Marion Ross once came to Pat Morita's rescue after a mudslide destroyed his family's home
There were 33,000 cubic feet of mud to dig through. "She came in her heels."
For two days straight in 1978, one of the most intense Pacific storms that Southern California had ever seen raged. The never-ending rainfall caused mudslides that affected hundreds of houses, including the place where Meredith Burgess lived following the success of Rocky. The Academy Award winner watched his patio get sucked out into the sea.
Not too far away, college kids furiously built an enormous barrier of sandbags to protect I Dream of Jeannie star Larry Hagman's house. Unfortunately, no such effort was made to protect Pat Morita's house, which got hit hard.
Three years into his role as Arnold on Happy Days, Morita lived with his wife and kids in Tarzana, California, where they'd been hunkering through the storm. That's when a mudslide raced down the hill behind his house and sent what Morita told the Archive of American Television was "33,000 cubic feet of mud" pouring in from every opening.
He said the mud "filled our pool, banged through the house, and literally, there was three feet of mud in the house and all through the house." According to The Washington Post, the same mudslide shook the foundation of a neighboring Tarzana home so hard, the entire house rolled downhill and landed in the street. It was serious stuff.
Now, picture Morita picking through the mud to salvage what he could of his family's belongings. Who do you think was the first person from the Happy Days cast to check in on Morita?
A neighbor close-by, Marion Ross heard a news report on the radio and couldn't believe what she was hearing. She rushed to see if she could help Morita's family — and she showed up in true Mrs. Cunningham style.
"She came in her heels," Morita said. "She was finely dressed and everything and expressing such heartbreak and grief."
He said she didn't give a thought to her fine clothes and dug right in to help his family retrieve what they could from the wreckage.
"She was in the mud," Morita said, remembering she would pick something out and ask "Here, honey, does this mean anything?"
Or "Can we save that?"
Morita says with a smile how much this moved him, and how much it spoke of her sweet nature, explaining, "That's the mother in her."
In interviews, Ross frequently expressed awe at how talented Morita and his restaurant sidekick Al Molinaro were, marveling at how they improvised their parts on Happy Days. Also, on Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast, she sounded just like a mom bursting with pride recalling how Morita went on to be nominated for an Academy Award after Happy Days, for his iconic role in The Karate Kid.
Morita, perhaps forever colored by how Ross came to comfort his family in their time of need, described Ross as an "enormously warm, generous, giving human being."