Life Is Good

Life Is Good
Life Is Good

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Happy Days Memories

Here are some excerpts from my Happy Days Memories
1. Working on Happy Days was awesome. It was a great experience especially at that time of my life. Every week there was this exciting build up for show time on Friday night when they filmed the episode. Not tape. Film. The production booth was right above the studio audience on the set. I only have good things to say about the cast and the Producers. Gary Marshall didn't actually work on a daily basis with the writing staff. He was usually over seeing everything from his office which was across the street. I only remember Gary Marshall coming in on one episode. I think it was the Thanksgiving episode. It wasn't going well and I can remember Gary Marshall coming in and everyone had to stay extra late and re-write the entire script. That only happened once! Which is amazing. The good thing about staying late was they sent out for dinner next door at a restaurant called Nickodell's. So I ate well on Table nights. Table nights were usually Wednesday night. I didn't really socialize with the cast. I was more with the writers, Fred Fox Jr. & Brian Levant mainly. I used to have breakfast with Ron Leavit in the commissary. He later went on to create the show Married With Children. He always drank a coca cola even early in the morning at breakfast. I can remember hanging out back stage and talking with Henry Winkler. He said, "You always have to have a gesture like Thumbs up" and then he did his Thumbs Up. He told me to always remember that when I write. Years later like 1984, I was recording music so I sent Henry Winkler my demo. He was nice enough to call me back and tell me he liked it. I thought that was cool. I did go to Anson Williams Bachelor Party at this fancy Chinese restaurant in Beverly Hills. I got there early and it was just me and Tom Bosley so we went for a walk all around Beverly Hills. We just talked general talk. He was very nice. A mellow Mr. C. I can remember Marion Ross being and looking a lot younger than Mrs. C. Just general stuff. I can remember that Gary Marshall had a milk shake machine in his office. Jerry Paris was cool. He was in high gear on Friday nights. Now a days the Producers and Directors have their own booths off stage during the tapings. Everything is tape and monitors. Back then it was the old days. Old school. It was nice to experience that. Jerry Paris was on the floor with the actors and camera crew. It was cool to be on the floor during filming. I kind of felt like I was in the way though. Like yo there is a camera coming at me at fifty miles an hour. Usually I was in the booth. I can remember being on the floor for the Fonzie goes blind episode and Joanie smoking episodes. Like right on the floor as they filmed. It was cool. Friday nights were a blast. At this time in my life I am writing music now. The last show I wrote scripts for was The Blossom Show.
The Cunningham's house set and the Arnold's set were right next to each other. Arnold's was in the center and the Cunningham's was to the right if you faced the stage. They were separate sets on the same floor. Any other sets that were used or built for the week were to the left of the stage. Sometimes they used the Arnold's area for big scenes. The bathroom set was on wheels and it was rolled in. Fronzie's Bedroom was to the left of Arnold's but it wasn't always up.. I have a very successful brother, Don Reo, who has created many hit TV shows. Back in those days he had gone from Rhode Island on to work in TV as a writer in Hollywood. He is ten years older than I am. So he left for Hollywood and became successful. I was still a kid. My father really wanted me to follow in my brothers footsteps. It was his dream to see both our names together on TV. I felt that I had to prove to my father that I could do it. All along I was doing music too. So when I was eighteen I left for Hollywood. My Brother got me a job as a production assistant on this show called MacNamara's Band Starring John Byner and a then undiscovered actor Joey Pantoliano. In fact Joey didn't even have a car. I remember giving him a ride home from the sets. That show was created by Jeff Harris & Bernie Kukoff (who later went on to create the show Different Strokes) That only lasted for one season. I was unemployed soon after so I decided to stay home and write. I wrote about twelve speculation scripts and sent them to agents all over Hollywood. Luckily for me big talent agencies also had apprentice agent programs at that time and this apprentice agent from Creative Artists Agency, Stephanie Brody, picked up on my scripts. She was just starting out and was hungry to work and so was I. They signed me onto Creative Artists and She sent my scripts over to Happy Days. Walter Kempley read a Fish episode that I wrote on spec and they set up an appointment to meet with me. When I went to the meeting he hired me on the spot. They hired me, Alan Goldstien, who wrote the Halloween episode, and Jeff Franklin went to Laverne & Shirley. Jeff later went on to create Full House. I did it without my brother's help. That was huge for me personally because I had this shadow over me most of my teen years. Walter Kempley had no idea who my brother was at that time even though he was producing Mash that year. However my father had past away and never saw any of this happen. Later on in life I worked for my brother on Blossom and both our names were up there on the screen so My Dad did get his wish. It just took fifteen years.
I remember joining the Happy Days baseball team but I never did get to play. I have a Happy Days baseball shirt with my name on it in my closet. I remember Happy days played Star Trek out on some small baseball field in Burbank. No huge crowd of press or fans were there. Just friends and the casts. It was pretty amazing seeing Captain Kirk and Sulu up to bat. I think Marion Ross pitched. I can remember going to Baseball practice at North Hollywood Park and I hung out with Donny Most. Out of all the Happy Days cast he was the one (in my opinion) that was not at all like his character. He was very serious.
Did you know Gary & Penny Marshall have a sister who was a producer on Happy Days? Her name is Ronnie Hallin. She looks just like Penny Marshall.
I remember getting a Christmas Card from Ron Howard that year.
Is that a nice guy or what?
Did you know I sold a story to Happy Days that never got filmed?
It was called, " Fonzie's Jacket". Someone stole his jacket and for his birthday Richie decided to get him a new one but they needed his exact measurements because Fonzie was so fussy about it, so they had to sneak into his apartment and try to get his measurements while he was sleeping. The producers liked it, they bought it and it never saw the light of day.
My first joke that got in was a sight gag on the Tornado show where someone says, "Grab Something Heavy" and Ralph grabs professor Himmel. Did you know Jerry Paris was Jerry the dentist on the Dick Van Dyke show? Dick Van Dyke's neighbor?
Did you know Walter Kempley was a writer on The Dick Van Dyke Show and if I am not mistaken so was Gary Marshall.
Walter Kempley had moved to Paris, France. They called him back to work on Happy Days. He looked like a German/French guy. Tall, gray hair, glasses. I remember he smoked Dunhill cigarettes with a cigarette holder at the table. I could picture him in a smoking jacket like Hugh Heffner. Bob Brunner was the opposite. He wore jeans and a blue t-shirt. He was on a liquid diet. I never saw him eat. Bob Brunner reminded me of Fonzie. Those two sat together at the head of the table. Holly White was Bob's secretary and sometimes she sat in with us. She was very funny and attractive. Blonde hair. Built. She had a nice laugh that made everyone else laugh. She later went on to write quite a few episodes.
