Ron Howard enjoyed living in the 1950s for his Happy Days role
Ah, the 1950s. It was the decade that gave us great rock 'n roll, the space race, the civil rights movement, poodle skirts and, of course, Chinos. The decade was so influential that it also gave us Happy Days.
Although Happy Days came out two decades later in 1974, the 1950s gave the series a lot of material to pull from. Happy Days followed the lives of the Cunningham family, along with a few of their friends, in a fictional Milwaukee town in the 1950s.
It mainly focused on Richie Cunningham, played by Ron Howard, and was known for its nostalgic portrayal of the '50s. The series emphasized family, friendships and Fonzie's trademark catchphrase: "Aaay!"
The half-hour comedy had its beginning in 1974 when producer Garry Marshall foresaw a new trend in nostalgia.
"To do a story about teenagers of today, it would be hard to do a comedy," Marshall said in a 1974 interview with Longview Daily News. "That's why I chose the '50s as our setting for ABC's Happy Days. I enjoy the trivia and nostalgia of that period. It was not so long ago, yet the morals and values of life have changed so much more than in any other period. Looking back, it was such a fun period for growing up and for the family."
Marshall said he hoped the series would reflect the fun and warmth of the '50s. He felt that Happy Days provided entertainment for the broad spectrum of viewers, from parents who grew up in the era to the kids of the 1970s who wanted to know what "those days" were like.
"The situations are timeless, but the way our characters react to situations is the key to the series," Marshall said.
Howard, who starred as Richie Cunningham, was no stranger to being both in front of and behind a camera. In fact, he grew up in front of them during his time on The Andy Griffith Show. He was only 6 when the series premiered in 1960.
"Since I had little preparation for stories set in this time, I have tried to obtain a background by looking through old magazines and discussing the '50s with people who are familiar with the period, especially Erin Moran's father, who was 17 in 1955. We spent some time together and he was very helpful," Howard said.
At the time of this interview, Howard was a cinema major at the University of California. He was on a part-time schedule while also studying psychology and biology.
He said teachers would mail him exams and let him cover the material on his own — one of the many perks of being famous since six.
But college wasn't the only place he spent his time studying. Howard studied the '50s in order to help us all relive it. He even admitted to enjoying the '50s clothes his character wore in the series more than the fashion of the 1970s.
The argyle sweaters, loafers, varsity jackets and chinos were all part of his daily identity while on the series. Although Howard said teenagers may have had more fun in the '50s, he was happy with where he was at.
"The most pleasant surprise is that the material is very good and nobody is treating it as a job," Howard said. "Instead, all of us are treating it as fun and we are trying to do something that's good here. I hope we can succeed."
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