Sunday, 1 October 2017

Muhammad Ali: Shadow of a boxer

Muhammad Ali, at right, taking a jab from heavyweight
champion Larry Holmes in the 1r 1980 fight
He may have floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, but by the time the 1980s rolled around Muhammad Ali was just a shadow of the champion he once was.

When I heard he had passed away, I was saddened by his loss, but reminded of the last, sad years of his career.

Opening bell
The first time I saw Ali fight was back in 1978, in an era when fights were still on regular TV. He was defending his heavyweight championship against Leon Spinks. My outstanding memory of Ali was how he was extremely defensive, holding his gloves to cover his face while Spinks was clearly the aggressor.

I was cheering for Ali at the time, because he was the champion I guess, but he was clearly not the better fighter. He lost that fight by decision, and with it his heavyweight championship.

We watched “Eight is Enough” right after that, because the fight went late. That’s what I remember – Muhammad Ali, Leon Spinks, and Dick Van Patten.

There was a rematch but I never saw it. I think it was televised, but I was doing something else. I was glad to hear Ali had learned his lesson. He came out swinging and took back his heavyweight championship.

It was all downhill from there.

Holmes is were the heart is
Ali retired after winning the heavyweight championship for an unprecedented third time. In the meantime, Larry Holmes beat Ken Norton for the title, and established himself as champion.

Motivated, in part by money, Ali launched a title challenge, coming out of retirement to face Holmes for the heavyweight championship.

The three-time champ and current challenger had nothing left. Holmes completely took over the fight, winning every round on every scorecard, when Ali’s trainer Angelo Dundee stopped the fight in the 11th round. It was Oct. 2, 1980, and the decade had not started well for Ali.

Muhammad Ali, at right, taking a shot from Canadian and Commonwealth
heavyweight champion Trevor Berbick in 1981.
It was Ali's last fight, a 10-round loss by unanimous decision
With a whimper, not a bang
Still unable to come to terms with retirement, and dreaming he could become the first four-time heavyweight champion, Ali fought one last time, and it was not the way to conclude such a storied career.

He travelled to Nassau, the Bahamas to fight Canadian and Commonwealth heavyweight champion Trevor Berbick, who was ranked fourth by the World Boxing Association and would go on to be a World Boxing Council heavyweight champion. It was Dec. 11, 1981 and Ali came in not in the best shape, 18 pounds heavier and 12 years older than his 28-year-old opponent. Berbick went the distance with the former three-time champion and beat him in a 10-round unanimous decision one month short of Ali's 40th birthday.

Muhammad Ali said afterwards that was it – and it was. He had fought his last fight.

Parting thoughts
It is unfortunate Muhammad Ali even made it to the 1980s. He had such a storied career – epic struggles with the best boxers of his generation such as Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton, and Sonny Liston. He had beaten them all, taken a beating from many of them, and provided countless memorable moments for boxing fans.

He could have easily rode off into the sunset after regaining his title from Leon Spinks. There is no better crowning achievement to a career than doing something no one else had.

Ali had just become the first ever three-time heavyweight champion. What a way to end it.

Instead, he felt the need to come back. When he did, he was not the same fighter, and lost all the fights he had in the 1980s.


It is unfortunate. He was a shadow of the boxer he once was.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Robert Loggia: Gruff but sensitive through the years

Robert Loggia had a long career as an actor on stage and screen
He was a great character actor with a gruff exterior who played some great tough guys, both good and bad, most times with a soft side.

The first time I saw Robert Loggia, he was telling Richard Gere to take a good look in the mirror in “An Officer and a Gentleman”, then he was a tough private eye in “The Jagged Edge”. The last time I saw him in a role that really stands out was more than a decade later when he was the head of the American military doing battle with alien invaders in “Independence Day”.

I was sad to hear awhile back that Robert Loggia had died at the age of 78.