I sat between to Brian and Ron and sometimes Beverly Bloomberg and across from Fred Fox Jr. and Michael Loman.Some times Bob Howard. Fred also did the warm up act with the studio audience on Friday nights. He was really funny. Quick witted. Brian Levant was amazing too. He could come in late to a meeting and know exactly what page and what line we were on and not only did he know that, he would have a joke or a change to put in. He had the scripts memorized within an hour. We worked on three scripts a week. Brian always brought toys and gadgets to the table. Tops and wind up toys. Fred had a nerf ball basketball set up in his office and we played a lot of nerf basketball while Ron Howard was out back playing real basketball. Just out the door and down the back stairs.
I remember the magic show. Walter Kempley was friends with The Amazing Randi. That is how they got him. Yes, there was an element of risk for Henry to do the milk can trick.
Inside the can was a large empty glass jar with a lid on it. You sit with it between your legs. When it is unscrewed it fills up with water enough to leave air for the person in the can to breathe. The risk factor was what if Henry could not get the lid off the jar once he was in there. So it was exciting for everyone! He did it once at dress rehearsal and was confident he could pull it off that night. I can remember seeing him come out of it and everyone in the booth was like, "Yes!" It was great. I know the cast did their own tricks. Gary Marshall's kids were in that show too.
Another thing I remember about that show is Bobby Hoffman cast George Fenneman as the MC. and at that time George Fenneman and Tom Bosley had been rivals for broadcasting jobs.
The Potsie Quits School song scene: No, I had nothing to do with it. For me, being a serious musician, I was a little embarrassed over how it came out. Originally I had to pick a song from a list of tunes that were public domain. Meaning Happy Days would not have to pay for the rights. I picked the song, Mack The Knife, and wrote words with that tune in mind. (Singing to Mack The Knife) Oh the heart pumps….. Anson Williams had a music career going at that time and he wanted to write his tune which turned out to be Pumps Your Blood. He vetoed my tune. The bags on Fonzie’s feet came from Fred Fox Jr. Fred was really great with visual comedy. He was like a little kid. We needed one more scene to get Fonzie into the bathroom. That was it. I wish they hired me on too!! Ha ha. I was only twenty at the time. When Walter Kempley found out I was twenty it kind of rubbed him the wrong way for some reason. I don’t know why. After he found out how old I was it was very hard for me to get anything passed. Fortunately Brian, Fred and Bob Brunner liked me. I was lucky to get the Potise Quit School episode on the air. When Bob Brunner and Brian left to do Bad News bears they ended the apprentice writers. I didn’t get hired on.. It took two years to get back into writing
Casting was a department all unto itself. Just like the writers dept and the actors dept.
That was Bobby Hoffman's dept. Casting was across the street from the stage and across another street from Gary Marshall's office on the same side. Bobby Hoffman was a great guy. He passed away. Walter Kempley passed away also. Bobby Hoffman had gray hair and always always always wore a Greek sailors cap and a light blue denim jacket. He was very friendly. I can remember him standing in the doorway looking out to the street on the lot. He always stood in the doorway saying hello to anyone who walked by. Always had a big smile on his face. Casting is an art just like writing. Casting, coaching. It is very close to directing.
There were a lot of steady extras on Happy Days. The Arnold's gang. The guy in the scene driving the car where the girl's wig is pulled off by the convertible? In the titles? He was/is Walter Von. He was in tons of scenes. That girl with the wig, Her name is Heather. The real tall kid in the background always wore a high school sweater, his name is Carrie Schuman. They never had talking lines because they would have to join a whole other union and get paid. There is the screen extra's guild and the screen actors guild. Two different things. Once an actor speaks it means
more money has to be paid out by the studio. That is why so many actors on Happy days did not speak. Like most of Fonzie's girlfriends. They didn't have the budget. And thanks to Bobby Hoffman Fonzie had his girlfriends! A lot of the girl's in the pictures on Fonzie's bedroom wall were the writer's girlfriends and wives. There was a cowboy town right behind my office. I could walk through Dodge city on my lunch break. I did many times. Most of the outdoor sets were actually filmed outside the set builders building. It looks like Fonzie's garage but if you actually go inside there are guys with saws cutting wood for sets. .Ah yep, yep, yep.
Being a musician most of the TV shows that I wrote have a music theme. Like Blossom "Guns in school" episode "38 special" which I wrote and I got a part in too (I'm in the band scene playing guitar) Sometimes one person has an idea and it is given to another person. Like the Christmas show where they all bring a tree in to the Cunnigham's? . That was my idea. Most of the writers were under contract for 3 scripts a year plus a weekly salary (and to get a parking space on the lot was a whole other big deal where your agent has to actually negotiate it.) I had to park outside the lot across the street and pay. (But that is another story.) Show Biz. "The slimey underbelly of the show business world" Anyway, people crank out story ideas and they are all delegated to different writers. The networks want certain story lines, the producers want different story lines, etc etc. So when it says "written by" or "story by" or "teleplay by" it is debatable. They have to assign a story. It is a team effort for the most part. There are exception of course.
Sometimes a writer will pitch an idea based on a theme or direction the producers want to go and it connects and he or she gets to write it. Other times a writer will pitch and idea and they like it and give it to another writer on the staff who is due under contract to get a script that season. Maybe the other writer already did his three scripts. So that being clear, I had already sold the Fonzie Jacket "Story by" that never got filmed. So in the total picture I did get a story and a teleplay.
There were other people that were Production Assistants like Jim Dunne who got "Story By" on Potsie Quits School. Jim Dunne was an all around guy on the Happy Days Crew. Originally I heard he was Gary Marshall's tennis pro. Gary liked him. So He worked with the actors, he wrote music, he came to writing meetings once in a while. He was just an all around guy. Gary Marshall wanted him to write and his first writing assignment was "Story by". It got him in the union.
He was close with the actors. I didn't have the chance to get
too involved like that on the stage. I was hired strictly to be an apprentice writer. In fact I didn't even have my own typewriter. I had to share one with Allen Goldstien. My agent didn't negotiate a typewriter. Now a days you have to have an agent to get an agent. So that is how it works. I liked the idea of being an extra but it never happened. I didn't push for it. I was a musician. I brought my guitar in and Brian and Fred would hear me play and bring me up to Bob Brunner's office. Bob would say, "I don't know what to do with that, go talk to Anson". It just didn't connect for me at that time. I later worked on other shows but it took years and years.
They filmed my show on January 26th, 1979.
It was bitter sweet for me. I went to the filming but I had been laid off at Christmas. Laid off by Gary Marshall himself. There I was at my Hollywood writing & film debut and I was collecting unemployment. It was still a great experience. I still got it, even on unemployment. Ah, yep yep yep.

