How ‘Happy Days’ brought the ’50s back – plus the opening credits & theme song

Note: This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.

Happy Days TV show opening titles logo

Note: This article may feature affiliate links to Amazon or other companies, and purchases made via these links may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. Find out more here.

Such Happy Days for the trio starring in 1950s revival (1974)

By Bill Mandel, The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) August 15, 1974

Three TV stars/philosophers were getting bent on chocolate shakes.

It was the dusty end of what seemed an endless (14 days) promotional tour for their hit 1950s-revival ABC-TV show “Happy Days,” and Ron Howard, Donny Most and Henry Winkler were ripe to be knocked off their PR conscious pedestals . . . and what better bludgeon to the truth than ice cream?

The unblinking eye of Neilsen tells us that on Tuesday nights at 8, a great many folks in this country are watching Howard, 21, as Richie Cunningham; Most, 20, as Ralph Malph; and Winkler, 28, as Fonzie, growing up in 1956 — or at least the 1956 someone would like to believe existed.

Why the show’s great popularity? The boys were asked between chocolate slurps.

Happy Days cast 1974


Ron Howard, the show’s star, spoke: “It’s simply nostalgia for an era most of the kids who watch the show never lived through,” he said, his apple-blossom face sincere through the dimples. “To kids, parents are demigods, mysterious, unknown. Here’s a show that gives kids an insight into the history of their parents.”

“Events have been moving faster and faster all the time,” Winkler, the brooder of the trio, put in, his face and hands alive in jiving motion. “It just seems to me that America got stuck in the ’50s. It was the last time anything seemed to make sense, the last time the American myth had any chance at all of being true.

“This country still has the mentality of the ’50s, but events are of the ’70s. Faster and faster. People like to remember a time when things made sense, that’s all.”

“Happy Days” was inspired by the success of “American Graffiti,” the movie that brought the 1950s revival started by “Grease” and old rock shows to mass public attention.

Happy Days for the trio starring in 1950s revival

Comic book

Where “Graffiti” dealt with sexual exploration and the grittier aspects of coming of age, “Happy Days” is kind of a pop-psyche Archie comic book, full of cross-generational conflict and the working-out of everyday problems common in adolescence.

The influence of parents is something Donny Most feels is missing in the real world of the 1970s.

“Parents have kind of abdicated as the prime authority group,” he said. “In the 50s, kids looked to their parents for what was right or wrong, or at least for what was allowed. Now, parents don’t understand what the hell their kids are about.

“The primary authority is now the peer group.”

Ron Howard was born in 1953, Donny Most in 1954. Obviously, 1956 isn’t going to mean much to them in a personal sense. But they remember, nonetheless.

“I had two best friends with older brothers who had hot rods,” recalled Howard, who has lived in California all his life.

“So I know what the life was about. I remember one kid I knew was 14, so he couldn’t have a car. He had a bike, and he’d ride in front of bigger kids with rods and yell something bad about the cars. Then he’d drive down an alley too narrow for the car to follow. The car was the person, no question about it.”

Happy Days Fonzie Ayyyy

No emotion

Henry Winkler was 13 in 1958, and he remembers the era as being hateful.

“I was willing to show emotion in the ’50s,” said the native New Yorker, “but no one was interested in that then. It was kind of queer to show life went on inside your head. Anyone with any sensitivity was considered very strange.”

On their promotional tour, the “Happy Days” trio have been inundated by fans. In Houston, 25,000 kids from 13 to 17 showed up to scream praise at them, kids who were not even alive during the 1950s.

What’s the link? First off, there’s the music, the early rock ‘n’ roll that is still in circulation; it provides an aural connection to the era and what it must have been like.

Happy Days debuts 1974

A Happy Days addict’s view

For the young fan’s explanation, we turn to 14-year-old Ed Nelton, of Berwyn, a “Happy Days” addict. Ed was not alive during the 1950s, but his memories of the era are golden. How come, Ed?

“There was more freedom then,” Ed responded. “People just cruised around in cars and had a good time. These days, our parents won’t let us do that because, I guess, there’s more we can do wrong. Then, there weren’t any drugs and the parents weren’t worried too much about sex. Everything seemed like a small town. It was nice.”

Ed got his views on the ’50s from “Happy Days.”

See 20 vintage jukeboxes, including Classic Rock-Ola & Wurlitzer machines

As people, the “Happy Days” bunch are just your everyday, ordinary TV stars.

Howard, who plays an all-middle American boy, has been in TV and movies since 1958. He did the Andy Griffith TV show from 1960 to 1968. He was the cute kid in “The Music Man,” and most recently starred in “American Graffiti.”

Most, who plays a neurotic practical joker who’d like to be cool but isn’t, is a Brooklyn boy who did a lot of commercials revolving around his cute, freckle-faced look and then went off to Lehigh University. A stint on “Room 222,” and he got the “Happy Days” job.

