Our Exclusive Interview with Top TV Mom Marion Ross
How exciting to be interviewing Mrs. C! I — and an entire generation — grew up with you and felt that you were like a second mother to us! How does it feel to be considered the epitome of TV Mom?
It warms my heart when adults come up to me with tears in their eyes and tell me how happy they are to see me. Then their children come up and don’t know who I am, so I tell them, “Don’t you know that I’m SpongeBob’s grandma?!” That’s the nice thing about Happy Days being on The Hub now — a whole new generation will get to know the show and The Fonz and Richie and all of us.
Why do you think your character resonated so strongly with viewers?
I think that Mrs. C is everybody’s fantasy mother. We all wanted a mom who stayed at home, always looked pretty, only cared about family. She was there to protect Howard from the children — you know, saying, “Be nice to your father.” Meanwhile, she ran everything – but you could never tell. I liked the fact that Howard was the head of the family, so much. Every script taught a lesson and I think it was very valuable to families who were watching with their children. We miss that now.
What would Mrs. C have said was the most challenging part of raising her family?
Simple things – “Oh, you’re not eating your breakfast,” “Your room isn’t clean,” “What time will you be coming home?” Simple problems – “Oh, you’re wearing that to school?” These were simple but universal challenges.
You were raising children of your own while you were filming “Happy Days.” How did you juggle switching between playing “Mom” on the set to being Mom at home?
Being a mom on “Happy Days” was perfect for me because at home I had a daughter and son who were two or three years younger than the children I had on set. I could practice on the show and rehearse small crises that I would have at home a few years later. When they became adults and I’d already been through that on the set, aha! I knew what to do!
Sometimes I would bring my kids to set but they didn’t like it. They would say, “You’re all different. You show us off, introduce us to everybody and then run off and play with your friends.”
My children were both in the show. My son had a part where The Fonz is jumping the shark – he was the boy who ran down the beach saying, “It’s a shark, it’s a shark.” My daughter played a candy striper in a hospital scene.
As a mom in real life, too, were there times that you changed – or wanted to change — anything in the script because it didn’t ring true to what a mother would do?
I had very little input because the guys were running the show and, actually, it fit me very well. There was never a time when I thought it wasn’t true to life. I did tell Garry Marshall once, “You know, women’s lib is going on so can’t Marion get out of the house?” So they wrote a piece where Marion got a job at Arnolds and it was just terrible! Gary Marshall would then say, “It’s not about you, Marion. It’s about the boys.”
You’ve played a lot of mothers in your career, including the matriarch on the amazing Brooklyn Bridge and, most recently, Sally Field’s not-so-loving mom on one of my favorite shows, Brothers and Sisters. Which one do you relate to most? Which one was the most fun to become?
I loved Brooklyn Bridge, I loved being Sophie Purger — a Polish Jew. It was a real challenge. It was very well written, and a great opportunity!
Tell us a little about your own mom. Was she the model for any of the mothers you’ve portrayed?
My mother was so optimistic, creative, encouraging. She was a teacher so she was always inspiring. She could meet a challenge and say, “How will we solve this?” She was this positive role model who would never let anything defeat you. I’m sure, in my work, I referred to her or at least to all the ‘50s women that we grew up with — that culture of moms who stayed at home. In those days, families only had one car because women didn’t work. So much of their life took place in the home and I used that as my reference.
But for me, it wasn’t so sweet. While doing Happy Days, I was divorced, a single mom. At work, I would play house and let the guys run it. At home, I had to run everything.
How do you think being a mother has changed from Mrs. C’s era to now?
The world is so complex now. When I see little children with headphones watching a TV cartoon all by themselves and not talking to their family, I wonder where this is leading us. I don’t know how to do any of that. At least these young people can do all those computer things for me!