Family & Companions
Although most television viewers knew Marion Ross from "Happy Days" (ABC, 1974-1985), the actress had already logged some twenty years on screen before landing the role of "Mrs. C" on the popular sitcom. Prior to the series, she was frequently seen as professional types - nurses, teachers, secretaries and the like - in countless television shows and feature films. After "Happy Days" ran its course in the 1984, she returned to regular guest appearances on TV, many of which alternately paid tribute to or spoofed her status as Beloved Television Mom, as well as stints on Broadway. A frequent Emmy nominee, she took home two Q Awards for her turn as a post-WWII Jewish mom in the short-lived "Brooklyn Bridge" (CBS, 1991-93), marking Ross as one of the more talented, but underappreciated actresses working in Hollywood.
Born Oct. 25, 1928 in Albert Lea, MN, Ross was so assured of her future in acting that she changed her name from Marian to at the age of 13 because she felt that it would look better on a marquee. The following year, she left home to attend the prestigious MacPhail Center for the Performing Arts in Minnesota, supporting her ambitions by working as an au pair. Meanwhile, her family's move to San Diego brought her even closer to her dream. A regular in productions at the La Jolla Playhouse while studying at San Diego State University, Ross was told by actor Mel Ferrer, who was the resident director at the Playhouse, that she should move to Hollywood to find work in film and television. Taking his advice, she made the move and began landing small or uncredited roles in 1953. Ross was glimpsed briefly in major films like "Sabrina" (1954), "Lust for Life" (1956) and "Around the World in Eighty Days" (1956) while appearing regularly as an Irish maid in "Life With Father" (CBS, 1953-1955).
For the next two decades, Ross worked steadily on both the big and small screen, though rarely in roles that brought her any recognition. Television viewers saw her at least two to three times a year in series ranging from "The Untouchables" (ABC, 1959-1963) and "Rawhide" (CBS, 1959-1966) to "The Outer Limits" (ABC, 1963-65) and "The Mod Squad" (ABC, 1968-1972). Poised, eloquent and well-versed in both straight drama and light comedy, Ross tackled both well-heeled society women and mousy office workers with equal degrees of believability. Though she may not have been a household name, the consistency of the work was undoubtedly a welcome alternative to obscurity.
In 1972, Ross starred opposite Harold Gould in an episode of "Love, American Style" (ABC, 1969-1974) as Marion Cunningham, mother to two teenaged Midwestern boys in the 1950s. The episode was intended as a pilot by creator Garry Marshall for a series called "New Family in Town," but was recycled as an episode of the anthology series when ABC passed on the project. When the episode's star, Ron Howard, scored a box office hit with "American Graffiti" (1973), Marshall was able to gather together most of the original cast, including Ross, for the series, which was renamed "Happy Days." As Marion Cunningham, Ross epitomized what viewers expected a suburban mother in the 1950s to be - graceful and loving to her husband (played in the show by Tom Bosley) and her offspring (Howard and Erin Moran), overly cautious about any sort of impropriety and obsessed with her housewife duties. Yet Ross also brought a fun and charm to the role, which gave Bosley ample opportunity to yield laughs with plenty of eye rolls and exasperated sighs. Ross also made the most of Marion's relationship with Henry Winkler's Arthur Fonzarelli, whose Brando-esque cool was tamed by her affectionate concern for his well-being. Ross and co-star Anson Williams were the only cast members to remain with the series from its pilot status to its final episode in 1984, themselves becoming household names after it had left the air. Ross also earned Emmy nominations for her performance in 1979 and 1984.
Ross, who kept exceptionally busy as a guest star on other series during her "Happy Days" years, returned to regular work as a television guest star, though her profile had risen so greatly that she became a featured player or episode lead. Naturally, many of these were motherly roles - co-star Ron Howard cast her as the mom of a handicapped girl who dreams of piloting a plane in "Skyward" (NBC, 1980) - but also numerous society ladies and even the romantic interest to Gavin MacLeod's Captain Stubing on several episodes of "The Love Boat" (ABc, 1977-1986). In 1991, she returned to regular series work for producer Gary David Goldberg's autobiographical "Brooklyn Bridge" (CBS, 1991-93). Ross surprised many viewers with her dramatic turn as of Sophie Berger, the strong-willed matron of a New York Jewish family living in New York in the 1950s. Though the show was short-lived, Ross earned two Emmy nominations in 1992 and 1993, as well as two Viewers for Quality Television Awards the same years.
Ross appeared on Broadway with appearances in "Edwin Booth" and a much-publicized revival of "Arsenic and Old Lace" opposite Jean Stapleton. She later returned to her roots at the La Jolla Playhouse with a production of "The Glass Menagerie" (1990) and several tours in a one-woman show about the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. But for the most part, Ross made television her home, logging countless hours as both kind-hearted and overbearing moms and grandmothers on a wide variety of programs. She was Drew Carey's oblivious mother on several episodes of "The Drew Carey Show" (ABC, 1995-2004), the venomous Bernice Foreman, who expires in grandson Eric Foreman's (Topher Grace) car in "That '70s Show" (Fox, 1998-2006) and the "formidable" Trixie, imperious matron of the Gilmore clan on "Gilmore Girls" (WB, 2000-07). Previously, Ross also shone as a mother who fights for the fair treatment of her Down's Syndrome-afflicted son in "The Kid Who Wouldn't Quit: The Brad Silverman Story" (ABC, 1987). But her best role of the decade came in "The Evening Star" (1996). The long-awaited sequel to "Terms of Endearment" (1983) found little favor with most moviegoers, but Ross' turn as the tart-tongued housekeeper to Shirley Maclaine earned her a Golden Globe nomination as Best Supporting Actress.
The new millennium saw Ross as busy as ever with guest spots on series like "Touched by an Angel" (CBS, 1994-2003), which cast her in several episodes as a homeless woman with a wealth of clandestine knowledge, and "Brothers and Sisters" (ABC, 2007- ) as the less-than-loving mother to series matron Sally Field. Ross and Bosley also reprised their "Happy Days" roles in an episode of "Family Guy" (Fox, 1999-2002, 2005- ) that saw Peter Griffin develop a church around Fonzie. She also enjoyed substantial supporting roles in the features "Music Within" (2007) and "Superhero Movie" (2008), which saw her ruthlessly parodying Rosemary Harris' angelic Aunt May from the "Spider-Man" franchise. In 2005, "TV Guide" ranked Ross at 6th on their list of Top 10 TV Moms. That same year, she rejoined her cast mates for "Happy Days 30th Anniversary Reunion" (ABC, 2005), then followed with a strong turn as an elderly woman who reunites with her estranged, con artist grandson (Fred Whaley), who intends to obtain her estate when she dies, in "Where There's A Will" (Hallmark Channel, 2006). Back on the big screen, she had a small supporting role in the spoof, "Superhero Movie" (2008).
Cast (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made feature film debut in "Forever Female"
Was series regular on "Life With Father"
Co-starred in "The Glenn Miller Story"
Played the daughter on "The Gertrude Berg Show"
Directed by Ron Howard in "Grand Theft, Auto"
Co-starred in "The Evening Star"