Was Ron Howard Hired for Happy Days Based on His Performance in American Graffiti?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Ron Howard was hired for Happy Days based on his performance in American Graffiti.

People often get caught up in how chronology appears like on the surface.

You can’t even count how many times whatever project comes out first automatically gets the credit for being “first,” and that if something comes out later, it is always perceived as being inspired by the first project, no matter if that is the case or not.

A notable example of this is Ron Howard’s performance in American Graffiti.

The movie, which was set in the very beginning of the 1960s (early enough to effectively be a “50s” movie), came out in 1973 and was a smash hit.

The next year, Howard was the lead in Happy Days, an ABC sitcom set in the 1950s.

So naturally, people assumed that Howard got the Happy Days role (and heck, that the entire reason for Happy Days EXISTING) was because of the success of American Graffiti.

That is, of course, not the case.

Howard appeared as Richie Cunningham in the pilot for a TV sitcom called “New Family In Town”….in 1971!!

The new pilot went unsold, and eventually, in 1972, it aired as an episode of the anthology series Love, American Style (where unsold pilots went to die), titled “Love and the Happy Days”…

However, even before the pilot aired on Love, American Style, George Lucas asked series creator Garry Marshall if he could look at the pilot to see if Howard would work well for the Graffiti role (apparently he did).

So really, it was Graffiti that owed a debt to Happy Days, but then again, the popularity of Graffiti (and the similar success of the Broadway musical, Grease, which was also set in the 1950s) helped get Happy Days started, so I guess the debt is even.

By the by, interestingly enough, due to the three-year break between the first pilot and the second, Howard was now 20 years old, which was obviously a bit of a stretch for a high school sophomore (or were they freshmen in Season 1? They graduated from high school at the end of Season 4, which suggests that they were freshmen in Season 1, but that seems hard to believe, which leads me to think that there was a bit of a time consolidation between Seasons 1 and 2), and he had reservations of taking the role because of his age (also partially because, at age 20, he was already looking forward to a post-acting career).

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

2 Responses to “Was Ron Howard Hired for Happy Days Based on His Performance in American Graffiti?”

  1. But wasnt Ron Howard already an established actor from his work on the Andy Griffith show?

  2. But wasnt Ron Howard already an established actor from his work on the Andy Griffith show?

    People knew who he was, but casting actors as kids and casting them as teens tends to go much differently. Brandon Cruz, Adam Rich and Brian Bonsall (just to name three off of the top of my head) didn’t exactly have bustling teen acting years, ya know?

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