Robert Loggia, at right, as Byron Mayo, the father of Richard Gere's
character Zac Mayo, in 1982's "An Officer and a Gentleman".
Here he is about to tell Zac to take a look at himself in the mirror.
Father knows best
The first time I recall seeing Robert Loggia was when he was shirtless, hitting a mirror with the back of his hand telling Richard Gere to take a look at himself.

The movie was 1982’s “An Officer and a Gentleman” and Loggia was playing Byron Mayo, father of Zac Mayo, played by Gere. The movie focused on a drifter who dreams of flying jets, and he finally does. It was Gere’s breakout role, and another feather in Loggia’s cap.

I saw the commercial for “An Officer and a Gentleman” on the two pay TV channels of the 1980s in Canada – Super Channel and First Choice. Every time I visited my buddy Mike Hartman, who had cable, I saw that commercial of Loggia giving crap to Gere. It was burned in my mind. I eventually saw the movie when my brother taped it off pay TV and lent me the tape. But don't tell anyone he did that, okay.

The years before
It turns out Robert Loggia had a resumé dating back to the 1950s and the soap opera “Search for Tomorrow”. For the next three decades, he seemed to play guest roles in a wide variety of shows, until 1982 when “An Officer and a Gentleman” came along.

Series television
After “An Officer and a Gentleman”, he continued to play supporting characters in TV with “Little House on the Prairie” and “Falcon Crest”, where he was the first actor to play Tony Cumson on the night-time soap opera, a role also played by John Saxon. He was also in movies with “Trail of the Pink Panther”, “Psycho II”, “Curse of the Pink Panther” and “Scarface”.

Finally, he earned his first recurring role in network series TV, playing Yuri Bukharin, a Soviet spy in the night-time drama, “Emerald Point, N.A.S.” That was a good show with a lot of potential, and an all-star cast, but it just could not make it.

Robert Loggia, at left, in his Oscar-nominated role in the
1985 thriller "The Jagged Edge", with star Glenn Close.
The edge of a dream
“The Jagged Edge”, released in 1985, was another movie I had seen a lot of commercials for, and was immediately interested in. It starred Jeff Bridges as a man accused of murder, and Glenn Close, who is the lawyer hired to defend him. It was this great psychological thriller.

Loggia played private detective Sam Ransom who aids Close in her defence of Bridges. For his efforts, Loggia would be nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

I never did see it in the theatre, but at another interesting time in my life. It was the summer of 1986 and I was taking driver’s education in Lethbridge, staying at my sister’s place during the day. She was working, so I watched TV, walked down to the Lethbridge Public Library, and rented movies from the 7-11 on Third Avenue. One of those movies was, “The Jagged Edge”. Others were “Prizzi’s Honor” and “On the Edge”.

Coincidentally, Loggia also had a role in “Prizzi’s Honor”. That was another great movie, taking a satiric look at organized crime and starring Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner. Loggia played one of the sons of the head of the Prizzi crime family, who ran the crime empire.

Busy times
Robert Loggia closed out the decade with a lot of roles in film and TV. Movies he was in, that I saw, were “Armed and Dangerous” in 1986 and “Big” in 1988. The TV guest roles just kept on coming – “Murder, She Wrote”; “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”; “Magnum P.I.” – and he got a lead role in a series right at the end of the decade with “Mancuso, FBI” for 20 episodes in 1989-1990. He had pioneered the role in the 1988 TV mini-series “Favorite Son”.

The years after
Loggia would keep on working for another 30 years. Two more roles I really enjoyed were as a football coach in the football movie “Necessary Roughness” in 1991, and the head of the United States military in 1996’s “Independence Day”. As Coach Wally Rig in “Necessary Roughness”, he spoofs the intense, gruff football coach, playing him over the top to comedic effect. As General William Grey in “Independence Day”, he is tough but serious and sensitive.

The final role I remember, is a brief summer series he starred in called, “Sunday Dinner”, where he played an older man in a serious relationship with a younger woman who takes her to family dinner every Sunday night. It aired on Sunday nights and was written by Norman Lear, creator of “All in the Family”. The network even paired it with the first season episodes of “All in the Family” they re-ran to garner interest. What “Sunday Dinner” is most known for is that it gave newcomer Teri Hatcher her first starring role. Two years later she would have her breakout role as Lois Lane, in "The New Adventures of Superman". "Sunday Dinner" only lasted six episodes.

