The top 30 characters on 'Happy Days,' ranked
Are you Team Potsie or Team Ralph?
Image: The Everett Collection
Happy Days, the ultimate TV show about 1950s nostalgia, lasted longer than the 1950s itself. The sitcom ran for a remarkable 11 seasons. That adds up to 255 episodes, not to mention the many spin-offs it spawned.
It takes a boatload of characters to populate that many hours of television. We met the extended Cunningham family, denizens of Arnold's Drive-In, students at Jefferson High School, fine citizens of Milwaukee, and the many, many loves of Arthur Fonzarelli. Over that run, several key players came and went. Heck, some characters just upped and disappeared without a trace.
The handful of core characters immediately comes to mind, but there were dozens of regulars. We decided to rank our 30 favorite. Of course, this is highly subjective. We got a taste of how you feel in a poll earlier this year. Let us know how you'd rank them!
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30. Heather Pfister
Even Happy Days has its "Cousin Oliver."
29. Bobby Melner
You know, just your average high school guy who looks old enough to be gym coach.
Friend of Chachi and Joanie, and student of Fonzie, Tommy was a welcome minority presence on the show. Actor Kevin Rodney Sullivan went on to become a major Hollywood force, directing How Stella Got Her Groove Back.
27. Eugene Belvin
In case you couldn't tell by his argyle sweater and tortoise-shell glasses, Eugene was the token nerd at Jefferson High. For some reason, the writers gave him a twin brother, Melvin, who served the same role.
26. Police Officer Kirk
Hey, the Fonz needs a foil.
25. Flip Phillips
Roger's jockish younger brother was little more than a funny name and a cut-off T-shirt.
24. Chuck Cunningham
The missing Cunningham! Richie's older brother vanished. In fact, you probably even forgot that Randolph Roberts, seen here, was the second actor to play the role, after Gavan O'Herlihy.
23. "Bag" Zombroski
Appearing in nine early episodes, he led a gang called the Demons. But we'll be honest — we just love that his name is "Bag."
22. K.C. Cunningham
With her Texas drawl, Howard's niece felt like a character from another show.
Fonzie's pint-size cousin was like his Mini-Me.
20. Ashley Pfister
This single mother had what it takes to match the Fonz in a long-term relationship. Fun fact: Linda Purl also played a girlfriend of Richie's in season two named Gloria.
19. Marsha Simms
Beatrice Colen was the perfect actress for playing midcentury working women. She later turned up as Etta Candy on Wonder Woman. Here, she was the sassiest carhop in southeastern Wisconsin.
18. Roger Phillips
Ted McGinley gets a bad rap. He's no "sitcom killer." In fact, we have evidence to the contrary.
Happy Days put Pat Morita on the map, as the comedian went from struggling stand-up to movie star. As the owner of Arnold's Drive-In, Arnold set the mold for all future owners of TV teen hangouts — thrifty and confrontational, but big-hearted.
16. Pinky Tuscadero
Fonzie had many love interests, but none were Fonzies in their own right like Pinky. She paired a studded leather braclet with her pink sweaters, and could pop a wheelie on her motorcycle. The cool points are off the charts.
15. Lori Beth
This smart and sharp young woman went from Lori Beth Allen to Lori Beth Cunningham, as she was the ideal match for Richie Cunningham.
14. Jenny Piccolo
The most underrated and overlooked Happy Days character, Jenny Piccolo appears in 55 episodes. The boy-crazed BFF of Joanie had charisma to spare. Part of that had to be due to genetics, as the teenager was played by Cathy Silvers, daughter of comedy legend Phil Silvers. Jenny felt like a true throwback to the teen comedy characters of early television.
Nanu Nanu! Admittedly, the character of Mork is essentially 100% pure, uncut Robin Williams, but he burned through his cameo appearances. The Orkan alien pops up in two episodes, but those moments launched an entire, wonderful career.
