We began our week of reconnecting with TV favorites by welcoming the cast of “Happy Days” back for a little reunion.
Henry Winkler (Fonzie) and Ron Howard (Richie Cunningham) were in Los Angeles, while Tom Bosley (Howard Cunningham), Marion Ross (Marion Cunningham), Anson Williams (Potsie Webber), Don Most (Ralph Malph) and Erin Moran (Joanie Cunningham) joined Matt in the studio. WATCH VIDEO
Before the segment, I had a chance to sit down with Anson and Don — Richie’s old sidekicks — to talk about their characters and what life was like for young guys on a hit television show.
(Full disclosure: as a kid, I had Fonzie-themed sheets — though they originally belonged to my brother Jeff).
Here’s our conversation:
DF: Looking back over the whole experience…from when you were hired to be on the show until now. What has been the best part of being on “Happy Days” and what has been the worst part?
Anson Williams: The best part of “Happy Days.” Boy, it’s such a big part of the fabric of who I am. The best part — life experience itself. Having the chance to look at the other side of the fence, to greener pastures. It gave me such an education as far as human nature, priorities, morality, all that kind of stuff.
It also gave me incredible friendships and bonds with people that have lasted for more than 30 years. Garry Marshall, who was the creator of “Happy Days,” was a mentor to me. He gave me the tools to go further in my life than just show business. He gave me the tools to see other opportunities. I now own two major product companies because of Garry Marshall. He taught me. So that education was invaluable.
The bad side of “Happy Days”? Not “Happy Days,” but the bad side is, at a young age, getting in something that’s so big and so large, you stop growing in certain areas. We have to really work at relationships — all of a sudden, you don’t, because it’s all there for you. Even though we weren’t spoiled, society makes you spoiled.
In later years, I had to overcome some of those problems and had to grow up at warp speed, just because of being shut out from it for so many years. But even now, it gave me a broader sense of the priorities of life and living. Now, at 58 years old, I have five daughters — [aged] one, five, six, nine and 18 — and I have better tools now to help them and direct them.
Boy, that was a long answer!
DF: It was a good answer.
Don Most: It was a good answer. It was very well rounded. Anyway, for me, the best part of “Happy Days” was that it was an incredible opportunity. I started when I was 20, and it was an incredible group of people to work with, the rest of the cast and the directors, mainly Jerry Paris, and Garry Marshall.
But what an incredible group of people we had. It was just a fortuitous thing that happened that we had such chemistry with this group of people. So the chance at that age to learn and grow and work with wonderful actors was invaluable to me. I cherished it at the time, and we had incredible creative energy, give and take, and we all respected each other and really cared for each other. That really came through — you can’t fake that.
The worst part — I have to concur with some of the things Anson said in terms of the dangers when something like this happens to you when you’re young. He hit the nail on the head about getting trapped or sucked in the wrong direction and maybe it stunts some of the growth.
Also, what I felt — and I’m sure other people felt this as well — as an actor, when the show was over, and it was so successful and so big, it was tough at that point to get the kinds of roles that I would have wanted to do as an actor.
The good thing is that that was a ways back, many years have passed, and time takes care of things. Now I’m able to get back and get a lot more acting roles; the ones I would have liked to have done back then. At least it’s not like an athlete, where it’s over when you’re 40.
DF: When people see you on the street, what’s the most common question people ask you?
Anson Williams: “Do you still talk to you each other?” All the time, always the first question. “Are you still in contact with the cast?” I say, “Yeah.” They say, “Really? Really?” I say, “Yeah, we really like each other.” I guess it’s an odd thing these days.
The second question is, “It looked like you had a really good time. Did you have a good time doing the show?” For some reason, people attach good feelings to the show. They want to make sure that we felt what they were feeling.
Don Most: I get the same ones a lot. Also, “When are we going to see you in something else?” People really seem to be interested in that. They want to see me in another show.
Anson Williams: It’s funny, the fans know us so well. They know Don directs, I direct. They get excited about having other things to get excited about. They’re attached to the emotion of these characters, and they become attached to us outside the show.
