Foreword By Ron Howard
For eleven seasons, Marion Ross was head of one of America’s favorite television households. Now meet the lovable real-life woman behind the Happy Days mom . . .
Before she was affectionately known to millions as “Mrs. C.,” Marion Ross began her career as a Paramount starlet who went on to appear in nearly every major TV series of the 1950s and 1960s—including Love, American Style, in which she donned an apron that would cinch her career. Soon after came the fateful phone call from producer Garry Marshall that made her an “overnight” success, and changed her life . . .
In this warm and candid memoir, filled with loving recollections from the award-winning Happy Days team—from break-out star Henry Winkler to Cunningham “wild child” Erin Moran—Ross shares what it was like to be a starry-eyed young girl with dreams in poor, rural Minnesota, and the resilience, sacrifices, and determination it took to make them come true. She recalls her early years in the business, being in the company of such luminaries as Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Noel Coward, yet always feeling the Hollywood outsider—a painful invisibility that mirrored her own childhood. She reveals the absolute joys of playing a wife and mother on TV, and the struggles of maintaining those roles in real life. But among Ross’s most heart-rending recollections are those of finally finding a soulmate—another secret hope of hers made true well beyond her expectations.
Funny, poignant, and revealing—and featuring Garry Marshall’s final illuminating interview—as well as a touching foreword from her “TV son” Ron Howard, and a conversation with her real-life son and daughter, Marion Ross’s story is one of inspiration, persistence, and gratitude. It’s also a glowing tribute to all those who fulfilled her dreams—and in turn, gave us some of the happiest days of our own lives.
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Cherry Blossom Festival
Marion Ross is the Grand Marshall
Los Angeles Times Book Festival
45th Daytime Emmys
Marion will be presenting an award at the Emmys.
She’ll be walking the red carpet with a copy of her memoir.
Having already had the privilege of playing the son of one of television’s most iconic fathers, Andy Taylor, on The Andy Griffith Show, I was honored to have been given the opportunity to take on the role of the middle child of one of the medium’s all-time favorite mothers, Marion Cunningham, on Happy Days.
As with any perfectly cast play, film or television show—and The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days both easily qualify—it would be unimaginable to have had anyone other than Andy Griffith playing the part of Andy Taylor or any actress other than Marion Ross portraying Mrs. C. Television aficionados and die-hard Happy Days fans know that the show the world would come to embrace and love first aired on February 25, 1972, as a segment on ABC’s comedy anthology Love, American Style. Originally shot as a pilot, which wasn’t picked up, the episode
segment was titled “Love and the Television Set,” later retitled “Love and the Happy Days” for syndication. The show was the brainchild of Garry Marshall, who believed that after surviving the turbulent 1960s and entering the 1970s with a scattered understanding of who we were and
where we were going, Americans would be primed for a good healthy dose of nostalgia: a story about a family living in the simpler and idyllic postwar world of the 1950s.
It was at the outset of the filming of that pilot that I first met Marion. At the time, the cast that would eventually transition into the Happy Days everyone now knows included her, Anson Williams and me. I was in my senior year of high school and had taken a week off to shoot the
pilot. Having acted for as far back as I could remember, I was interested in pursuing a career as a director. The thing I remember more than anything else about doing that pilot was standing on the set with Marion while they were setting up a shot, and going through my mail. I had applied to USC’s film school, and there, amongst the envelopes I was sorting through, my eye caught one with the USC School of Cinema-Television as the return address. After I ripped open that letter and learned I had been accepted, Marion was the first person I shared the good news with. I recall her being just as excited as I was.
Her excitement over my acceptance to USC, along with her support and encouragement for my dream to direct, could not have been more genuine if I had been one of her own children. That real excitement and heartfelt support would be something that I, and others, would continue to experience after Happy Days was picked up as a series by ABC.
Marion always showed a grounded, fun, unpretentious and unforced way of cheerleading all of us during the run of the show. She was a positive and upbeat force, yet she always had just enough of a “wiseass” streak in her that she never made you feel her caring was forced or overly sentimental. The way Marion embraced and interacted with everyone was always very organic and totally genuine.
