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Erin Moran: From Happy Days to Not so Happy Days

Entertainment | September 8, 2018

LOS ANGELES - MAY 6: Portrait of Erin Moran. She portrays Jenny Jones in the television series, Daktari. Image dated May 6, 1968. Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Erin Moran, as we all know, became quite popular through her child role on “Happy Days” as little Joanie Cunningham. Unlike the majority of most actors and actresses, she began acting at quite an early age. Her first exposure to acting was in a commercial for a “bank” (ironically), at the age of five years old.

If you remember the show, Daktari, you may remember seeing her there as Jenny Jones, a little orphan girl. The show was about a veterinarian and his family in Africa who were trying to take care of and protect the animals from poachers and other dangers in the area. Erin was just six years old when she was cast for this role, which was in the last season of the show in 1968-69. 

It was also in the year of 1968 that she made her first film debut with Debbie Reynolds in “How Sweet it is!” which was a comedy. Before her popular role in “Happy Days,” she made guest appearances on other shows like the Don Rickles Show, “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” “Family Affair,” and a few others.

Actor Scott Baio and actress Erin Moran attend the Men's Fashion Association of America's Fifth Annual American Image Awards on October 25, 1982 at Sheraton Centre in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

The role we all remember her the best in though was her role with the “Happy Days” gang. At the age of 13, she was the charming and witty “Shortcake” as Fonzie so lovingly called her and as “Ritchie’s” little sister, who was always protecting her. He even tried to protect her from getting her heart broken by “Potsie” who she had a crush on. She was mesmerized by Potsie, especially when he was singing to her. Potsie very graciously let her down easy though. Later, of course, she fell in love with “Chachi,” who was “Fonzie’s” cousin, played by Scott Baio, who all the girls loved in those days. Erin Moran and Scott Baio would later have their own show called “Joanie Loves Chachi” and was a good memorable show as well.

SEPTEMBER 1977: Henry Winkler, Anson Williams, Suzi Quatro and Erin Moran perform in a scene of the TV show 'Happy Days' in September 1977 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Marks/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Erin said in an interview, in later years, that the producers of the Happy Days wanted her to suddenly go from being a child (at the age of 15) on the show to more of a sexier character even asking her to lose weight to go along with the new look.

As great as Happy Days was, it did not always “produce” happy results.

In 2011, some of the cast members filed a lawsuit against CBS, the owner of the show. The lawsuit was filed against them for breaching their contract regarding merchandise revenues. They were supposed to get a five percentage revenue from any and all items they sold having their picture  on them pertaining to the show – pictures, cups, T-shirts, trading cards, toys, lunchboxes, comic books, slot machines – even group items. It was $10 million lawsuit, which they eventually won. In 2012, the actors settled and received $65,000 each. If Erin was one of them that benefited from the law suit, it was quickly spent.

After Happy Days, Erin headed down a different road.

She married in 1987 to Rocky Ferguson but was only married for six years. Reportedly, he was very jealous of her career and did not want anyone to recognize her when they were out and about. Protective or Possessive? Finally, she couldn’t take it any more so they divorced. 

After the divorce, she married Steven Fleishchmann, who she stayed married to until her death, which was about 20 years or so. He was her “blue-light special” you might say -- he worked at Walmart. After awhile, she became very depressed – possibly due to not being able to get adult roles after Happy Days ended. The Joanie Loves Chachi show did not last long either. It wasn’t long before she and her husband were in a bad financial state and they lost their home to foreclosure. They moved in with her mother-in-law in a trailer park and eventually kicked them out stating that she could not take Erin's addictive behavior and partying all the time.

Erin Moran during Halloween Extravaganza at the Chiller Theater in Secaucus, N.J. at Chiller Theatre in Secaucus, New Jersey, United States. (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)

In 2016, Erin was diagnosed with stage 4 throat cancer, which according to her husband, was not discovered for some time. It started out as just a small spot of blood on her pillowcase, which they thought was a simple case of her biting her tongue or something; but then it happened again and was bigger, and then again a third time. By the time they finally got the diagnosis, it was already aggressive. She started chemotherapy and was doing okay (or so they thought) until one day (which happened to be the anniversary of when they first met), they were laying down taking a nap holding hands. When her husband woke up, she was dead (at only 56 years of age).

While the actress' life came to an end in a mobile home in a rural community in Indiana, we'll always remember her as cute little Joanie Cunningham on Happy Days.   

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Terry Claypoole

Writer

Terry is a lover of the beach, history, politics and has a passion for social media and technology. In her spare time, you can find her at the beach (of course) enjoying the sand and sun and listening to music from the groovy era.