Parting thoughts
Robert Loggia was a great character actor, who was best known for gruff, serious roles. Yet he could bring a sensitivity as well. The best roles, by far, were his turns in "An Officer and a Gentleman" and his Oscar nominated role in "The Jagged Edge". Just when you thought he may be somewhat typecast, he turned that on its head taking a comedic turn.

You put it all together – his TV and movie work – and he had quite a career.


I am glad I got a chance to see a lot of good stuff.

Friday, 29 September 2017

A matter of opinion: The college football championship in the 1980s

Not a day goes by during the college football season that I don’t thank God the National Collegiate Athletic Association came to their senses and created a playoff system of some sort. It still isn’t perfect, but it sure is far superior to the way the college football national champions were crowned back in the 1980s.

Not an exact science
For whatever reason, the NCAA had no desire to have a playoff system in football, unlike virtually every other sport which did.

That left pollsters, mostly coaches and reporters, to vote for the national champion. There were two main polls that were used to determine the champion: The Coaches’ Poll and the Associated Press.

They used criteria that makes sense, but is still an inexact science. Usually, if a team went undefeated, they were automatically declared national champions. However, if teams suffered one loss, or even two or three, and there were no undefeated teams, these selectors would look at other variables. Did the top teams play each other or common opponents? Did one have a stronger schedule, that is play tougher teams? Even the most bizarre of factors – a loss early in the season matters less than a loss late on the season. Another factor was point differential, encouraging strong teams to run up the score on weak teams to “make a statement”. The surest way to win the national championship, if you were not ranked number one, was to defeat the number one team.

All told, the national champion was not chosen in an objective manner. It was all a matter of opinion.

This would lead to a lot of controversy.

We are the champions
The first two champions of the decade were straightforward. In 1980, the Georgia Bulldogs went 12-0, including a 17-10 win over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to win the championship. The next year, Clemson went 11-0 and defeated Nebraska 22-15 in the Orange Bowl to win the championship.

The next few years, it was the challenger who beat the number one ranked team for the championship. In 1982, Penn State was ranked second and defeated the top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs 27-23 in the Sugar Bowl to secure the national championship. The next year the number five Miami Hurricanes beat the number one Nebraska Cornhuskers 31-30 to be crowned national champions. In this case, Auburn was 11-1 and was ranked third going into bowl games. They defeated Michigan 9-7 in the Sugar Bowl while the two teams ahead of them, Nebraska and Texas, had both lost. Further, Auburn had defeated Florida who gave Miami their only loss of the season. Yet, the Coaches’ Poll and Associated Press gave Miami the championship – primarily because they had the opportunity to beat number one and seized it.

The next year was even more controversial because Brigham Young University was the only undefeated team in the nation and was voted the champion. Yet, critics said the Cougars played a much weaker schedule than any of the other contenders, and their final game was not a major bowl, but the Holiday Bowl where they defeated Michigan who had a 6-6 record. Yet they were unbeaten.

Oklahoma won the 1985 championship, with an 11-1 record, by defeating number-one ranked Penn State in The Orange Bowl. Michigan, with a loss and a tie, also made a strong case for the championship.

The next year, things would take a step in the right direction.

“Championship” game
The climate of college bowls was much different in 1986. Back then it meant something to qualify for a bowl game. Unlike today, where there are dozens and dozens of games named after the sponsoring companies, back then there was a handful of meaningful games, all played on New Year’s Day. It is funny though, that even back then we made fun of the fact there were all these other bowls, like the Holiday, Independence, Florida Citrus, Liberty, and Gator Bowls. Even the Fiesta Bowl, which wormed its way into the spotlight, was considered a bit of an outsider (but a bit more about that later).

The main bowl games of the time were the Cotton, Rose, Orange, and Sugar Bowls. By 1988, the Fiesta Bowl had joined the party as well.

