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Tom Bosley Before Happy Days

Published: 10/19/2012
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Tom Bosley in 1960 (Wikimedia Commons / CBS Television)

Tom Bosley was one of America’s most beloved television dads for his role as Howard Cunningham in the long-running Happy Days. But prior to finding fame as Mr. C. and in later roles like Father Dowling, Bosley enjoyed a rich career on stage and screen.

Here are 20 facts about Tom Bosley's life and career before Happy Days.

1. Born Tom Edward Bosley, he was named after his father’s business partner. His grandmother – an orthodox Jew – didn’t feel Bosley’s name was properly Hebraic, and refused to call him anything but "boy" until she died.

2. Tom Bosley was a lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs. As a young aspiring actor, he lost at least two jobs when he failed to show up on time because games he was watching at Wrigley Field had gone into extra innings.

3. Bosley appeared in what he claims was the very first locally-produced TV program to air in Chicago, a filmed production of Macbeth.

4. He worked at the Woodstock Opera House in Illinois alongside a young actor named Paul Newman.

5. In 1950, Bosley decided that to seriously pursue an acting career he needed to move to either L.A. or New York. He tossed a coin and L.A. won … but he decided to move to New York anyway.

6. In New York he worked as an office assistant, doorman and hat check clerk. He lost a job at Lindy’s Deli for refusing a $5 tip from Joe Louis because, as he told the fighter, the money couldn’t match the joy he’d had in watching Louis fight. (Bosley was fired not for refusing the tip but because employees were not supposed to interact with customers.)

7. Bosley studied with the legendary Lee Strasberg, but did not agree with his teachings. When asked what influence Strasberg had on his acting, he responded, "He did nothing for me." Bosley did, however, say he respected Strasberg and that his method obviously worked for others.

8. Bosley appeared in a 1955 Hallmark Hall of Fame production of Alice in Wonderland playing the Knave of Hearts.

9. Bosley’s big Broadway debut – for which he won a Tony – came in portraying colorful New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in 1959’s Fiorello!. The elevator man in a building where director Arthur Penn owned an apartment had tipped off Bosley that plans for the play were underway because he thought Bosley physically resembled the mayor.

10. Bosley would portray Fiorello LaGuardia in 800 performances, never missing a show.

11. He continued getting Broadway roles, but no other show was as big a hit as Fiorello!. He left the stage to pursue television work, though he would return to Broadway in 1994 to play Belle’s father in Beauty and the Beast.

12. Bosley once described himself as Aaron Spelling’s "good-luck charm" as he appeared in numerous Spelling pilot projects. Spelling named the "Bosley" character in Charlie’s Angels after him.

13. In 1969, Bosley appeared in an episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery along with Joan Crawford. They were directed by a 21-year-old Steven Spielberg, who was making his TV debut.



14. Crawford and Bosley also appeared together in an episode of Route 66.

15. Other notable shows Bosley appeared in include Car 54, Where Are You?, Naked City, Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey, Get Smart, The Virginian, The Mod Squad, The Debbie Reynolds Show, The Bill Cosby Show, Bonanza, Bewitched and Mission Impossible.

16. Bosley made his big screen debut in Love and the Proper Stranger, appearing alongside Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen.

17. Happy Days first began as a pilot called New Family in Town with Harold Gould in the role of Howard Cunningham. The pilot wasn't picked up by the network, but was included in an episode of Love, American Style under the title "Love and The Happy Days." Repackaged as Happy Days, the show was recast by producers. Gould had by then taken another job (and was reportedly reluctant to shave his beard to play Mr. Cunningham). The role went instead to Tom Bosley.

18. Only two actors appeared in every single episode of Happy Days – Henry Winkler and Bosley.

19. In 2004, TV Guide ranked Howard Cunningham No. 9 on its list of "50 Greatest TV Dads of All-Time."

20. Tom Bosley told the Archive of American Television, "My wife says my tombstone will say, 'Here lies Mr. C who used to be Mr. B.'"

Tom Bosley died Oct. 19, 2010. His grave marker pays fitting tribute to both the man and the actor:

Tom Bosley
1927 – 2010

Beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle

Fiorello, sheriff, priest ... and forever "Mr. C" ...



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