''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.

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.

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UTZAAKE 46 months ago
John Travolta's relationship with Diana Hyland and her untimely death were well-publicized. https://people.com/archive/cover-story-life-after-loss-vol-7-no-23/
MarkSpeck 46 months ago
What rom-com did she star in? I didn't know she'd done one!
Pacificsun 46 months ago
Regarding MFU she guest starred in "The Nowhere Affair" (Mar 1966) and returned for "The Candidate's Wife Affair" (Nov 1966). Always beautifully elegant.
Dario Pacificsun 38 months ago
What is "MFU"? 😐
Pacificsun Dario 38 months ago
The Man from UNCLE
Dario Pacificsun 38 months ago
Thanks! With the way this article is written, whoever wrote it made no effort to clarify what "MFU" meant.
MrsPhilHarris 46 months ago
I don't remember that Happy Days episode.
Lantern 46 months ago
Kelly Preston, John Travolta's wife of 28 years, just passed of cancer.
Lantern 46 months ago
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Krn stephaniestavr5 46 months ago
Poor guy really has had a lot of loss in his life.
cperrynaples 46 months ago
Diana Hyland starred in one of the saddest TZs, "Spur Of The Moment"! She played a frumpy middle-aged woman who travels back to warn her younger self NOT to marry the wrong man! It's even sadder knowing she didn't live past 41! BTW, she was playing Dick Van Patten's wife on 8 Is Enough, which was a major character, not a guest role as the writers seem to think! Had she lived, she would have been second-billed!
KathyMcKinny cperrynaples 46 months ago
Sadly she only filmed 4 episodes before her health was failing and she had to quit the show.
cperrynaples KathyMcKinny 46 months ago
Yes, Betty Buckley replaced her in Season 2!
Diz cperrynaples 46 months ago
Her performance in "Spur Of The Moment" was tremendous. The scene where she's on top of the hill yelling "Anne!" scared the hell out of me when I was a kid and I still get chills when I watch it now.
cperrynaples Diz 46 months ago
Perhaps even sadder was her Hitchcock, in which she fell in love with a con artist and murders her "mother" when her romantic fantasies are destroyed by the truth!
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