As with The Andy Griffith Show, the cast and crew of Happy Days were truly like a family. We all got along well and cared for one another, which continues to this day. I have always felt that this played a huge role in how, unlike some other child actors, I have been able to maintain my sanity in what can sometimes be a crazy business. It was that compass of nurturing care and compassion instilled in me, first by my parents and then by the people I worked with—Andy, Garry, Marion and others—that has played a major role in my ability to positively navigate my way through my career, as well as my life.
When Happy Days took off and exploded into a national event, we became one of the highest-rated shows in television history. And yet, in spite of all the outside noise and commotion, the excitement, the pressures, the internal business factors that are a part of any production, everyone loved working together. We loved what we achieved as a family and as a team. There was always a strong “ensemble” feel in doing Happy Days, no matter who had the
best lines in any given episode.
I have always felt that in her own maternal and yet unobtrusive way, Marion had a lot to do with that feeling. The cast always felt free to talk to Marion, whether it was about a personal problem or a frustration on a professional level. She was a great listener and possessed the ability to defuse things in a totally uncontrolling way. Marion had an endearing way of offering advice, which stemmed from having no agenda other than being a caring and interested friend. While working with David Laurell, Marion’s writing collaborator on this book, I learned that during the run of Happy Days, Garry would rely on her if any ruffled feathers needed to be smoothed. When David told me that, I wasn’t surprised. It made perfect sense that Marion would be his go-to person to get the skinny and gain a better understanding of what was happening on the set, as well as in each of our minds and personal lives.
Today, when I think back on doing Happy Days, a million wonderful memories flood my mind. Among those is a running inside joke between Marion and me. Whenever we did scenes together, between takes, she would lightly brush the tips of my ears with her fingers and whisper to me, “You should really get these ears fixed, dear. Just a little tuck is all you need, honey—just so they don’t pop out so much.”
I never knew if she really meant that or not, but it became a little shared moment between us that, as with so many other things she would do, served as a tension breaker, made me laugh, and endeared her to me.
When I heard that Marion had finally decided to sit down and write a book about her life, I was thrilled. Yes, I thought. I’m sure many people will initially pick up this book simply because they grew up as a fan of Happy Days and loved her as Mrs. C, but more importantly, because by reading about her life, they will learn so much more about this inspiring woman.
While she made a fantastic Marion Cunningham—one of the greatest television moms of all time—it is important for people to know that when one looks at the totality of her career, from the stage to the screen—large and small—she cannot be overestimated as an actress of extraordinary range. As they make their way through the pages of this book, readers will learn about the days that have made up her life and will discover that some of her most challenging
and brilliantly played roles were those that played out, not on soundstages, locations or back lots, but in real life. They’ll learn of a determined young girl who harbored a secret dream and who blossomed into a woman who made that dream come true; of a spouse who, like so many others, found herself dealing with the difficulties the disease of alcoholism brings to a marriage; of a single mother with one foot in the world of raising children and the other in the demanding professional world of show business; of a beloved grandmother; and of the loving companion of a man who, late in her life, became her true soul mate. This is a remarkable story that will give readers insight into a Marion Ross they never knew, one who, during both her
“happy days” and those that presented challenges, always handled everything with grace, dignity and wisdom, while making it all look so easy—when it clearly wasn’t.
The ability to do that is the sign of a tremendously talented actress, but it is also an indication of the makeup of a woman who harbors an internal strength and wisdom that, I know for certain, will serve as an inspiration to those who get to know her better in these pages.
The story of Marion’s days will reveal what those of us who have known her for many years already know: that she is a woman of great wit, a fantastic communicator who has always remained relevant, current and unfettered by false sentimentality, and a great person to confide in and seek advice from. They will discover that she possesses an insightful wisdom and a well-toned and balanced equilibrium in the way she has lived her life, both of which
have formed her humanistic viewpoints.
As one turns each page of this book, it will become clear why those of us who have had the pleasure of actually knowing Marion have sought and listened to the wisdom and advice she has imparted . . . for the most part. While I am grateful for so much of the advice she gave me, which was greatly appreciated and dutifully applied, no matter how many times she offered one certain suggestion, it never really resonated with me. That said, please do not ask me for a recommendation if you are seeking the services of a plastic surgeon who specializes in ear tucks.