Who Didn’t Love Mr. C? Valuable Family Lessons Learned From the ‘Happy Days’ Patriarch

HAPPY DAYS, Tom Bosley, from the opening credits, 1974-1984
Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

One two three o’clock, four o’clock, rock. Five six seven o’clock, eight o’clock, rock. Nine ten eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock, rock. We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight!

What’s the ultimate measure of a 1950s father? Perhaps it’s his willingness to build a bomb shelter in the family backyard? Well, Howard Cunningham (a.k.a. Mr. C) was that kind of TV dad.

HAPPY DAYS, (clockwise from Top L), Henry Winkler, Tom Bosley, Anson Williams, Marion Ross, Ron Howard, Erin Moran, Donny Most, 1974-1984.

Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

With 255 episodes shown over 11 seasons, those of us who loved watching Happy Days learned valuable life lessons from strict but supportive Mr. C. Besides expectations for good behavior, and a reasonable attitude when things went awry, Mr. C was the type of father a lot of children growing up in the 1970s wanted. Adults, too, could see their own father’s values and dedication represented in Howard Cunningham, an Army veteran, hardware store owner and Grand Poobah of the Leopard Lodge.

But back to that bomb shelter. After hearing an Edward R. Murrow report on the Cold War (Season 1, Episode 16), Mr. C impetuously invites a bomb shelter salesman to the house and, as a concerned and proper patriarch, calls a family meeting to announce his imminent arrival.

As a child made to hide under her desk for “duck and cover” drills, I watched this episode with keen interest, enthralled by his safety plan. Although Marion, Richie and Joanie were more skeptical, the clever salesman eventually lures them with suggestions of impending nuclear disaster, stressing: “Someday when we come out of this shelter and the whole world’s been destroyed, you’re going to thank me.” At age 5, I thought, they’re out of danger! What a good dad! Revisiting this episode 45 years later, I see his motivation as pure and admirable, but flawed. What’s fantastic, though, is flaws are largely why we loved watching Mr. C. We loved him for his humanity and his kindheartedness, leading to those always teachable Cunningham family moments. 

In the episode, Mr. C listens to Richie, who, eschewing the bomb shelter, would rather “live now than survive later,” and they cancel construction in favor of a summer vacation. A TV dad willing to give credence to a teenager was unusual in television, no matter what the decade. Mr. C took charge, but also took stock. There’s a reason he’s last during the opening credits. He’s the cleanup batter. He’s the anchor. He’s rock solid at home so that the teenyboppers can happily rock around the clock. 

HAPPY DAYS, from left: Henry Winkler, Tom Bosley, Marion Ross, 1974-84.

Everett Collection

Setting a memorable tone for acceptance, Mr. C even allows Fonzie (Henry Winkler), the neighborhood “greaser,” to live over his garage. He lets Richie’s friend Ralph playfully refer to him as “Howie.” He offers solid advice without disparaging anyone. He champions civil rights. He also sneaks smooches with Marion in the kitchen to remind us of marital love. Plus, he’s the only Happy Days character to appear in every single episode from the pilot to the series’ end, so he was literally always there for us. 

We proudly salute Mr. Tom Bosley, who will be forever in our hearts, for his unforgettable performance as Mr. C  or Howard Cunningham, a favorite TV dad. 

TV's Best Dads
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TV's Best Dads

June 2020

Celebrating TV's best dads from the 1950's-1990s

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