All in all it was a great experience. It was really a fun time. I'm glad that I can share it with anyone who is interested.
David Reo


Dusty said...

Hey Bro!!!! Your one of a kind!!! and a Great Friend!!!!
all the Best!!!

Anonymous said...

Do Bro Dave, You are a great story teller, and a great guide down memory lane. reading your bloggs on the Chatsworth park days brings back floods of memories that are hard to forget. The Chatsworht lake lifestyles were pretty crazy, fun loving, and a few other things I will not mention. I don't know if you will remember me by any other name except Mike Parrot's friend Christine. We lived together a few years at lizard hill and such other colorful named areas in the neighborhood. Funny how when you talk about Kristy Kelly (better known as Kessler) her nickname. In 1984, Santa Cruisin while north bound heading south, I gave Kristy her very first shot of Kessler on our way through highway nine to bonne doone beach to watch the fireworks on the fourth of july. From that day forward she aquired the nickname and it stuck. I would like to come and see your band. I ahve'nt seen you play since old suzanna's with the roadhouse rockers, I think, and out in canyon country with the dave reo band or perhaps the preachers. I think we came and laid down some tracks once when you were busy with blossom at your house once. Funny thing to read this aloud to yet another Mike from Chatsworth (Boswell) (the bozman) I am going to a purple turtles party in Topanga Canyon today. I have not seen the purple turtles in over 156 years. Parrot will be there even thoughthey now call him guitar Mike which is self explanitory. Relize and adrian's band will be there as well. NE WAZE thanks for the memories

Christine Miller