When ABC’s Happy Days wrapped its last show of the season, the on-set mood drooped as surely as the crepe paper after a pooped-out sock hop. For weeks the word around the malt shop was that the 255th episode (due to air in about four months) would be the last. After 11 seasons (making it the senior sitcom on the air), Happy Days apparently has been done in by NBC’s red-hot The A-Team. During its run the show anchored ABC’s once impregnable Tuesday night lineup, a pop-cultural confection fizzing with memorable characters, catch phrases and spin-offs. The Fonz. Aaaaayyyy! Nerd. Laverne and Shirley. Mork & Mindy. Sit on it. Joanie Loves Chachi. “Our show has to end sometime,” said Tom (Mr. C) Bosley philosophically, “and if this is it, I think we’ll all go on to other things and cherish the memories we’ve all had.”
In fact, memories are what the final party in an empty Paramount sound studio was all about. Ron (Richie) Howard, who quit three years ago to go into directing, made a guest appearance on the last episode. Anson (Potsie) Williams, virtually written out of the show last year, looked on from behind the scenes. And when it was over, everyone cried. “Henry [the Fonz] Winkler kept shaking my hand,” says Jerry Paris, who directed nearly every episode. “He was hugging everyone. Ronnie hugged me. Marion [Mrs. C] Ross cried all the way through the show. Erin [Joanie] Moran was crying too.”
But there were laughs too. The show’s protean producer, Garry Marshall, screened some outtakes of old programs—including a pie-throwing fight between the Fonz and several cast members. “After my wife, these people are my family,” declared Winkler, now 38, whose character’s leather jacket hangs in the Smithsonian. “We bought our first homes together and our first cars. We had deaths in our families, marriages and remarriages. We had children grow up and go to college. I can’t express the emotional impact we’ve had on each other.”
The show’s impact has also been felt in other ways. “I was once walking by the L.A. Music Center during a benefit for handicapped children,” recalls Winkler, whose enormous fame outshone his co-stars’. “A little girl said, ‘Fonz.’ I looked back and her mother was crying. The girl was autistic, and she’d just spoken her first word. I saw her a year later, and she had added a hundred words to her vocabulary.”
More than a message, Happy Days, which premiered Jan. 15, 1974, has been just plain fun for millions; that too was remembered at the party. And just to hedge their bets, producer Marshall designed a final episode that leaves the door open a crack for the show’s possible return next season. It goes something like this: Joanie and Chachi finally get married, and the Fonz, of all people, adopts a young boy. What? The Fonz? Aaaaayyyy! Stay tuned.