It was with sadness that I read about the passing of actor Tom Bosely, known to tens of millions as the lovable “Howard Cunningham” on the ’70’s T.V. show “Happy Days”. Howard Cunningham was “America’s dad” for a generation of this country and his TV wife, Marion, played by actress Marion Ross, was America’s mom.
I had my own special encounter with the Cunninghams, well…, at least Marion, who was known as “Mrs. ‘C'” on the show.
It was the day before Thanksgiving in 1984; the place was in Marseilles, France. I was a young Marine serving aboard the U.S.S. Shreveport as our unit was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea with our job of practicing the evacuation of U.S. embassies in the region. On this particular day, I found myself standing guard duty on the pier at the base of the “ladder” (stairs) that lead from the pier to the deck of the Shreveport.
A large motor-coach arrived nearby, bringing with it the members of a USO show that was to perform later that night. The members of the troupe included Marion Ross (Mrs. C) and Anson Williams (Potsie Weber) from Happy Days, John Walmsley who played “Jason” in the T.V. show the Waltons (he was the musician in the family) as well as many dancers/actresses from the movie “Flashdance”,
The group moved toward the Shreveport and arrived at the end of the ladder where I was standing guard. Marion Ross approached me, took one look at the little bit of red hair I had peaking out from under my Marine Corps “cover” (hat) and said ” Aw, you remind me of Richie!” and proceeded to tip-toe up and kiss my cheek.
Later that night, the USO show took place aboard the Shreveport. The tables and chairs of the chow-hall had been pushed aside. Marines and Sailors were crammed into every nook and cranny around as we watched the show, cheering and especially enjoying the girls from Flashdance. A lot of hooting and howling seems to ring a bell. At one point, Marion Ross took the stage and addressed us. She told us all what fine young men we were and how much she and the country appreciated us being on the job, protecting our country. She then spoke about our sacrifice, being so far from home during the holidays, away from family. She broke up a bit, emotionally, as she addressed us. Of course, she is a professional actress as well, so it was kind of hard to say if it was genuine or not, but we gave her the benefit of a doubt. I looked around the room to see if I was alone in my attempt to inconspicuously brush aside a tear or two. Through my blurred vision, I was relieved to see that I was not.
The show continued with the musical band playing “Splish Splash” which was sung by Potsie Weber (Anson Williams). It was just like being in a re-run of Happy Days!
As the show neared its end the Sailors and Marines of the U.S.S. Shreveport, predominately young men between 18 and 22, began chanting “Mrs. C!, Mrs. C!, Mrs. C!”. You might have expected throng of young men cooped up for months on a ship to be demanding more of the girls from Flashdance. What they really wanted on this Thanksgiving so far from home was a mother, and who better to stand in for their own mother than the lovable Mrs. C?.
I shall always remember that chanting crowd, her emotional address to us, and most especially her kiss on my cheek.
Thank you, Mrs. Cunningham, and I am very sorry for the loss of your husband, Howard.