April 19, 2019

Tom Bosley, Ron Howard and the Jewyness of ‘Happy Days’

Tom Bosley, best known for playing Happy Days patriarch Howard Cunningham died today at his home in Palm Springs.

Bosley will be remembered for many things, though perhaps not for being Jewish.

Bosley was in fact a Jew, though it is a lesser known fact of his life. Even his wikipedia entry treats his Jewishness as a surprising revelation: “Although well known for playing a Catholic priest—and numerous Protestants, Bosley was actually Jewish.” Bosley grew up in Chicago and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. In a 2006 interview conducted in by The Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia Bosley revealed personal ties to the Holocaust:

“Paper Clips,” the film about the whitebread Whitwell, Tenn., middle-school students whose efforts to collect 6 million paper clips in commemoration of the Six Million Martyrs unexpectedly made millions as a 2004 movie.

Bosley contributed not just clips to the effort but, in a film clip, is seen reading his response to a letter of help sent by the children.

“When I saw the film, I fell apart,” says Bosley, whose part in the movie is moving itself. “It was important for me as a Jew to do it; I had lost a great uncle—whom I never met—in the Holocaust.”

Despite a dearth of information about Bosley’s upbringing, we at least know that Jewishness was prevalent on the Happy Days set. Ron Howard, who played Bosley’s son on the show, joked about it at the 2010 Simon Wiesenthal Center gala, where he and producing partner Brian Grazer were being honored with a humanitarian award.

Howard, who is not Jewish, recalled a time early in his career on the set of “Happy Days” when director Jerry Paris noticed him pacing nervously. Howard told Paris he was indeed feeling jittery and anxious.

“Cute,” Howard remembers Paris saying. “Waspy on the outside, total Jew on the inside!”

Wikipedia incorrectly states that Paris was born William Gerald Grossman (name changes being a common occurrence among Jews in the industry), but in fact, Paris’s daughter, Julie Paris Seltzer emailed today to say he was, in fact, born Jerry Paris and that the family is “very proud of our Jewish heritage.” She suggested the confusion may stem from the fact that Paris’s stepfather was Grossman. It’s also worth adding that Henry Winkler, who played the iconic “Fonz” character on the show, is also Jewish. And, according to WorldJewishDaily, his parents immigrated from Germany to New York in 1939, one of those insanely providential and inexplicable acts of fate.

Among the myriad online reports detailing Bosley’s life and death, People Magazine spoke to Howard about his onetime onscreen dad.

Bosley was, he said, “[a] great father and husband, and a wonderful artist, Tom led by example, and made us all laugh while he was doing it; [m]y last conversations with Tom reflected the love of life and peace of mind that he always maintained throughout his full and rewarding life.” Howard, who is 56 now, ended his remarks on a melancholy note: “I miss him already,” he said.

[correction appended]