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14 Nostalgic Facts About Happy Days

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Happy Days ran for 11 seasons, making it one of ABC’s longest running series (The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet still holds first place). It lasted longer than its many spinoffs, including Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy, and it is the only show thus far in Nick at Nite history to dethrone I Love Lucy as that channel’s top-rated show. To paraphrase Pratt & McClain, these Happy Days facts are yours and mine; we hope you’ll share them with your friends.


When Garry Marshall was first approached by Paramount executives Michael Eisner and Tom Miller in 1971 to create a new sitcom, they envisioned something set in the 1920s or ’30s. Marshall told them that he knew nothing about flappers, but he could write a show about the era in which he spent his teen and young adult years—the 1950s. He put together a pilot about a Midwestern family that just purchased their first TV set (the first one in the neighborhood!) and how the teenaged son planned to use it as a chick magnet. The series didn’t sell, and the pilot ended up as a vignette on Love, American Style—“the dumping ground of failed pilots” according to Marshall.


Test audiences reported that COOL made them think of cigarettes, however, so producer Carl Kleinschmitt suggested, “How about calling it Happy Days? That’s what we’re going to show.”


Ron Howard wasn’t looking to do another series; he had recently enrolled at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts with the goal of becoming a director. He had a small problem nagging at him, however: a low draft number. And Uncle Sam was no longer handing out student deferments to college students. There was a possibility of Howard getting an occupational deferment, though, if his employment was directly related to the employment of 30 or more other people. Luckily Paramount was a large company with enough employees who would be out of work if their star was drafted, so Howard signed on to play Richie Cunningham. Even though the pilot didn’t sell, Howard could breathe easily since President Nixon had ended the draft shortly after filming had wrapped.


George Lucas’s Oscar-nominated 1973 film American Graffiti launched a craze for 1950s nostalgia (even though the movie was set in 1962). Casting director Fred Roos had worked with Ron Howard on The Andy Griffith Show and recommended him to Lucas for the role of Steve Bolander. Lucas dug out the “Love and the Happy Days” episode of Love, American Style to determine whether Howard could play an 18-year-old high school student convincingly. Once American Graffiti became a runaway success, ABC decided that the time was ripe for a 1950s-era sitcom and Garry Marshall’s project was resurrected.


When Henry Winkler got the callback after his first audition for the role of Arthur Fonzarelli, he was taken aback when he saw that the other contender was former Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz. According to Dolenz, Winkler admitted to him later that he had thought, “Oh crap, Micky Dolenz is here. I’ll never get it!” Dolenz was Marshall’s original choice to play Fonzie, on the strength of a recent guest appearance he had made as a biker on Adam-12. But at six feet tall, Dolenz towered over the five-foot-nine Ron Howard, so Winkler was deemed a better fit.


Winkler struggled in school as a child no matter how hard he applied himself. His German-born parents had a nickname for him, dummer hund (“Dumb Dog”), which didn’t help his self-esteem. He wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until he was 31 years old. When he auditioned for Happy Days he only had six lines, which he made up because he couldn’t read them. “That’s not in the script,” the producers pointed out. Thinking on his feet, Winkler replied: “I know but I’m giving you the essence of the character and if I get the part I’ll do it verbatim.”


“Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets spent eight weeks at the top of the Billboard chart in 1955. This original single version was only used once on Happy Days (for the first episode). Haley recorded a new version of the song exclusively for the series and this was the song that was played over the opening credits during the first two seasons of the show.


California-born Noriyuki “Pat” Morita spoke plain, unaccented English as well as any native speaker, but just prior to filming his first scene as Arnold, director Jerry Paris very reluctantly told the actor that he had to “pick an accent.” Apparently the network higher-ups thought that the obviously Asian Arnold should speak with a distinct accent. Morita went along with them and used an exaggerated Chinese Pidgin English dialect. About six weeks later Paris approached Morita once again, this time accompanied by a standards and practices representative. The S&P rep informed Morita that—for politically correct reasons—he could no longer play Arnold, who was obviously a Chinese-American character (an observation made based on Morita’s accent), because he was Japanese-American. Morita did some quick thinking and explained that Arnold’s last name was Takahashi, and that he was the product of a Japanese father and Chinese mother.


The season four opener was a hugely hyped affair, a three-part story arc entitled “Fonzie Loves Pinky.” The big news was that Fonzie was going to find true love, and the object of his affection was a daredevil cyclist named Pinky Tuscadero. Pinky was played by Roz Kelly, an actress who’d caught ABC honcho Fred Silverman’s eye and had become a pet project of his. He believed that she could be the “female Fonzie” and as a result the Pinky and Fonzie pairing got almost as much press coverage in the summer of 1977 as Charles and Diana would receive three years later. Alas, the brassy and abrasive Kelly just didn’t fit in with the rest of the cast, particularly her intended love interest: “I grew up on welfare, so I don’t relate to rich kids,” she told People magazine in 1976 of the Yale-educated Winkler. And Pinky was quietly written out of the series.


The cast was surprised one day in 1975 when the former Beatle showed up unannounced on the Paramount lot. Julian Lennon was a huge fan of the show and his dad had brought him to meet the cast. As Anson Williams, who played Potsie, recalled, Lennon was very nice and somewhat shy, but he did sign autographs and draw doodles for various crew members and grips. (But not for Williams or the other stars; they were far too cool to ask a fellow celebrity for a keepsake drawing.)


But it was actually Marshall’s sister, Ronny, who “discovered” the comedian. Marshall’s young son was an avid Star Wars fan and he urged his father to have “space people” on Happy Days, which is how the alien character Mork from Ork was conceived. Several comedians, including Dom DeLuise and John Byner, had turned down the role and Marshall was having trouble casting it. His sister suggested a stand-up comic she regularly saw performing on the street, with his hat on the ground for money. “Why should I hire a guy from off the street?” he asked her. “Well, his hat is always pretty full!” Ronny told him. When Williams showed up to tape the “My Favorite Orkan” episode, Henry Winkler reported that his biggest challenge as an actor was to maintain a straight face while Williams went off on his hilarious tangents.


Marshall’s wife went to school with a kid named Potsie Webber, and Richie Cunningham was a “nice boy” who attended the same church as Marshall. The first home the Marshalls purchased was on Arcola Street. Fonzie’s name, however, was originally supposed to be “Arthur Masciarelli”, which was Marshall’s original surname. However, “the Mash” just didn’t have the same ring to it as “the Fonz.”


Winkler isn’t particularly athletic, but one of the few sports he excelled at was waterskiing, which is how the infamous “jump the shark” episode happened to get written. Winkler did all of his own stunt work in the “Hollywood: Part 3” episode—except for the actual shark jump. The producers didn’t want to take a chance on letting their star do such a risky maneuver. By the way, Winkler wore a special leather jacket with the lining removed for his stint on skis.


Garry Marshall came up with the idea of a Happy Days All-Star Softball Team, with both cast and crew members participating. He thought it was a good opportunity for the actors to blow off steam while also promoting the show and raising money for charity. The team often played other celebrity teams prior to MLB games, and they toured military bases in Europe and Japan.

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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images
Pop Culture
5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:


Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.


A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.


Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.


A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.


A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0
5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
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An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.


Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?


This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.


An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.


Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.


Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.


Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.


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