In today’s guest post, Jim Brymer looks at the genesis of one of the most iconic TV characters ever, Mork!
There is an excellent anecdote that the producer of Happy Days, Garry Marshall, asked his 8-year-old son Scott what could be done to improve the show. Scott, being a typical boy and an avid fan of science fiction said “Put a spaceman on it.” Whatever Marshall’s initial reaction really was, I don’t know, since I wasn’t there. But I can imagine though that he rolled his eyes and humored the young tyke.
Yet he brought the idea to the writers and told them it was a great idea. (The story came years after Mork and Mindy became a huge hit, so of course he told them at the beginning it was a “great idea”). The writers thought it was a horrible idea, and, according to Brian Levant, one of the writers, they actually drew straws to see which of them would be the sucker that had to come up with the script.
Several actors, including Dom DeLuise, were approached to play the part, but most of them turned tail and ran from the concept. Marshall’s sister, Ronny Hallin, remembered seeing a young comedian named Robin Williams do a bit about a spaceman on stage. He was called in and, well, the rest is history. Of course, everybody knows Robin Williams now, but he was virtually unknown outside the comedy circuit stage at the time. Much of his performance in the first appearance on Happy Days was the result of some improvisation. According to Levant, by the time filming came along, much of Williams’ schtick during rehearsals was added.
(I am indebted to Charlie Jane Anders for the above trivia. If you’d like to read the whole article you can reach it from here).
Happy Days, “My Favorite Orkan” (1978):
Three of Richie’s friends are concerned because Richie seems a little off recently. To cap that supposition, Richie bursts into Al’s and tells everyone that he has seen a flying saucer. Of course, no one believes him. The Fonz even suggests even suggests that he is nutso, and “humdrum”.
Richie returns home where he finds that the rest of the family has gone to see a movie. Richie settles down to do his studying, when someone knocks on his door. Enter Mork in a red spacesuit (jumpsuit) and a helmet.
Initially Richie thinks it is Ralph Malph, a notorious trickster, trying to play a joke on him. But Mork fries the family TV, and Richie becomes aware that it is not Ralph after all.
Richie, who is a budding journalist, realizes this is the event of a lifetime. He proceeds to interview Mork. Asked why Mork has come to Earth, he replies that he has come to collect a specimen of Earthmen. Thinking that Mork wants something special, Richie assumes that he means the President. Or maybe Hank Aaron (who at the time was a star on the Milwaukee Braves baseball team). When Mork replies that he is looking for an average Earthling, someone who is “humdrum”, Richie finally concludes that he is to be the specimen. Richie initially agrees to go, that is, until Mork reveals that the time span that he calls a “bleen” that Richie will be gone is 2000 years.
When Richie’s family comes home, Mork uses his finger to freeze them.
Richie panics and runs away. He goes to Al’s where he tells the Fonz that a spaceman is after him. When Mork shows up, he and the Fonz duke it out over Richie.
The battle of “cool” versus “the fickle finger” of Mork is pretty funny. After the battle, Mork decides that he no longer wants Richie, instead he wants Fonzie. As Mork and his captive leave Richie screams “Don’t take Fonzie!” Richie wakes up on his couch. It has all been a dream. There is a knock at the door. It is Robin Williams again, but dressed in normal clothes, asking for directions back to the highway.
At this point, the original episode ended. It was originally just a one episode odd entry in the Happy Days canon. But as Mork and Mindy was conceived, the episode was later amended with a scene of Mork conferring with Orson that his new mission was to go to the 70’s and observe people in what was then the modern day. And this is how the episode appears today.
Happy Days, “Mork Returns” (1979):
Also called the “5th Anniversary Show”, this show was just essentially clips of highlights from the first five seasons. The presence of Mork, who had as stated before, gone from 50’s middle America to late 70’s Boulder, CO, is for Mork to gain some insight on Earth concepts of friendship and love and family.
Mork only serves as a link to look back on some classic moments in the TV series, but Williams was still his uncontrollable self in the return.
As an added note, in the first season of Mork and Mindy, Mork remembers for Mindy how Fonzie helped set him up with a date with Laverne DeFazio. This crossover episode incorporated not only Happy Days, but Laverne and Shirley, too. Check it out:
Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films.
Throughout the coming months, we will be reprinting old posts as part of our Summer of Sci-Fi series. This article originally ran in February.