DF: What about your characters’ names. They’re both funny names. I don’t remember if it’s explained in the show where “Potsie” comes from. What was the deal with being called “Potsie”?
Anson Williams: It’s never really discussed why, but I do know that Garry Marshall’s wife’s friend was nicknamed Potsie in high school, and they liked the name. They liked names that ended in “e” — Richie, Fonzie, Ralphie, Potsie, Joanie.
DF: Maybe that’s why Chuck [the long-lost eldest Cunningham child] didn’t make it–
Anson Williams: Chuck didn’t have an “e”! If only he had been Chuck-“ie”, he would have made it!
DF: The name Ralph Malph — didn’t end with the “e” sound — but the name seemed to fit the character. He was mouthy and always had a funny line. Did you feel like the name fit the character pretty well?
Don Most: It may actually have been the other way around. Originally, all they had were a couple little scenes [for Ralph] in the pilot. So I didn’t really know who the character was. I think the name might have influenced the character, to some degree.
Rob Reiner was one of the writers for the original pilot, and I’m pretty sure Rob told me he came up with the name Ralph Malph. That’s where it came from.
DF: And where did Ralph’s catchphrase, “I still got it,” come from?
Don Most: It came from Jerry Paris, our director. That was a line that he used to say. To a good degree, Ralph was influenced by Jerry. He was always the funniest guy you’ll ever meet. A wonderful, wonderful guy. He directed almost every episode and had a tremendous influence on all of us. And he used to say that all the time.
He was always keeping us laughing, and he’d say a particularly good joke and afterwards he’d go, “I still got it.” And then, I don’t know if it was his idea or my idea, but in one of the episodes, I said, “You gotta use that, because Ralph’s telling jokes.” It was one of the predicaments that he was in, and he still was able to get himself out with some humor, and, of course, that line fit like a glove.
From that point forward, the writers had a lot of fun giving it to me in every conceivable situation. Even in misery, “I still got it.” It’s fulfilling for me to see the line really caught on in culture and became a catchphrase.
DF: And Don, were you originally going to play Potsie?
Don Most: No, I wasn’t originally going to play him, but I was auditioning for it.
AW: The whole city was auditioning for it.
Don Most: Yeah, everybody was auditioning, and that’s a long story. Anson and Ron [Howard] had done a pilot for “Happy Days” two years prior to the one that you all know, but it didn’t sell. They decided to do it again, and they obviously decided that Ron and Anson were the perfect match for Richie and Potsie, and I guess they decided that they liked my screen test.
I heard it was actually Michael Eisner, who at the time was at Paramount. He was the one who said, “Find a role for that kid.” Tom Miller, one of the executive producers, told me that. So it was Michael Eisner’s idea to create a role. There was a small role in the pilot of Ralph, and they decided to make him a regular part of the gang.
DF: Ralph was kind of an unrepentant skirt chaser…did these roles help you guys get girls off camera?
Anson Williams: Let me put it this way. We’re young, we’re single, we’re on the number one show in the world. What do you think? People ask me, “Oh, man, what do you do to meet girls?” I say, “It’s very simple: get on a hit television show.”
It’s funny, three weeks before the show aired, we’re fighting for dates just like everybody. All of a sudden, three weeks later, we’re hot. So…it was nice. We’re like Big Macs, you know? We’re advertised.
But at the same time, as we were saying before, it makes things difficult too, because people don’t know who you are. It’s a very surface thing. And honestly, it’s really too easy at a young age for all that opportunity. You stop growing in relationships because you don’t have to work that hard. That’s very important to have that connection with people.
Don Most: It’s sort of abnormal, unnatural. Everything’s shifted 180 degrees. Because of the abnormality of it, you can’t help but be affected. It’s tricky, it’s a dangerous world you can get caught up in.
Anson Williams: It’s almost like Pinocchio’s island. You turn into a donkey — too much candy.
Don Most: That’s a good metaphor…
Anson Williams: You know, [makes donkey noises]…But having gone through all that, it was an amazing education for doing the right thing.