I was new to LA. It overwhelmed. My anchor was NY pal Donny Most who had himself recently transplanted to the west coast and he helped my girlfriend Shelley Spurlock and I negotiate where to get a flat, where to buy a Thomas guide, where to buy a car…he was our life line. The trend continued when Donny kindly introduced me to Happy Days casting director Bobby Hoffman, a friend to all actors, as there was an upcoming role on the show he thought I could be right for. Bobby made the nerve wracking process of auditioning feel like a party to which everyone was welcomed and lucky for me, I was cast as Ron Howard’s girlfriend, Gloria.
There was a spark in the air on that set…largely ignited by bigger than life director, Jerry Paris. He set the tone, was the tone on the set. Earth weights were dropped, fun and focus prevailed. The infectious sense of anything being possible that had for the most part pervaded the 50’s in the US fueled the can do spirit of the entire Happy Days company. Cast mates became friends and those ties all these decades later, have remained strong.
The other genius was the visionary, Garry Marshall. He could see around corners, seemed to view life through an inner drone shot always working to serve the big picture. He created the perfect writing team…a remarkable balance of joke meisters, character wizards, master story tellers and craftsmen. He cared for the soul of the set both collectively and individually. Everything mattered, nothing was precious. He led from behind supporting everyone to do their best work. I’ll pause here to say that years later, Garry’s memorial in LA was packed to the gills with hundreds of mourners. Tributes, tears and laughter rolled on gloriously for four hours and still there was so much more to have been said. In the after party testimonials of how Garry had moved their lives, indeed my own as well, forward, flowed freely. He flung doors of opportunity open and upgraded the life trajectory of all in attendance. Gratitude ruled that sad day. I hope Garry felt it.
When Ron left the show, supporting characters around Ritchie did too and so that was me out of a job. Darn. Years later a casting notice was sent out for a fiancée for Fonzie, described literally as a “Linda Purl type.” My agents got me in to audition and I was twice lucky. By now, the show had long morphed out of film to three camera, Donny and Anson had both decided to leave the show after long good runs to pursue new successes, but Henry, Marion and Tom remained as did the irreplaceable Jerry Paris. Darling six year old, Heather O’Rourke was cast as my beautiful little daughter and we set about, on the wings of the brilliant writers, to make the story line Garry had envisioned work.
I remember coming up to a Christmas episode in which Santa Claus figured heavily, Jerry and Garry in particular were concerned about (spoiler alert) Heather catching onto the fact that Mr. Claus might be more spirit than actual. Many conversations ensued about how to guard our young actress’ innocence but no solutions were to be found. Kathy, Heather’s mom ultimately observed that whilst she appreciated everyone’s concern this too early realization would just have to be the cost of her daughter being in the biz.
The now dreaded day was upon us. We all held our breath as the jolly actor in the role made his entrance to the set in his red suit. Heather stopped in her tracks at the vision and after a very long, heart stopping silence turned to Henry and said “Well, Santa Claus can’t be everywhere at once so he needs to have his helpers.” Henry, without skipping a beat, whole heartedly agreed and a greatly relieved company carried on with the day’s work. The point is that people, those people cared.
A word about Henry. By the time I came back as the character of Ashley Pfister, the show and he had risen to meteoric heights…the kind that can be soul bending. Too often it can be human nature to let those kinds of extraordinary, long term successes warp the ego, lead one to take the privilege of working for granted or worse, make someone lazy or not care. To his great credit Henry did not take that lesser road. Every day on set was his first, he worked hard and that encouraged everyone to do the same. He was and remains grateful to every fan of the show and of the Fonz. For that and honestly for every moment I got to share with the Happy Days family I remain ever grateful.