Was this Happy Days episode secretly an Elvis tribute?
It aired a few months after we lost the King.
Elvis Presley’s legacy is larger than life, but one of the biggest impacts he made in terms of the entertainment industry was by showing how powerfully lucrative the "youth market" was by selling endless concerts, movies, magazines and merchandise.
After the King of rock 'n' roll passed away in August 1977, it would take years before TV Guide attempted to wrap their heads around how TV responded to this major loss in pop culture.
With a cover story in 1981, TV Guide took a long look at how news programs covered Elvis’ death, but that feature overlooked how fictional TV shows handled the news at that time.
Take, for example, Happy Days, which aired the two-part episode "Fonzie, Rock Entrepreneur" just a few months after Elvis died.
Although it’s never been directly stated, this pair of episodes, looking back, could be viewed as one of the earliest Elvis tributes to air.
In part one, Richie tries to help Leather Tuscadero and her girl group get booked at Arnold’s Diner.
In that episode, Leather’s band plays two Elvis Presley songs, "Heartbreak Hotel" and "All Shook Up."
It’s likely that any fans watching were viewed as being in the same youth market that the King dominated, and Happy Days gave them a chance to mourn his loss by bopping to his hits played by Suzi Quatro.
Quatro famously became a rocker because of her love of Elvis, but she wasn’t the only huge Elvis fan in the room.
Happy Days creator Garry Marshall grew up with his actor sister Penny, who was a card-carrying member of the Elvis Presley Fan Club.
Surely, Elvis hits were blasted in their family home, and later when Garry was in the Army, his very first band cast an Elvis impersonator as their lead singer.
Marshall was always ready to tap into the zeitgeist, and being in that band with an Elvis impersonator became a pivotal moment for Marshall.
He writes in his memoir My Happy Days in Hollywood that it was in that band that he realized he wanted to be an entertainer.
It’s unclear whether Elvis Presley’s death in 1977 directly led Marshall to co-write the episodes for "Fonzie, Rock Entrepreneur," but the fact that it aired a few months later made the Happy Days scenes part of the TV reaction, either way.
It doesn’t matter if you see it as an extension of his legacy, or a tribute to it.
On top of Marshall’s fandom and obvious nods to Elvis in Fonzie’s cool-guy aesthetic, the whole time Henry Winkler played Fonzie, he endured comparisons to Elvis Presley for becoming the next pop sensation to dominate the "youth market."
Seemingly, a torch was passed between them.
In 1977, Elvis Presley’s publicist Earl Wingard told the Daily Press that in Elvis’ early days, magazines "couldn’t come out with an issue without Elvis, just as today, they couldn’t have an issue without the Fonz."
But Wingard said the important difference between Fonzie – arguably the most famous TV character created by Marshall – and Elvis was that Fonzie was a fictional character whom Henry Winkler might one day be able to leave behind.
"I think it’s interesting that Fonzie, with his duck-tailed hair, leather jacket and boots, set in the ‘50s, is the type of character identified with Elvis," Wingard said. "Henry Winkler has encountered almost the same problems as Elvis had with fan recognition, but it won’t continue. At the close of Happy Days, it will fade. But Elvis was Elvis. He could only be Elvis, and there was no way he could step out of that cocoon."