Marion Ross loved the similarities between her Happy Days family and her real one

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Marion Ross played the role of everybody's favorite TV mom while on Happy Days (1974). She starred as Richie Cunningham's mom, Marion Cunningham, on the series and quickly became an American staple while portraying a 1950s lifestyle.

Ross loved her television family just as much as Marion Cunningham loved Richie. Part of the reason Ross played the "mom" character so well onscreen is because off-screen, Ross had a family of her own.

In the 1970s, Ross was fully immersed in two worlds of teenagers that were 20 years apart. Luckily, she was good with kids.

As Marion Cunningham, she was the mom to three, and in real life Ross was busy raising her own two children who were 15 and 12 in 1974. 

If it seemed like Ross was a natural for the role, that's because she was. Her whole life in the '70s dealt with both the fictional and real-life problems of teenagers and after a while, there was only so much advice to be given about dating, school and acne.

According to a 1974 interview with the Longview News-Journal, Ross said Happy Days wasn't just about the 1950s, but the problems Richie faced and his attempt to develop independence from his parents.

In her own home, Ross was a veteran of numerous television and movie roles, but her main goal outside of her career was to teach her kids the same lessons she was teaching Richie on Happy Days: Self-reliance and independence.

"Problems of the teenagers in the '70s are many, but in magazine articles, then and now, dealing with raising children, basic problems like dating, cars and school grades remain the same," Ross said. "It is all a matter of character building."

Ross built her character around the idea that teenagers' problems were the same in the 1970s as they were in the 1950s. Richie was relatable, no matter the generation. 

In a 1977 interview with the Oakland Tribune, Ross said she liked being an actress because it gave her the schedule, she needed to raise her children. She added, "It's tremendously adaptable."

Besides the great casting, Ross believed the success of the series was because kids in the '70s liked to see positive parental figures played by Tom Bosley and herself. She was the mom everyone needed.

"It's a clean show; there's no violence," Ross said. "We're in the 1950s. It was a time of stability and simplicity, not complex at all. Maybe people yearn for those times."

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