Winkler, who portrays a high-school dropout with a heavy dose of noble-savage wisdom, actually has an M. A. in theater and dramaturgy from Yale. He’s done one Broadway play and six off-off Broadway plays and, of course, a zillion commercials.

Happy Days for the trio starring in 1950s revival

Heads unturned

For Most and Winkler, recognition by the public is a heady experience, a sort of life-giving ambrosia that hasn’t seemed to turn their heads in any bad direction.

Howard, of course, has been a star all his life. There are some things, though, that one never gets used to.

Coming out of Dewey’s on N. Broad St., still wired from their chocolate shakes, the three young men walked up to a long, black, limousine and asked the driver, “Is this car for us?”

Assured it was, they got in, Most saying to himself, or anyone within hearing, “Is this a dream, or what?”

Such happy days.


“Happy Days” says it all for Henry Winkler (1974)

By Charles Witbeck, El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas) December 22, 1974

According to a recent survey on the most popular performers in the country, the top three are Carroll (“All in the Family“) O’Connor, Alan (“MASH“) Alda and Henry (“Happy Days”) Winkler. Movie star Robert Redford has the fourth spot, one point below Winkler.

The great Redford can probably understand the first two choices, since they’re TV series stars. But Winkler must be a gag. Who is he?

Last October, Winkler was just a young New York actor auditioning on his 29th birthday for the part of Fonzie, a high school dropout in the pilot “Happy Days.”

The series, starring Ronny Howard about high school life back in the ’50s, went on the air in January; and, by July, Henry Winkler’s Fonzie had become a folk hero to kids around the country.

With his leather coat, long hair, street wisdom and mechanical knack for fixing cars and motorcycles, Winkler’s Fonzie struck a familiar chord with viewers.

Henry Winkler as Fonzie of Happy Days

Now, everyone who has attended a public school remembers a Fonzie just hanging around. He was usually slightly older and therefore hip, and tough, and he knew where to find girls, alcohol or wheels.

A loner outside the mainstream, he was admired by some for being kicked out of school, or having the audacity to flout the educational system.

The Fonzie of “Happy Days” has something else going. He’s a philosopher. High school senior Richie Cunningham and pals Potsie Weber and Ralph Malph seek Fonzie’s advice on girls, cars and life.

How to flirt and chase men 'til they catch you: Seventeen magazine's top tips for teen girls in the 1950s

In return, Fonzie needs the three school seniors. “He’s the tough guy who is vulnerable underneath,” says Henry Winkler, “but he belongs with the fellows. Next year when they off to college, I don’t know what will happen.”

One thing is certain, Fonzie won’t be written out of the show, since he gets a majority of the fan mail, and is mobbed in public. Last July, Winkler, Anson Williams (Potsie) and Donny Most (Ralph) went out on a promotion tour for the new series.

In Houston, Texas, 25,000 fans turned up for a fashion show sponsored by a national magazine just because the “Happy Days” boys were on view. “We just stood there and listened to the roar,” said a stunned Winkler.

Expecting a modest reception for a New Jersey personal appearance, Henry brought along his sister and mother. “I watched my mother laugh and cry over the mob scene,” he said. “It was like being a Beatle for a minute.”

Happy Days cast photo

Determined to keep his head over the sudden insanity — something no one expected back at Paramount Studios, Henry struck out. “You think you’re not going to be taken by the adulation but you are,” he said.

“I went to an Elton John concert and the crowd spotted me and roared ‘Fonzie!. Fonzie!’ The energy came in through my stomach and went out my ears. I felt like a giant.”

Public high school life as depicted in “Happy Days” happens to be completely foreign to Winkler. He doesn’t even have a prototype for Fonzie, since he attended McBurney School for Boys in New York City, and wore the blue blazer, the grey flannels.

Studies in Switzerland followed, then four years at Boston’s Emerson College, and a master’s degree at the Yale School of Drama, where Henry studied under Stella Adler, Alvin Epstein, Mildred Dunnock among others.

With his blue-ribbon credentials, Winkler set out to conquer New York. He worked off-Broadway shows for nothing, just to keep his acting motor running, and landed some 30 TV commercials. Jobs with Story Theater and a movie — “Crazy Joe” — in which he portrayed Peter Boyle’s bodyguard finally led to a California trip.

“I had a thousand dollars and planned to stay a month,” Henry explained. “I got on the ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’ with one line, ‘Please pass the salt,’ playing Rhoda’s date. A Bob Newhart job followed, and then the audition for ‘Happy Days’ on my birthday, October 30.”

Fonzie with Laverne and Shirley

Laverne & Shirley theme song & lyrics (1976-1983)

Everything has fallen into line for Winkler in Hollywood, so he keeps very quiet when actors talk about how tough it is for New York actors out here the first year.

