She’s played feisty grandmas, cartoon grandmas and not-so-perfect matriarchs, but many of us know Marion Ross best as the perfectly-coiffed Mrs. C., Richie and Joanie Cunningham’s Mom from Happy Days. Back before the internet and too many electronic devices, there were tv shows like Happy Days that celebrated the perfectly imperfect nuclear family of a different era. She may have tangoed with the Fonz and disciplined Richie and Joanie, but Mrs. Cunningham will forever be THE mom of moms.
Tonight, The Hub will be playing the best of Mrs. C, a Happy Days marathon in honor of Mother’s Day. Marion Ross took the time to chat with me about her iconic role as Mrs. Cunningham and shared wise words for single moms, working moms and new moms. And you guessed it: Marion was just as effervescent as Mrs. C.
NKT: Hi, Marion! So, what do you think the kids are saying about the upcoming Happy Days marathon?
MR: I think the new generation isn’t too familiar with Happy Days, but when I tell the young kids that I’m Sponge Bob Square Pants’ grandma, they’re all a-twitter. And then they show me their Sponge Bob underwear!
MR: It was very handy for me because I would practice at work and play “house” with Richie and Joanie, and my own children at home were about 3 years younger. So, my kids wouldn’t have had their “situations” yet, and I could study it a bit, which help me a lot. I was always a step ahead of my kids. I always loved how the writers treated the crises on the show. I was a single mother, divorced, so I’m sure I would’ve been more nervous and panicky, but the writers always treated it as a journey—as a very ordinary thing. The first time Richie drinks, it wasn’t the end of the world; these are natural things that happen along the line. The first kiss, all of that; it helped me prepare for what was next with my own kids.
NKT: Obviously, Moms of this generation are different from a few decades ago, but mother’s intuition is timeless. What piece of advice would you offer to new moms?
MR: For new moms I have to tell them to “not miss this.” Don’t miss THIS; everyone gets so busy with careers and chores, it’s easy to forget to take it all in. The young years go by so fast, it’s so important to take time to really enjoy time with your kids or you’re going to miss it. First things first: somebody said that to me, way back when I was fretting about my career. I think that’s why a show like Happy Days is so treasured because, in a way, many of us would like to get some of those simpler times back.
NKT: Do you have any wisdom that you’d like to share with working moms? How did you balance it all?
MR: I think I did a good job balancing it all. I was single, but I was able to balance it all because I didn’t have a personal life. I had work, but going to work was fun because I got to play “house.” And first of all, I didn’t know how to have a personal life. And when you don’t know how to do it, you just don’t have it. And once the work got successful, I had so much paperwork and trivia. Someone said to me, “What’s your reward now?’ Now you get to work harder than ever.” That’s when I thought, I don’t have enough help. So when you find the extra money and can afford it, I’d recommend getting help. It can be too much for one person to handle. And then I got an assistant who became my everything; my husband, my helper…
When I had littler children, I didn’t have a dishwasher or a dryer; I had to cart everything to the corner to get it all done. Nowadays, we have everything.
NKT: What are some your takeaways from your role on Happy Days? Any memorable scenes/episodes that still resonate?
MR: One of my favorites was when I danced the Tango with the Fonz. Another one was where I tried to revitalize my marriage and bellydanced for Howard. The writers never asked you if you could do these things, they just wrote them and we did it. It was always so fun and interesting.
NKT: Beyond playing Mrs. C, you’ve played some not-so nice and rather imperfect moms. What other roles did you enjoy playing, or even better relate to?
MR: I love being rude and bad, but my natural way was very much like my role in Happy Days. The writers always wrote to your own personality, so it was never a stretch. They’d write the character around who you are. I loved being in that 70s show where I played a rather rude grandmother. I also liked my character in Gillmore Girls, and Drew Carey’s mom was lovely, too. This summer, I’ll be in a Hallmark movie where I play a matriarch, which is very much like the Kennedy family.
NKT: What are you thoughts of you being considered a role model for moms past and present?
MR: I liked how Howard was the head of the household, but Mrs. C was always so protective of him. I like seeing a family where the father is held in high regard and treated well, and not treated as a joke.
NKT: Do you have any favorite Mother’s Day memories, whether it was with your own mom or time spent with your own family?
MR: My mother was so great; she was Canadian and had a different way of thought. She had one of those attitudes where she always encouraged me to become somebody and to “go out there and do something.” I had a wonderful mother who could handle adversity and had a lot of spunk.
NKT: Finally, how will you be spending Mother’s Day?
MR: I’ll be spending Mother’s Day with my daughter who will be getting a sonogram. We get to find out whether it’s a boy or girl. Isn’t that the most perfect thing to do for Mother’s Day. I have two granddaughters now, so maybe we’ll have another girl? or boy? who knows!
Marion Ross can be seen today on the Hub’s Mother’s Day “Mom-a-thon” featuring the best of Mrs. C in “Happy Days.” The Happy Days marathons goes from 6:00 p.m. EST to 12:00 a.m. EST check local listings at http://www.hubworld.com/tv-schedule
“Happy Days” (Dance Contest)
Short: Mrs. Cunningham secretly takes tango lessons from the Fonz.
“Happy Days” (Marion Rebels)
Short: Mrs. Cunningham takes a job as a waitress at Arnold’s to escape her routine.
“Happy Days” (Marion: Fairy Godmother)
Short: Ralph and Leather are transformed into a fashionable couple for the ROTC Ball.
“Happy Days” (Marion Goes to Jail)
Short: Marion lands herself in jail when her car crashes through Al’s drive-in.
“Happy Days” (Empty Nest)
Short: Now that Joanie has left the Cunningham house, Marion looks to find ways to cope and occupy her time.
“Happy Days” (So How Was Your Weekend?)