees it. That’s how happy those days really were.
Today, the cast members are all still working in show business.
Howard is the most famous as the director of such films as “Apollo 13,” “Cocoon,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Cinderella Man” and “The Da Vinci Code.” He is working now on the prequel to “The Da Vinci Code,” “Angels and Demons.”
Ross has recently completed a comedy called “Super Hero,” in which she plays Leslie Nielsen’s wife. “A lot of bad things happen to me, but I just act normal,” she said.
Bosley does the voice-over for an educational cartoon on PBS, “Betsy’s Kindergarten Adventure,” and has continued to stay busy in acting.
Most just directed his second film, a comedy called “Moola,” that will be released in May. “I also acted in a film called ‘The Yankles,’ which is about a yeshiva that starts a baseball team called the Yankles,” he said.
Williams, like Howard, is a director. He has also developed a line of skin care products called Starmaker Products with makeup artist Joanna Connel, who worked on “Baywatch” for 10 years.
Ross has just finished a movie, “Broken Promises,” and is signed to do another beginning next month.
Winkler also continues to act. “I just finished a wonderful movie called ‘Group Sex’ and another one called ‘The Plum Summer,’ ” he reported.
A dyslexic, he’s also created a critically acclaimed series of children’s books with Lin Oliver about a dyslexic boy named Hank Zipzer.