Tom Bosley: Actor who played Howard Cunningham in the long-runnng sitcom 'Happy Days'

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The Independent Online

The actor Tom Bosley found his greatest fame on television, as Howard Cunningham in the American sitcom Happy Days. Often seen with his head peering round from behind a newspaper, Howard was the hardware-store owner and mild-mannered father of Richie (Ron Howard), who "hung out" with his young friends at Jefferson high school, Milwaukee, and, later, the University of Wisconsin.

Set in Eisenhower's 1950s United States, the nostalgic programme ran from 1974 to 1984, with Howard also becoming a surrogate father to "the Fonz" (Henry Winkler). The hip, leather-jacketed college dropout moved into digs above Howard's garage, called him and his wife, Marion (Marion Ross), "Mr and Mrs C", was a smooth talker with the young women and often spouted pearls of wisdom.

Howard, who also had a daughter, Joanie (Erin Moran), came No 9 in a list of the 50 Greatest TV Dads compiled by the American magazine TV Guide six years ago.

Bosley said he based the character on his brother, who brought up three children, but the success of the programme did not hit him until he received a phone call from his nephew, who was studying at the University of Illinois.

The portly actor recalled: "He said, 'You're not going to believe this. There are about 200 kids in the study hall watching your show.' And I realised kids were watching their parents grow up and their parents were watching themselves. That was the key to it."

Bosley, Winkler and Ross were the only actors to appear in all 255 episodes of Happy Days. Ron Howard went on to become a successful Hollywood director.

Born to a Jewish family in Chicago in 1927, Bosley served in the US Navy at the end of the Second World War, before studying law at DePaul University, Chicago. While there, he made his stage debut as Simon Stimson in Our Town with the Canterbury Players at the city's Fine Arts Theatre (1947) and performed with the Woodstock summer playhouse (1947-48). He also had an uncredited role in the film noir Call Northside 777 (1947), starring James Stewart and shot on the streets of Chicago.

However, Bosley dropped his studies and switched to the Radio Institute of Chicago, with the intention of becoming a sports announcer, before deciding on acting as a career and moving to New York, where he was trained by Lee Strasberg.

Between jobs in offices and as a doorman and hat-checker, he appeared in various off-Broadway productions, then made his Broadway debut with several small roles in The Power and the Glory (1958-59).

Bosley's break came in 1959, when he won the role of Fiorello LaGuardia in the musical Fiorello!, which traced the rise of the lawyer and congressman on his way to becoming the popular, reformist mayor of New York. Bosley appeared in all 795 performances; he was required to sing in several languages and won a 1960 Tony Award as Best Featured Actor in a Musical.

When films beckoned, Bosley had a good role as Natalie Wood's would-be suitor in Love with the Proper Stranger (1963), before appearing in the Peter Sellers-starring comedy The World of Henry Orient (1964).

Although he continued to act in films, including Divorce American Style (1967), alongside Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds, and The Back-up Plan (2010), with Jennifer Lopez, television gave Bosley his best roles.

Before Happy Days, he appeared in the American version of the satirical show That Was the Week That Was (1964-65), which benefited from his dry, comic delivery, and was a regular in the sitcom The Debbie Reynolds Show (1969-70) as the star's inept brother-in-law Bob Landers. He was also the voice of the conservative "father" Harry Boyle, in the animated series Wait Till Your Father Gets Home (1972-74).

Later, he appeared as Howard Cunningham in two episodes of the Happy Days spin-off Joanie Loves Chachi (1982) and was seen on and off in the early years of Murder, She Wrote as the inept Sheriff Amos Tupper (1984-88).

Bosley then took the title role in The Father Dowling Mysteries (1989-91, retitled Father Dowling Investigates in Britain), as the crime-solving Chicago priest, assisted by the streetwise nun Stephanie Oskowski (Tracy Nelson). In three episodes, he was also cast as Frank Dowling's twin, a thief and con artist.

The actor returned to the Broadway stage to play Maurice, Belle's eccentric inventor father (1994-97), in the original Disney musical production of Beauty and the Beast. Eight years later, he took over the role of Herr Schultz (2002-03) in a revival of Cabaret.

Anthony Hayward

Thomas Edward Bosley, actor: born Chicago 1 October 1927; married 1962 Jean Eliot (died 1978, one daughter), 1980 Patricia Carr; died Rancho Mirage, California 19 October 2010.