What few people know is that Samuel Beckett and Ron Howard are close friends.
Ron – as Opie – met the postmodern playwright when the latter was wandering around the studio looking for Sam Shepherd and Alain Robbe-Grillet, who were undertaking a dubious and ultimately not well-thought-out rewrite of Gunsmoke.
“I hate pretending to be this innocent but dumb little boy,” Ron informed Beckett.
“Interesting,” said Beckett, taking notes. “Use that anger to make something different – that’s what I do,” and he invited the child actor and his guardians to accompany him back to England and see his new play Happy Days.
“Happy Days!” sighed little Ron as he sat with his family looking at the woman standing in the hole in the ground with nothing to keep her amused but a gun and a purse full of 13 items (excluding the gun) for the entire 3 hours of the play.
He grew up thinking about that woman and her nonstory.
“How can I bring this sensibility to American audiences?” he thought. “How can we get BEYOND the banalities of Andy Griffith?”
Then he saw a movie about the 1950’s.
You know the rest of the story. Ron made his own version of Beckett’s play, and it became a hit television series that ran for many years. In fact, the show is — arguably — still running thanks to syndication (how Beckettian! The show is endless [apparently]).
But there may be still a few bits of information that you may not know about the influence of Beckett on the Howard opus.
- The Fonz is an entirely Beckettian invention, based on Godot. Godot — who never comes — finds his antithesis in the Fonz who always arrives and his arrival –always expected and always, but always fulfilled – forms the tedious, comedic, ever-repeating highpoint of this theatre of the absurd tv show.
- In addition, we should note the transmigration of Pozzo and Lucky from Godot into Pozzi (later spelled Potsie) and his friend Ralph. Who is master and who is slave? This is the running question throughout the trajectory of that meaningless relationship.
See the brilliance of the Beckettian intervention/translation that Ron brought to us?
One more thing:
- Plot: Fonz jumping the shark is quite similar to the husband kissing the wife at the end of the Happy Days Silly, impossible, but sweet. For the Fonz loves his shark. So much.
- More about the Fonz. I invite you to ponder the thought of the Fonz in the Beckettian universe. Buried up to his neck in plodding plot formulations, the Fonz retains his joy. Like his progenitrix, Winnie, the Fonz exclaims: “It’s just another happy day… so far.” Only he does this in a more pithy manner, more suited to television:
“Perfectamundo,” in other words.
- Ongoing: the friendship between the two playwright/directors continues to this day. Death is no obstacle in the arts. Ron conjures Samuel Beckett in a special necromancy ceremony every month to get new ideas and to get validation. “How do you like my Han Solo movie” he asked the dead playwright recently. “It’s ok,” says Beckett, “but to be honest, I like that Childish Gambino video about America better. Couldn’t you make something like that?”
- Ron is silent. It’s not such a happy day today, after all.
Ron wrinkles his forehead and smooths those last wisps of hair.
Being avant-garde is hard.
Stephanie Barbe Hammer is a 5 time Pushcart Prize nominee in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review, Pearl, GRAVEL, Birds We Piled Loosely, and the Hayden’s Ferry Review among other places. She is the author of SEX WITH BUILDINGS, HOW FORMAL?, The PUPPET TURNERS OF NARROW INTERIOR, and DELICIOUS STRANGENESS: A POCKET GUIDE TO MAGICAL REALISM. She’s working on a novella about a Beverly Hills teenager interested in plumbing and necromancy and a novel about two misguided fangirls on a train to Montreal. A relentless urbanite, Stephanie now lives in rural Washington State where she wanders amongst the pines looking for a dry cleaner, a taco truck and someone — anyone — to talk to.