My Days: Happy and Otherwise
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Kensington (March 27, 2018)
Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton
89-year-old marion Ross clearly understood anyone wanting to read her memoirs would do so because of her years starring as Marion Cunningham on the ABC television hit, Happy Days. As a result, Ross’s descriptions of her life before the series and the decades afterward in My Days essentially bookend a very detailed overview of her time as Mrs. C from her point-of-view as well as most of the other cast members as interviewed by Ross’s collaborator, entertainment reporter David Laurell.
For most readers, Ross’s overviews of her early years demonstrate how a woman with drive and determination can make it in a very competitive business if one is willing to dedicate themselves to learning their craft and putting their working life ahead of everything else. This work ethic kept her working continuously from 1953 on, beginning with her first film role in that year’s Forever Female starring Ginger Rogers and William Holden. In the same year, she played the Irish maid on the TV series, Life With Father. Until Happy Days, Ross was rarely not on a film or television lot but never as a break-out star or marquee headliner.
Yes, this section of the book has its fair share of name-dropping but not to the extent of many other celebrity autobiographies. It’s a very fast read that really fills in the background, character, attitudes, and the reasoning behind why Ross did what she did, notably staying in a pointless marriage long after it was clearly dead. The actress’s unhappiest days occurred during her 1951-1969 marriage to alcoholic, unmotivated would-be actor Freeman Meskimen. As she reminds us many times, in those days alcoholism wasn’t treated like the disease it is today but rather something to be accepted as part of normal life. That was one reason ending that marriage took as long as it did. In fact, that relationship is about the only part of the book that can be labeled “unhappy days.”
Then, we hear the oft-told story of how Ross was cast as Mrs. C and how life went for the largely happy cast of Happy Days. The only discordant note is her brief discussion of how Tom Bosley wasn’t the cheeriest of co-stars who took some time to accept Ross on an equal footing. In fact, Bosley’s presence is rather slight in the book compared with Ross’s descriptions of the rest of the cast followed by Laurell’s interviews with Ron Howard, Anson Williams, Donnie Most, Henry Winkler, Scott Baio, and the late Erin Moran. To each, Laurell posed many of the same questions, mostly what the actors had to say about Ross, how they interacted with her on and off the set, and their relationships after the show’s cancellation. Uniformly, all the younger players said Ross was an important ingredient in keeping the set free of rancor, was a reliable source of good council and wisdom, was a literal good sport in Garry Marshall’s Happy Days softball team, and remained a steady friend in the decades after the demise of Happy Days. Strangely, neither Ross nor any of her co-stars mentioned the 2011 lawsuit they brought against CBS for contracted royalties they were due for Happy Days merchandising, especially on gambling machines. Perhaps this was for legal reasons? Or perhaps an unhappy afternote to much happier memories wouldn’t have fit the book’s thematic flow.
Ross asked Laurell to not only interview her TV family, but her two actual children as well, Jim Meskimen and Ellen Kreamer. After all, many fans want to know how Marion Ross the mother compared to Marion Cunningham the mother. Well, the two women were quite different but the children of Marion Ross seem perfectly happy with the mother that raised them.
In many ways, the story of Marion Ross is the story of a pioneer who was an independent working woman long before that status was acceptable or encouraged in Hollywood or anywhere else for that matter. She was a woman whose success didn’t come until her 40s and who didn’t have a fulfilling romance until she met Paul Michael when she was 60.
So, again, this is a book essentially for Happy Days fans. I’d say it would also be a good, very fast read for those who like positive, upbeat tales of successful women who, from the early days of their lives, determine what they want to do and what they want to become and go for it, full throttle and resolute.
This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on Feb. 19, 2018: