Most everyone remembers Marion Ross from the hit TV show, Happy Days. Ross played “America’s Mom” Mrs. “C.” She was always ready with a kind word, cookies or a funny comment.
Created by the late Garry Marshall, Happy Days aired from January 1974 to September 1984 and focused on the Cunninghams – Howard (Tom Bosley), Marion (using her real first name) and their children, Richie (Ron Howard) and Joanie (Erin Moran).
Now retired from acting, Ross is busy touring to promote her book, My Days: Happy and Otherwise, and says she enjoys meeting fans at signings. Her son, Jim Meskimen, encouraged her to write the book. He brought in award-winning journalist David Laurell to collaborate. Ross tells about her personal life: growing up in Depression-era rural Minnesota; moving to California and getting started as an actress; her marriage, divorce and two children, and of course, her memories of working on Happy Days.
You grew up in Albert Lea, Minnesota? Corn fields everywhere. I grew up in Wilmar, Minnesota.
Like you, I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
Tell us about your book.
I didn’t want to write the book at all. Now, I’m very excited about it. It was fun to be interviewed for it. The man who did the writing, David Laurell, wrote everything down. He would tie me to a chair and get me talking. And then he would write. That’s a good way to do it. Ron Howard wrote the forward.
David interviewed Ron and my kids for the book too, and the late Garry Marshall.
Would you like to talk a little about Garry Marshall? He really knew how to spot talent.
Yes. Henry Winkler is a lovely guy. I saw him the other night at the Television Academy. And so is Ron, and Anson. And Don Most. We lost Erin and that’s tragic. Garry Marshall was a wonderful, wonderful man. He cooked up Happy Days and he created the Fonz. Do you know about our softball team?
No. Please fill us in.
Garry played first base. He trained the Fonz, who was from New York City and never played softball in his life. Ron Howard is a very good ball player. And so is Donny Most. So Garry had us play at all the major league ballparks in the country. Can you believe that?
We played ball with all the guys in the media. And then Anson asked to go to Europe. So we went to the German border and we played softball with the U.S. Infantry. Then when the show was over, the very next morning, we all got on a plane and flew to Okinawa. The whole company. And there, we played softball with the U.S. Marines. These things helped us stay together. Otherwise we might not have gone on for 11 seasons. We were a real team, on and off the field.
My neighbors would come by to take me to lunch and I would tell them, ‘I have to go to softball practice.’ I was a 55-year-old woman. Oh, boy. It was a great life we had. Right?
How did you get into acting, being a young girl from rural Minnesota?
I would go to the library. And I would read books about actors. I would read ‘Who’s Who’ about famous people. I would read about the lives of these actors. They are born and then they became famous. You know. But how did they do it? How did they become famous? That’s the question I kept trying to answer.
I was so driven. By the time I was about 15, I asked my mother, ‘Can I go up to Minneapolis and take drama lessons, during the summer?’ She said ‘Sure.’ I also worked as an au pair. And the family I was with, asked me, ‘Will you stay with us, for the year?’ And that was my 11th grade. And my mother said, ‘Of course!’ So I did. I stayed with them and I continued to take drama lessons.
So after your training, was it ‘Hollywood, here I come?’
I didn’t really think that. I wanted to go to Broadway. But my family moved in my senior year. We all got on a train and moved to California, because World War II was over and my father was transferred from the Panama Canal to San Diego. So I went, ‘Wow!’ That turned out to be a good thing, because they had the Griffith Theater in San Diego. By the time I was 23, I was under contract to Paramount Studios. Can you believe it? I was really driven.
I got to work with William Holden, Lauren Bacall, Noel Coward and many, many others.
Did you have any encounters with the legendary ‘casting couch’ we hear about?
A producer gave me his card and told me to come see him. So I did. Only it looked more like his apartment than an office. And he says to me, “How do you think you’re going to get anywhere?” And I told him, “Well, I’m a really good actress.” He offered to take me to parties to meet people and I told him, “I’m married. I’m not available for that.” But I still got the job.
Would you like to comment on the difference between being a real mother and being a TV mother?
I took all of that and used it on Happy Days. It was very easy for me. Very natural for me.
And you tell in the book about your finally finding a soul mate?
Yes. When I was 60. If you can believe that. Because I’d been divorced since I was 40.
Where can folks get a copy of the book?
I believe you can find it at Barnes and Noble. I have really enjoyed sharing the time with you.
John K. Adams is a writer and owner of Storyography – Video Memoir Services. Adams believes everyone has a story to tell and his personal legacy videos allow clients to share those stories with future generations. Visit LifeStoryography.com to learn more.