Robin Williams

How ‘Happy Days’ Creator Garry Marshall’s 8-Year-Old Son Came Up with ‘Mork & Mindy’

Did you know that the odd story of Mork & Mindy was born from the mind of Happy Days creator Garry Marshall’s eight-year-old son? We didn’t either, but after thinking about it, it definitely makes sense. Here’s the story.

In 1977, when Arthur Fonzerelli was in his prime, Marshall’s son Scott had a genius, childlike thought. What if an alien flew down from the cosmos and met Fonzie and the Cunninghams?

Marshall, being the great father that he was, decided to give the story a shot. Happy Days was the number 2 rated series on TV at the time after all. One strange storyline couldn’t do any damage. And Scott could forever remember the day he helped write a classic TV episode.

So the creator took the idea to his writers and told them to find a way to fit the idea into a show.

“We looked at each other like, ‘God, that’s the most horrible idea I’ve ever heard,’” writer Brian Levant told Gizmodo. “We drew straws to see who drew the short straw and had to write the script.”

And there was no time to waste either. Garry Marshall wanted the alien to beam down and film two days after he alerted the crew. So not only did they need to come up with a way to work the spaceman into the story, but they also had to find an actor who was ready to film on the fly.

Three Actors Laughed at The ‘Happy Days’ Idea Before Robin Williams Signed On

Luckily, Happy Days managed to come up with a plot quickly: An alien named Mork would fly down from Ork and ask Richie Cunningham to subject himself to scientific studies on his planet. Richie, of course, would politely decline the request.

The casting director also nailed down an actor for the gig on short notice, too. Mork was to be played by Roger Rees, who starred as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights. But the plan fell through. So they called up comedian Dom DeLuise, and he said no. Then they called in another actor, who also turned them down.

Seemingly out of options, the crew felt defeated. But then Garry Marshall’s sister Ronny Hallin remembered seeing a man named Robin Williams perform a “spaceman” skit during a stand-up routine. And she managed to track him down.

Happy Days got a hold of future Mork & Mindy star Robin Williams just before a Wednesday run-through of the episode that was set to film that Friday. And the entire set was stunned by what happened next.

“They called us down for the most amazing run-through in the world,” Levant recalled. “We saw one guy who embodied all three Marx Brothers, Chaplin, the Three Stooges, and William F. Buckley in the same body.” 

Because Robin Williams made “the most horrible idea… ever” into pure gold, actor Tom Bosley “gave a speech about discovering a great comedic talent” during their weekly meeting.

The random cameo ended up spawning the Mork and Mindy spinoff the next year. During its freshman year, it became the number 3 rated series on TV. But shortly after, the show tanked and went off the air in 1982.

However, without Mork, there may never have been an Oscar-winning actor Robin Williams. So the point of this story is that an eight-year-old’s imagination jump-started the career of one of Hollywood’s most iconic legends. What a world.

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