Actor Tom Bosley, best known as Howard Cunningham, the genial patriarch on the 1970s comedy series Happy Days, died of heart failure on October 19, 2010, at a hospital near his Palm Springs home.
He was 83, and had been battling lung cancer.
Happy Days, set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during the 1950s, premiered on ABC in 1974 and aired for 11 seasons. Bosley’s character, known widely as “Mr. C.,” was father to Richie Cunnigham, played by Ron Howard, and Joanie Cunningham, played by Erin Moran. His wife, Marion, was played by Marion Ross; Henry Winkler played Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli, the tough guy with a gentle heart who befriended Richie and his family.
Happy Days originated as a segment on the ABC series Love, American Style. At the time, the role of Howard Cunningham was played by Harold Gould. But before the series began, Gould opted to a play and the role went to Bosley, who earned a Primetime Emmy nomination for his performance in 1978.
In 2004, TV Guide magazine ranked Howard Cunningham No. 9 on its list of the “50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time.”
Bosley’s other memorable television appearances included the roles of Inspector Edmund Clark on The Streets of San Francisco, Sheriff Amos Tupper on Murder, She Wrote and Father Frank Dowling on Father Dowling Mysteries which ran from 1987 to 1991.
He also provided the voice of the father on the animated series Wait Till Your Father Gets Home and had guest roles on numerous other series, including Naked City, Ben Casey, Route 66, Bonanza, Get Smart, Bewitched, Mission: Impossible, Maude, Medical Center, ER and That ’70s Show.
Well before his television success, Bosley was a thriving theater performer who won a Tony Award in 1959 for his performance as former New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia in the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Fiorello! He returned to Broadway in 1994 when he originated the role of Belle’s father in Disney’s production of Beauty and the Beast.
He also appeared in feature films, including Love With the Proper Stranger, Divorce American Style, The Secret War of Henry Frigg and Yours, Mine and Ours.
Bosley was born in Chicago on October 1, 1927. During World War II he served in the Navy, after which he returned to Chicago to study at De Paul University. He then studuied at the Radio Institute of Chicago and began appearing in radio dramas. After moving to New York, he studied at the Actors Studio under Lee Strasberg.
In 1962 Bosley married dancer Jean Eliot, with whom he had a daughter. Two years after his wife died in 1978, he married actress-producer Patricia Carr, who had three daughters from a previous marriage.
On September 12, 2000, Bosley had the distinction of being interviewed by the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television. Durong the three-and-a-half hour interview, conducted in Beverly Hills by Michael Rosen, Bosley recalled his earliest days as an actor, working on NBC’s Hallmark Hall of Fame productions of Born Yesterday, The Good Fairy, Alice in Wonderland and Arsenic and Old Lace, and also of working on the popular Broadway production of Fiorello!, for which he won a Tony award.
Next, he talked about many of his early television credits, including those for That Was The Week That Was, an unsold pilot for Marty, the pilot episode of Marcus Welby, M.D., and the famed episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery starring Joan Crawford and directed by Steven Spielberg. Bosley also discussed his work on the series The Debbie Reynolds Show and The Dean Martin Show.
On the topic of his best-known credit, Bosley spoke at length about his role as Howard Cunningham on the long-running sitcom Happy Days, and fondly remembered his fellow cast members and creator Garry Marshall.
Finally, he recalled working on the mystery drama Murder, She Wrote with star Angela Lansbury, and then on his own series, Father Dowling Mysteries, opposite Tracy Nelson.
The entire interview is available online here.