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'Love, American Style:' Romantic Sketch Comedy And 'Happy Days' Birthplace

Entertainment | December 25, 2017

Left: John Astin and Carol Wayne on 'Love, American Style.' Right: Ron Howard as Richie Cunningham on the 'Love And Happy Days' episode. Sources: Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images; YouTube

Love, American Style was an ABC show that ran from 1969-74 and featured short segments with a romantic comedy spin to them. The cast included a grab-bag of many well-known TV personalities from week to week -- in addition to a core group of Love, American Style Players, you never knew who else might show up. Repeat guests included Carol Wayne, Stefanie Powers, Jo Ann Worley, Rich Little, Larry Storch, Joey Heatherton, and dozens of others over the show's five seasons. In addition to being a popular show in the Friday night time slot (though it initially aired on Mondays for its first four months), Love, American Style has the distinction of being the source of the sitcom Happy Days.

'Love, American Style' Featured Some Regular Players

LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 1: Opening credits of LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Each segment began with a quick 10- to 20-second joke clip by the Love, American Style Players. There were many; some of the most prolific were Stuart Margolin, Barbara Minkus, William Callaway, Mary Grover, Tracy Reed, Buzz Cooper, Lynne Marta, and Phyllis Davis. But even this cast frequently changed over the years. Many of them went on to appear on other successful shows -- Margolin became a regular on The Rockford Files, and Davis was a principal cast member on Vega$.

The title Love, American Style was derived from the 1961 Italian-language comedy Divorce, Italian Style, which had crossed over to the American market and received Academy Award nominations for Best Director (Pietro Germi) and Best Actor (Marcello Mastroianni). The title structure was also used by the 1967 comedy Divorce, American Style, starring Dick Van Dyke.

Skits About Love, Romance, And (Gasp!) Sex

Each segment, or skit, involved sight gags and burlesque-style comedy, which at the time was a little risqué for television. The program first aired in 1969 on the heels of the sexual revolution. Standards for network television were changing and the producers jumped on the bandwagon. It was very popular with the younger crowd, working on some of the same principles as the huge hit Laugh-In (which predated it by a year) and presaging the '70s TV obsession with love and romance stories that would be most fully realized on The Love Boat.

Each segment had its own title that began with, the word "love," such as "Love and the Television Set," "Love and The Happy Days," "Love and the Old-Fashioned Father," and so forth.

The Big Brass Bed

Although all of the stories were unrelated, there were a few staples in the way of props on the show including that big brass bed. The brass bed was a significant, passive/aggressive “nod” to, The Bed, by James Broughton. The Bed was an award-winning short film that came out in 1967, during the “the summer of love”. It featured both male and female nudity on a large brass bed and was set in a garden. At the time, most conservative people probably had no idea about the silent reference. Then again, most conservative people probably didn’t watch, Love American Style.

One Segment Of 'Love, American Style' Served As The De Facto Pilot Of 'Happy Days'

Perhaps the most significant episode of Love, American Style was the one that aired February 25, 1972: "Love And The Television Set/Love And The Newscasters," which was retitled "Love And The Happy Days" for syndication. In this episode we met the Cunninghams, a 1950s family who have just gotten their first TV set. Ron Howard played Richie Cunningham, Marion Ross played his mother, and Anson Williams played Richie's friend Potsie. These three actors would return to TV in the same roles two years later on Happy Days, a sitcom that would go on to air for 11 seasons. This episode of Love, American Style has been called a de facto pilot of Happy Days (in fact it was an unsold pilot that was recycled as a sketch), although it lacked the major character of Fonzie and the father, Howard Cunningham, was played by Harold Gould and not Tom Bosley. It's been said that Steven Spielberg decided to cast Ron Howard in American Graffiti (which was filmed later in 1972) based on his performance in this episode.

Music By The Partridge Fa-- Er, The Cowsills

The theme music was usually upbeat, contemporary pop music. As with most shows, the background music set the scene… the love scene. Music for the first season was performed by The Cowsills. If you remember The Cowsills, you probably already know that they were the real-live family group that inspired The Partridge Family.

'Love, American Stule' Lived On In Syndication

The show ran for several years before being canceled. It received good reviews in the beginning but never really made it to the top. The show ultimately lost in the ratings and had been canceled by 1974.

Although the show was canceled, it lived on in syndication. Actually, it may have fared better in syndication than in its original airings.  

'Love, American Style' Was Ahead Of Its Time

Shows like Love American Style paved the way for future shows portraying real people in real situations. Up until the 1960s many racy topics including sex and flaunting sexuality. Looking back over the years, things have really changed. What was once thought to be inappropriate is now seen as G-rated.  

Tags: Happy Days | Love American Style | Ron Howard | The Cowsills | TV In The 1960s | TV In The 1970s

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.