Ron Howard Reveals the "Insult" That Made Him Threaten to Quit "Happy Days"
Howard and his co-stars looked back on the show for its 50th anniversary.
From 1974 to 1984, Happy Days aired 11 seasons, seven of which starred Ron Howard as Richie Cunningham. Both the show and the character are big pieces of TV history now, but that almost wasn't the case. Howard threatened to quit Happy Days pretty early in its run, when the executives behind the show considered changing its title.
Howard and several other Happy Days cast members recently spoke to The New York Times in honor of the 50th anniversary of the show. Howard and Henry Winkler looked back on how the network proposed changing the title to Fonzie's Happy Days after that character became the breakout. Not only did Howard tell his bosses that he would walk if this happened—Winkler, who played the Fonz, wasn't for the idea, either.
Howard explained to the NYT that the show took off after its second season when it moved to a three-camera setup filmed in front of an audience. At the same time, Fonzie became a bigger part of the show, which also helped it gain more fans.
"It was kind of a reckoning for me because the focus of the show shifted, and yet that was our way to win," Howard explained. "The only thing I ever said to the bosses or the executives is, 'What's happened here with Fonzie is great. Just make sure that you understand, too, that we have a real chemistry here, and we think of ourselves as an ensemble.' I'm glad that they made the moves they made, whether I was 100 percent comfortable with them at the time or not. It was thrilling to see the show take off."
Winkler said that this was when ABC told him that they wanted to change the title to Fonzie's Happy Days. "I said, 'If you do that, it is an insult to everybody I'm working with. Why fix something that isn't broken? We are really good. I live in the family and that's why I'm successful. I'm asking you, if you never listen to me again, leave it alone.'"
Howard confirmed that he "told them [he] would leave," if the title was changed. "I don't think I contractually could have," the actor and director added. "But I told them if you really want to change the name of the show to that, I would rather go back to USC and film school and what I was doing before the show launched."
Howard and Winkler agreed that they had a great time working together, with Winkler calling Howard an "unbelievable partner" and Howard saying, "It was a blast." Howard also said that "you couldn't be jealous" of what happened with Winkler and Fonzie, "because it was 1,000 percent earned." Asked if he was ever jealous of Winkler's fame, Anson Williams, who played Potsie, said, "People ask me that question and I'd say, 'Are you kidding? The Fonz bought me a house. He was probably the most popular actor in the world for a while but it never came to the set. As popular as he was, it didn't change anything as a team."
In the past, Howard revealed that he dealt with a lot of stress during the early years of Happy Days. In his 2021 book, The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family, co-written with his brother Clint Howard, he said that the stress manifested in physical symptoms.
"I didn't handle my stress particularly well. I probably would have benefited from seeing a psychotherapist," the Apollo 13 filmmaker wrote. "Instead, I kept everything inside. Then I started breaking out in eczema rashes all over my body, most acutely on my eyelids … And my hair started thinning. Looking at the men on both sides of my family, I knew it was inevitable … But it started coming out in alarming clumps during this time."
"The biggest stressor of all was Fonzie," he continued. "Not Henry, but Fonzie. It did not escape my notice that as the season went on, the Fonz was getting more and more screen time."
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