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Reunion Days

March 01, 1992|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There was a lot of hugging and crying when the cast of the long-running sitcom "Happy Days" reunited recently for "The Happy Days Reunion Special," airing Tuesday on ABC.

"I was very moved because people said so many nice things about me," said Anson Williams (Potsie), who is a successful TV and film director. "I was just teary-eyed. I didn't realize how much they cared."

"It was like we never had left," said Tom Bosley, who played Mr. Cunningham.

"Happy Days" began 20 years ago as a sketch on ABC's "Love American Style." Created by director-writer Garry Marshall ("Pretty Woman"), the series premiered in January, 1974, and continued for 11 seasons. Reruns have been airing ever since in syndication.

Set in the 1950s, the comedy centered around an all-American family who lived in Milwaukee--Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham (Bosley and Marion Ross) and their children Richie (Ron Howard) and Joanie (Erin Moran). Henry Winkler was their leather jacketed friend Fonzie, the tough guy with a heart of gold. Williams and Donny Most played Richie's friends, Potsie and Ralph Malph; Scott Baio was Joanie's boyfriend, Chachi. After a shaky start in the ratings, "Happy Days" became the No. 1 show in 1976. The series also spawned the equally popular "Laverne & Shirley" and "Mork & Mindy," as well as the short-lived "Joanie Loves Chachi."

The 90-minute special, hosted by Winkler, features Marshall and several cast members, including Howard, who went on to become a successful feature film director ("Cocoon," "Parenthood"). The show will have the requisite clips from the series, plus Winkler's behind-the-scenes home movies.

Also included will be footage of the "Happy Days" softball team in action. "Our softball team is what kept us going for so long," said Ross, who stars on CBS' acclaimed "Brooklyn Bridge."

"We played all the National League fields," she said. "We played softball on the East German border and we played in Okinawa for eight days with the U.S. Marines. We beat the Marines. They had no idea we took it so seriously."

Baio, who stars in ABC's sitcom "Baby Talk," recalled when he first joined the series in 1977, he decided he didn't want to play baseball. "I wanted to sleep, to be perfectly honest," he said. He recalled that Marshall called a meeting with Baio and his father, who manages his career.

"I was petrified," Baio said. "I didn't know what he wanted. He sat behind the desk and very seriously said (to my father), 'The reason I like to do this show is that I get to play ball. Your son won't play with me.' I said, 'That's it?' Garry said, 'That's it.' I said, 'Of course, Garry. I would love to play.' He loved to play. He was our leader."

Though "Happy Days" was a success, the critics dismissed the series. "It never got any awards," said Bosley, who was most recently seen in "The Father Dowling Mysteries" series. "I think we won an Emmy for editing."

So why has "Happy Days" endured for nearly two decades?

"It was timeless," Bosley said. "It was about a time 20 years before and now it is coming up on 40 years before."

"It makes people think of what it must have been like at a very innocent time," Baio said. "It was fun. There was no crime and no war. Now (TV) is about shooting, killing, murdering and stabbing. I think people get fed up with it."

"The Happy Days Reunion Special" airs Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. on ABC. Reruns of "Happy Days" air Sundays at 6:35 a.m. and weekdays at 2 p.m. on TBS and Saturdays at 10 a.m. on KTLA.

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