''Fonzie’s Old Lady'' was actually dating Vinnie Barbarino in real life
Diana Hyland and John Travolta shared a brief and powerful love that was cut short.
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Who could forget seeing the Fonz sporting little white tennis shorts in the fourth-season Happy Days episode "Fonzie’s Old Lady"?
Even pulling his leather jacket over his country club attire doesn't quite correct the image of this iconic TV character, who is normally clad in jeans and leather and surrounded by young babes. Here, he finds himself unexpectedly drawn to a "much older" woman.
In that 1977 episode, actress Diana Hyland portrays Fonzie's "Old Lady." Born in 1936, in the real world, she was nine years older than Henry Winkler, who played Fonzie and was born in 1945.
The casting, of course, worked, not just because Hyland sparkled in any role, at any age. By the time "Fonzie's Old Lady" aired, Hyland was already two decades into her career, gracing our TVs on shows like The Twilight Zone, Wagon Train, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and pretty much any show involving doctors.
By the mid-'60s, she got pulled into movies with major stars like Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda and Robert Redford (1966's The Chase), and she even took the lead in a rom-com and a Western (1966's Smoky). Then she landed the role of Susan Winter on Peyton Place, and she became a household name to fans of the drama.
Hyland continued to appear on TV through the mid-'70s, most notably winning an Emmy for Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Drama Special in 1976 for her role in the TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.
In The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, John Travolta played the title role — Hyland played his mom, opposite The Brady Bunch's Robert Reed as Travolta's dad.
Most fans of The Brady Bunch are aware of the fact that Barry Williams, the actor who played Greg, had a crush and even once went on a friendly date with his TV mom Florence Henderson. That romance went nowhere. But on the set of The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, Travolta fell for Hyland and sparks flew.
Travolta was born in 1954, which makes him nine years younger than Winkler, and 18 years younger than Hyland. His relationship with Hyland started in 1976. When we were all watching Fonzie try to woo Hyland on Happy Days, it was actually Travolta — who in the Seventies played cool guys akin to the Fonz, including Vinnie Barbarino on Welcome Back, Kotter and Danny in Grease — living the romance in reality.
Despite the age difference, the on-set romance between Travolta and Hyland grew into a very supportive, loving relationship, as soon after they came together, Hyland was diagnosed with cancer. They remained together until she passed too soon in 1977. Unfortunately, the Happy Days episode, which originally aired in January 1977, was one of her final appearances as an actress. Her final appearance came on Eight is Enough three months later. The Boy in the Plastic Bubble was the last movie she made.
In a 1995 interview with Us Weekly, Travolta opened up about his enduring love for Hyland.
"I loved Diana," the actor said. "I mean, she's someone I miss." He said the greatest gift she gave him was to quietly suggest that whatever troubles come his way, he simply "deal with it."
"That statement was like a gift, and she didn't know she gave it to me," Travolta said.