12. Shirley Feeney
The moment Laverne and Shirley step into Arnold's for the first time, they felt like superstars from another series, even though Laverne & Shirley would not begin for months. In total, the twosome turned up in five episodes — about as much as the Tuscaderos. They had to be on this list, and how could these brilliant creations not be ranked high?
11. Laverne DiFazio
It might seem unfair to put major characters from another hit sitcom on this list, but Laverne and Shirley did start as Happy Days creations. The minute the duo appeared onscreen, it seemed imperative that they receive their own series. Laverne was more fully formed from the onset, tough and quick.
10. Leather Tuscadero
Portrayed by musician Suzi Quatro, Leather oozed cool. She was the only true rock & roller on a series depicting the greaser era. Suzi wore leather in her everyday life, not only on set. Which is why her brief performances are searred in our memories. Oh, and she has the coolest name of any character. No wonder that a hip 1990s indie rock band borrowed her name.
Spike was nothing more than a Mini Fonzie, but Chachi, though similar, was something more. Played by teen heartthrob Scott Baio, Chachi importantly represented the demographic of much of Happy Days' audience — teenagers. He made the nostalgic show as much about children of the 1970s as children of the 1950s.
8. Al Delvecchio
Perhaps the most beloved minor character, Al became more of a major player — and part of the family — when he married Chachi's mother. He had a catchphrase, "Yeeep, yep, yep, yep, yep," too. There's a reason Al Molinaro was the one actor who reprised his role in Spike Jonze's fantastic Happy Days salute, Weezer's 1994 video for "Buddy Holly." Everybody dreamed of having a hangout like Al's.
Are you Team Potsie or Team Ralph? It's one of the bigger debates in Happy Days fandom. We give the edge to the redhead for a couple of reasons. For starters, Potsie, despite appearing on the series for all 11 seasons, largely served as a punchline or the subject of ridicule. "You're such a Potsie!" is no compliment. Also, how many of you can remember his real name? Without looking it up. (It's Warren Weber.) That being said, every comedy needs a Potsie.
6. Ralph Malph
Potsie's close pal, Ralph, had a considerably different makeup in early seasons. He was painted as a cool kid, a hot-rod driver and member of a gang, the Gems. As the series evolved from an American Graffiti–like flashback into the prototypical 1970s sitcom, Ralph Malph morphed into the class clown. Yet he had more depth than that. Ralph enters the Army, earns an honorable discharge, and finally decides to become an optometrist like his dad.
5. Howard Cunningham
It would have been easy to make Howard the stereotypical sitcom dad — short-tempered, oppressively conservative and eager to laze in a recliner. The writers gave him far more heart, and things to do. We saw much more of his personal life than, say, Ward Cleaver. We saw him out and about in the Leopard Lodge No. 462 and his hardware store. In a sense, he was a little bit Fred Flintstone, a little bit Andy Taylor.
4. Joanie Cunningham
A good character evolves over time, and no character changed over the course of the series quite like the young Cunningham. Though Happy Days lasted "just" 11 seasons, Joanie grew from a young child to a mature woman. Here she is cuddling a stuffed animal as a girl in the first season. By the end of the show, she's married and working at the high school. In many ways, when you look at the whole of the series, Happy Days is Joanie's story.
3. Marion Cunningham
Yes, Happy Days was largely about the early Boomer generation, but the elders were just as beloved, if not more so. Marion was a strong-willed woman. "Mrs. C" had the clout to call Fonzie "Arthur" and get away with it. In "Marion Rebels," she grew tired of being just a housewife and took a job at Al's.
2. Richie Cunningham
Fonzie may have been the focal point of the series, but Richie was its heart. Sure, the Fonzie settled down and became a teacher over the course of the show, but Richie was the real coming-of-age story.
1. The Fonz
Aaaaayyyyy! If it seems too obvious, that's because it is fact. Fonzie was the core of the show, its emblem, its catchphrase king, its face. Well, face and thumb. Happy Days Halloween costumes came with plastic Winkler masks. They sold far more Fonzie dolls than Potsie dolls. It's hard to argue with economics.
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