Back then, some of the teams for these games were determined by their conference. The Big-8 Conference champion qualified for the Orange Bowl, while the Pac-10 and Big-10 champions met every year in the Rose Bowl. The Fiesta Bowl gained prominence because organizers had the ability to invite whatever teams they wanted to. There was no national championship game at the time, as the national champion was determined by those two polls.

After the 1986 season, Fiesta Bowl organizers saw their chance to create a de facto national championship game. That’s because the number one ranked Miami Hurricanes and number two ranked Penn State Nittany Lions were both independent teams. Consequently, they were both invited to meet on January 2, 1987, a day after the usual bowl day showcase, in the Fiesta Bowl. Since they were number one and two, the pollsters would literally have no choice but to vote the winner the national champion – although if memory serves it was not unanimous, as it obviously should have been.

Penn State would win that game, and be voted national champion.

There was finally a national championship game, but it was not to last.

The remaining years
Number one met number two again after the 1987 season as Miami defeated top-ranked Oklahoma for the title. The next year, Notre Dame went unbeaten at 12-0 and won the national championship by beating number three West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl. Miami would round out the decade by winning its third title. This was a little muddy too, because Miami and Notre Dame both had a loss, but Miami beat Notre Dame. However, Notre Dame had a much tougher schedule and Miami’s loss was to a lower ranked opponent.

It just showed, the national championship was a matter of opinion.

What is really unfortunate is that fans would have loved to see some of these top teams play each other for the championship. It would have settled any doubt, and probably been some really good football.

Parting thoughts
One of my biggest pet peeves was the lack of a college football playoff. Voting was such a poor way to determine a champion. It penalized teams that coaches and sports writers did not see, and completely discounted the possibility a smaller school could compete with a bigger school. The fact this is possible is evident in the college basketball tournament every year. Because the teams have to play the games, no one can presuppose the winner.

In college football they did, all the time.

Eventually, starting in the 1990s, college football organizers slowly began to come around. They started with the Bowl Coalition, followed  by the Bowl Alliance and the Bowl Championship Series. This last one, the BCS, showed how smaller schools such as Utah State and Boise State could shock the bigger schools. Yet, all of those systems still relied on opinion and voting in some way.

They still do, with the College Football Playoff, but at least they have created a tournament so the best do play off. However, the best is still determined by a committee, not by results on the field.

Hopefully, some day, as the teams continue to organize themselves into conferences, the NCAA just organizes a tournament where the champions of these conferences play each other until a champion is determined.


It works in every other sport, why not football.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Sheriff’s “When I’m With You”: Strange journey to the top

The one and only album by Sheriff, a self-titled entry released
in 1983. The album featured "When I'm With You", but
Sheriff never made a music video to promote it.
It was a song that was a staple of junior high dances in the early ‘80s. Not one went by that we all wanted to dance close with a girl to that slow, romantic ballad. It disappeared only to reappear near the end of the decade and, inexplicably after the band who recorded it had broken up, go all the way to number one on the Billboard Hot 100.

Such is the strange journey to the top for “When I’m With You” by the Canadian band Sheriff.

Slow dance
Sheriff released their self-titled debut album in 1983 when I was in Grade 8. “When I’m With You”, this touching, crooning ballad was the third single to be released. It would go all the way to number eight in Canada. It also charted in the United States, peaking at 61.

Back then we had regular junior high dances, and “When I’m With You” was part of the soundtrack of life, with other Canadian songs such as “Innocence” by Harlequin, “The Kid is Hot Tonight” by Loverboy, “Your Daddy Don’t Know” by Toronto, and “Straight From the Heart” by Bryan Adams.

It was one of the slow songs we all wanted to dance to, hopefully with the girl of our dreams.

That would be Sheriff’s biggest hit, and only album. They broke up in the mid 1980s.

Dream come true
By Grade 11, so the spring of 1986, “When I’m With You” was still on the radio, kept alive by Canadian content requirements.

I was writing this play that was based on my own time in Grade 11 in high school. I was really intent on using music in it as well, and I had pretty much set the songs I wanted to use by then.