A man who would be a child psychologist if he had a second choice, Winkler works on the side in New York and Los Angeles with juveniles who find themselves in trouble.

Before “Happy Days,” the young actor needed time to be accepted by the kids, but the TV hit has changed all that. “As Fonzie,” Henry said, “I’m welcomed as a comrade in arms.”

Anson Williams: Potsie finds happy days

By PM Clepper – The Dispatch (Moline, Illinois) August 29, 1976

“Man, it’s wild,” says Anson Williams. “Five years ago I was selling shoes. After 24 years of not being known, I had a concert with 37,000 people in the audience. Money men have come to me to offer me half-a-million to make a record. Man, and I’m turning deals like that down!

“It’s wild. I mean — half-a-million dollars — and I turned it down. it’s unreal. I’m not the star of the show, and I’m not getting a lot of money,” he added, “but I won’t do crap.”

The very young-looking Williams is one of the featured players of “Happy Days,” an amazingly successful ABC comedy series about life in the 1950s. He plays Potsie Weber, who, among other activities, tries to get the girls that Fonzie attracts.

Anson Williams - Potsie on Happy Days TV show

ANSON WAS in the Twin Cities to host the Miss Minnesota Teenager Pageant. In an interview, he mentioned that “Happy Days” took a long time getting on the air.

There was a pilot film many years back, shown on “Love, American Style.” In it, Anson appeared with Ron Howard. It didn’t sell. Then Ron made the movie, “American Graffiti,” which made teen life of the 1950’s hot stuff. It revived interest in “Happy Days.”

How the TV show 'Leave it to Beaver' began, and made millions yearn for an idealized version of the '50s that never actually existed

Anson and Ron thought they’d be shoo-ins for the series. But it wasn’t so. They discovered that they’d have to audition in competition against 400 others.

“This made us mad,” Williams said. “We got together and blocked out a routine at Paramount. Then we went to audition. The others sort of stood and read. Ron and I moved and talked. They said of us, ‘They’re naturals!’ Sure we were — after five hours of practice.

“WE GOT the jobs, but we weren’t excited about it.”

Getting back to all that money Anson Williams is turn-ing down… On “Happy Days,” his character is a would-be singing star. He sings occasionally on the show.

Happy Days main cast - The boys

Record makers want him to put out records similar to stuff in the show. Anson speculated about that sort of record: “The people who bought one would listen 20 minutes, then it would become a joke. It was the sort of thing that is the exact opposite of what I want…

“I’d like to do something that would be around forever — like Al Jolson, for instance, who still has a cult following…

“The kind of thing the money-men had in mind was not communication. And to me, that’s what music is — the fastest form of communication there is. You can sing in three minutes what would take you hours to express talking.”

HE WAITED LONG enough, and along came two men he could trust. They are Charlie Fox and Norman Gimble, who wrote such numbers as “Killing Me Softly With Your Song.”

The three are working on a “concept” album, which they hope will add a new dimension to popular music, Williams said. “Kinds like John Denver, only one step more…

“I don’t respect most music on the charts, but I have a lot of respect for Neil Diamond. I think Frankie Avalon is real talented. He’s underrated. I was knocked out by Dolly Parton. She is the most giving, humanitarian person I’ve met in show business… and a good songwriter. “I’d love to get big enough to do a musical with Liza (Minelli).”

Mork & Mindy intro and calling Orson (1978-1982)

“Happy Days” opening credits and theme song

“Happy Days” theme song lyrics

Sunday, Monday, Happy Days
Tuesday, Wednesday, Happy Days
Thursday, Friday, Happy Days
The weekend comes
My cycle hums
Ready to race to you

These days are all
Happy and free (Those Happy Days)
These days are all
Share them with me (Oh baby)

Goodbye, grey sky, hello blue
There’s nothing can hold me when I hold you
Feels so right, it can’t be wrong
Rockin’ and rollin’ all week long

Sunday, Monday, Happy Days
Tuesday, Wednesday, Happy Days
Thursday, Friday, Happy Days
Saturday, what a day
Groovin’ all week with you

These days are all
Share them with me (Those Happy Days)
These days are all
Happy and free (Oh baby)
These Happy Days are yours and mine
These Happy Days are yours and mine
Happy Days

New series: Happy Days (1974)

“Rock Around the Clock” and “Mona Lisa” were on the hit parade… Uncle Miltie was a household word… people held each other while dancing… the DA was a hairstyle.. and everybody liked Ike.

Those were the days of the 1950s… filled with innocence and the promise of even better days to come.

Happy Days debuts January 15 1974

130 vintage '50s house plans used to build millions of mid-century homes we still live in today

PS: If you liked this article, please share it! You can also get our free newsletter, follow us on Facebook & Pinterest, plus see exclusive retro-inspired products in our shop. Thanks for visiting!

More stories you might like

Because the fun never ends

Comments on this story

Leave a comment here!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.