I always had this dream that my play would make it big. One of the songs, in a pivotal school dance scene in the play, was “When I’m With You” by Sheriff. At the time it had had some brief success in Canada, but was largely unknown anywhere else. I thought it would be cool if my play hit it big and introduced the world to “When I’m With You” at the same time.

Well, my dream came half true. In the most bizarre of coincidences, a Minnesota program director somehow discovered “When I’m With You” and started playing it in 1988. It rocketed up the charts and went to number one on Feb. 4, 1989, two weeks exactly before my 19th birthday.

By then, Sheriff had broken up long ago and declined to reunite.

That may be one of the strangest one-hit wonders of the decade.

Parting thoughts
“When I’m With You” was a special song to me. Still when I hear it, I think of school dances and slow songs. After I decided to include it in my play, I would have a blank tape ready to record it, if I ever heard it on the radio. The album was not in any record store I looked, nor any garage sale I visited, so taping it off the radio was my only choice. Eventually, I did get a crisp, clear recording off LA-107 FM Lethbridge late one night.

It also still amazes me that my dream half came true. That song was discovered and appreciated for how good it really was.

Sheriff had broken up, with some members forming “Frozen Ghost” and others forming “Alias”. They both would have success with their own songs.

Oddly, Frozen Ghost released a song called, “Dream Come True”.


Mine sure did, thanks to them.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Breakfast on the run

Stu Jeffries, deejay on K-97 in Edmonton
in 1988, and host of CBC TV's "Good Rockin' Tonite"
The other day I was having a “Farmer’s Wrap” at Tim Horton’s and I thought, wow they stuff everything into one of these – sausage, egg, hash brown.

It was funny because it reminded me of another time that everything got all stuffed together –  a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Going home
It was the end of April, 1988 and me and my best friend Chris Vining were moving home after rooming together our first year of university.

My mom and sister had come up the previous weekend to take the bulk of my stuff home. Chris and I stayed behind because he still had a bunch of stuff to move plus his car – the Little Orange Tornado – the Pinto he had stored at his dad’s place northwest of Edmonton by a place called Cherhill.

His dad had actually come to get us the night before and we crashed at his farm then drove the Tornado back to Edmonton.

The next day we loaded up everything and said goodbye to Edmonton and our first year of university.

Drive through
It was a six-hour drive or so, and mid morning.

Vining suggested drive through before we got too far. Back then, the options weren’t what they are now. I don’t think there ever was Tim Horton’s at all back then, or if there was not at all what it is now. We never went there if it did exist. There was not much else in drive through for that matter – except McDonald’s.

There was one on I think it was Stony Plain Road on the way. That was our destination.

To keep us company, we listened to music, starting with the radio. Stu Jeffries was the deejay on K-97, and it was the first time I heard him on the radio. I had come to know him from hosting “Good Rockin’ Tonite” on CBC TV on Friday nights. He was playing “This Time” by Bryan Adams as we pulled into the drive through.


It was our turn at the drive through and Chris ordered for both of us.

When the food came he pulled out, and got on the road. While he was driving, he stuffed his hash brown and everything else into an Egg McMuffin he ordered.

It was the “Farmer’s Wrap” before the “Farmer’s Wrap”.

With that, we left town

As we ate, and drove, we reminisced about the past year, which really had changed our lives.

Parting thoughts
When I look back, and think about that day, and Stu Jeffries, “This Time” and Chris Vining’s kamikaze breakfast, it has nothing to do with the food.

It brings back memories of new friends, a new life and all the friends I had met in my first year of university.

I think of that, even for just a minute, every time I have a “Farmer’s Wrap”.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Martin E. Brooks: Making the Bionic man

Martin E. Brooks as Dr. Rudy Wells in
"The Six Million Dollar Man" and "The Bionic Woman"
It is unlikely the average person will remember the name Martin E. Brooks. If they hear he played Dr. Rudy Wells, most people still may not remember. Then comes the description that anyone who grew up in the 1980s will remember: He made the bionic man bionic.

Awhile back, Martin E. Brooks was in the news because, at the age of 90, he passed away. Still, he leaves a unique mark in television history for a role he played on not one, but two shows on two different networks, a rarity in both cases indeed.

Seasoned actor
Martin E. Brooks started his acting career on stage and screen in 1951, proceeding to guest star in a variety of television shows over the next 25 or so years including a recurring role in “McMillan & Wife” in 1972-1973.

Soon, he would find the role that would etch his place in television history.

Dr. Rudy Wells
When Oscar Goldman said, “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him, we have the technology,” Dr. Rudy Wells was the man who could actually do that.

Goldman ran an organization called the OSI which stood for a number of things over time, including the Office of Scientific Information and the Office of Scientific Intelligence.

When astronaut Steve Austin, played by Lee Majors, crashes a plane leaving him barely alive, Goldman, played by Richard Anderson, suggests the OSI rebuild him using the theories on bionics of Dr. Wells.

Initially, Martin Balsam played Wells in the pilot, then Alan Oppenheimer occasionally through the first two seasons of "The Six Million Dollar Man".

Martin E. Brooks assumed the role in 1975 and would portray it for the next 20 years. He debuted in the third-season episode, “The Return of the Bionic Woman” which was a springboard to the popular spin-off of the same name starring Lindsay Wagner.

It actually took me a little getting used to. Brooks looked quite a bit younger than Oppenheimer, and I got used to Oppenheimer playing Rudy Wells. I had not seen Martin Balsam play that role, and would not until I got "The Six Million Dollar Man" on DVD and saw him there a couple years ago. Still, I did get used to Brooks in the role.

Over time he became a recurring character, and occasionally the centre of an episode. One in particular, entitled, “The Most Dangerous Enemy” turned the show on its head. Rudy is bitten by a crazed monkey, who has been the subject of scientific experiments, and develops super-human strength, leaving Steve Austin as the only person who can stop him.




Two shows are better than one
Once “The Bionic Woman” spun off in January of 1976, Martin E. Brooks played the same recurring role there.

“The Bionic Woman” aired on ABC initially, for two seasons, from the middle of the 1975-1976 season to the 1976-1977 season when it was cancelled. NBC then picked up “The Bionic Woman” for the 1977-1978 season where it aired for one more season. Meanwhile, ABC continued airing “The Six Million Dollar Man” for the 1977-1978 season. Both shows were cancelled in 1978.

However, it was the first time two actors, Brooks and Anderson, played the same character on two different shows airing on different networks.

More to come
There would be three reunion movies: “The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman” in 1987;  “Bionic Showdown: The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman” in 1989; and the one that wrapped up everything in 1994, called alternately “Bionic Ever After?” and “Bionic Breakdown”.

That would be the last we saw of Martin E. Brooks as Dr. Rudy Wells.

Parting thoughts
Martin E. Brooks would go on to have further guest roles in the 1980s in everything from “Quincy”; “Dallas”; and “Trapper John, M.D.” to “Airwolf”; “Cagney and Lacey”; “Benson” and “Hunter”. There would be a few roles in the 1990s, including a stint on “Knot’s Landing” but that would be pretty much it. Still, a 45-year career was incredible.

Re-runs of "The Six Million Dollar man" and "The Bionic Woman" aired after school throughout the first part of the 1980s on Channel 13 on my peasant vision dial. 

I will always remember Martin E. Brooks as the scientist who made Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers bionic.


In the end, in fact, he did rebuild them, and wrote his name in pop culture history.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Al Molinaro: From “The Odd Couple” to “Happy Days” and beyond

Al Molinaro as Al Delvecchio in "Happy Days"
“Yup, yup, yup, yup, yup, yup…Did I ever tell ya about Rosa Colletti?”

He may have been best known as the owner of Arnold’s in Milwaukee in the 1950s, the backdrop for the comedy “Happy Days” or as Murray, the New York city policeman with the big nose in “The Odd Couple”.

Al Molinaro made a name for himself as comic relief, and a great supporting actor, in the 1970s and 1980s. Recently, I heard he had died at the age of 96.

Connections
Al Molinaro was close to 50 when he started acting, after becoming financially secure in the real estate market. He got into acting, appearing in various sitcoms while continue to study. He took an improvisation class, according to Wikipedia, where he met Penny Marshall.

She introduced him to her brother Garry Marshall, a TV producer, beginning a long and fruitful relationship.

Al Molinaro as police officer
Murray Greshler in "The Odd Couple"
“The Odd Couple”
Marshall offered Molinaro the part of Murray Greshler, a New York City policeman, in a show called “The Odd Couple”. It starred Tony Randall and Jack Klugman as mismatched roommates, both recovering from divorces. Klugman’s Oscar Madison was a slob, while Randall’s Felix Unger was a neat freak.

Their apartment was visited by a colourful cast of friends and family, including Murray. He was the straight man for a lot of jokes, and there is one that sticks out in my mind.

Oscar and Felix had barricaded themselves in their apartment, hiding from something. Suddenly there was a knock on the door. They did not want to answer. They were too scared.

Then the little door on the front door flung open and through it appeared – a nose. There was only one nose like it. So they let Murray in.

Al Molinaro could be the straight man, and enjoy not taking himself too seriously.

“The Odd Couple” ran from 1970 to 1975, but in the early 1980s I used to watch reruns in the daytime, when I was home from school.

“Happy Days”
The following year, 1976, Marshall cast Molinaro as Al Delvecchio, the new owner of Arnold’s, the local hangout. He replaced Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, who had been playing Arnold, but left for his own short-lived show called, “Mr. T and Tina”.

At first, Al was mostly in the background, but over time became more familiar to the audience. He was often comic relief. One running joke was how often he would say, when one of the “Happy Days” gang asked for advice, “Yup, yup, yup, yup, yup, yup…Did I ever tell ya about Rosa Colletti?” It was later often shortened to, “Yup, yup, yup, yup, yup, yup” but we all knew what that meant.

Another memory I had was the two-part episode where Arnold’s burns down. Al decides to rebuild, with the financial assistance of The Fonz. When the place is ready to re-open, Al and Fonzie both reveal signs they would like to hang out. Al wants to rename the place, “Big Al’s” while the Fonz wants to call it “Fonzie’s”. In the end, they realize it is not worth fighting, or losing a friendship over, and keep the name Arnold’s.

Al Molinaro stayed on “Happy Days” for six years, until 1982, when finally he could forget all about Rosa Colletti.

“Joanie Loves Chachi”
By 1982, the characters of Joanie Cunningham and Chachi Arcola had become so popular, Garry Marshall decided to spin them off into their own show. They move to Chicago to pursue a music career. Chachi moves with his mother Louisa, played by Ellen Travolta, who has married – Al Delvecchio.

Al’s character continues to evolve as he becomes more of a father to Chachi, and a husband to Louisa. He also opens a restaurant that Joanie, Chachi and their band perform in.

The show lasted two seasons, and a total of 17 episodes, from 1982 to 1983.

Joanie and Chachi would go back to “Happy Days” to close out its run. Al Molinaro would not, as Noriyuki “Pat” Morita returned as Arnold to take over his drive-in.

The years after
Interestingly, Al Molinaro reprised the character of Al Delvecchio one more time, in the video for Weezer’s song, “Buddy Holly”, which is set in Arnold’s.

Beyond that, he appeared in the odd TV show and spent one season on the sitcom, “The Family Man” which lasted 22 episodes in 1990-1991, before retiring from acting in the 1990s.

Parting thoughts
Al Molinaro really is synonymous with the character Al Delvecchio, so much so he played him in three different productions. He was the perfect figure of authority, first as a police officer then as a restaurant owner and step-father. Over time, his character evolved and we saw Al as more than just a joke, but a sensitive man with many layers to his character.

It is fitting that his last memorable role was as Al in a music video, because it was the perfect conclusion to a great career that peaked in the 1980s.