Happy Days

Tuesday nights in the early 1970’s meant one thing in my house: “Happy Days”. I wasn’t the only one who loved the show: my parents, having spent their teenaged years in the 1950’s, were also huge fans of Richie, Potsie, Ralph Malph, Joanie, Mr. and Mrs. C, and–of course–The Fonz.

A couple of years after “Happy Days” premiered, “Laverne & Shirley” spun off and joined the Tuesday night lineup on ABC.

I always wanted to be Laverne: assertive, outgoing, and sassy. One Halloween I even dressed up as Laverne, and a friend of mine who was cuter and much smaller than I dressed up as Shirley. Seriously.

So, knowing that, you might have a smidgen of an idea how excited my sister and I were to learn that the two theaters in town that host celebrities on a regular basis (Hollywood Boulevard and Hollywood Palms: the same theaters where we met Burt Reynolds earlier this year) were having a weekend event featuring the movies “American Graffiti”, “Night Shift”, and “A League of Their Own”, HOSTED BY Cindy Williams, Henry Winkler, and Penny Marshall. We purchased tickets to see “American Graffiti” immediately, since Jim nor my sister (who I thought had seen every movie on earth) had never seen it. Our tickets were for Saturday night, and Julesie and I decided to go stand in line to meet Henry, Cindy, and Penny on Friday so we wouldn’t be in danger of missing our movie.

The celebrities normally arrive about an hour before the first showing of whatever movie they are hosting, which put arrival time on Friday at about 6:00 p.m., so naturally we got there and took our place in line at 4:00. (What?) We had waited in line for Burt Reynolds for a little more than two and a half hours (the kiss I got was TOTALLY worth it, too!), and knew that the line for Henry and Company would be longer. Plus, we wanted to be near the front of the line, for better picture-taking opportunities while we waited.

The thing about these celebrity appearances is, it costs money–of course–for autographs and for posed pictures with them. They are getting paid for their appearance, and this is just how it works. We found out that there would be a separate fee for each signature and each posed picture for EACH of the three of them, and my sister and I were putting all of our money on (so to speak) Henry Winkler. I really, really wanted to meet Penny Marshall up close and personal too (if you’ll recall, “A League of Their Own” is one of my all-time favorite movies), but couldn’t justify that at that time. Plus, I would have felt guilty not paying to get a picture with Cindy Williams (shut up, it’s who I am) too.

After standing in line for about twenty minutes, we were informed that Cindy Williams wasn’t able to make Friday’s appearance. I looked at my sister and said, “Wow. Um, I feel like someone’s trying to tell me to go ahead and meet Penny Marshall too.” I spent the next ten minutes sputtering out reasons why it would be fine to spend the extra money on a picture with Penny as my sister laughed at me. Finally, I decided I was going to just go for it.

We spent our time in line chatting, listening to the annoying guy behind us giving blow-by-blow commentary on everything to his girlfriend, and tweeting. We even tweeted Henry Winkler, and our chins dropped to the floor repeatedly as he tweeted not one of us, but both of us in return:

Henry car 1

Henry Car 2

Theater personnel notified us that the car carrying Henry and Penny was running late (Friday rush hour in the Chi!), but we knew that already, because Henry was keeping us informed:

7 minutes copy

When they finally arrived, it was mayhem. The movie screenings had been pushed back by 45 minutes and it was clear there would be no leisurely conversations with Henry and Penny, but WOW was it cool to meet them. My sister approached Henry first and told her that we were the ones tweeting with him, and he gave her a big bear hug. Four hugs were exchanged in the course of their meeting, actually, and Henry signed a jukebox stereo that she has, which our dad has threatened to steal from her for years. Now, with the signature “Jules, I love you. Henry Winkler”, he’s going to have to rip it away from her cold, dead body, I’m sure.

He hugged me, too. (Sigh.) SUCH a nice man. Truly. He was just as nice as you hear: perhaps even NICER than that.

Henry and Melisa

I walked up to Penny Marshall, who was drinking a Pepsi (no milk), and as I babbled about how much I loved “A League of Their Own”, she said, “Come ova heah” and beckoned me closer for the picture. It was a thrill.

Penny and Melisa1

On Saturday we headed over to Hollywood Palms an hour early to get in line for our movie and try to get a glimpse of Henry and Penny again, and Cindy Williams. The place was chaotic and loud, and we arrived just as they did.

I got a picture of Cindy, posing with some random dude. As you can see, she is still completely cute and adorable:

Cindy with guy watermarked

There were a few ladies from “A League of Their Own” walking around, too:

League of their own girls watermarked

I took tons of pictures from afar that aren’t really much good for posting, and was on my way over to the movie line where Julesie was waiting with Jim and J when the night took a crazy turn.

Eddie Mekka, a.k.a. Carmine Ragusa, “The Big Ragu”, was standing right in front of me.


An episode of “Laverne & Shirley” seemed to be playing out in front of my eyes. I started calling over to my sister. Her response as she made her way over to me: “ARE YOU SURE IT’S HIM???”

I don’t blame her: I’ve been wrong and/or delusional countless times, especially in the presence of celebrities. However, I would’ve bet my life on it that this was indeed The Big Ragu. And we got hugs from him. Free ones.

Melisa and Carmine watermarked

Melisa and Eddie 2 watermarked
Oh, that's just me, hanging out with Eddie Mekka, a.k.a. Carmine "The Big Ragu" Ragusa.

I had this thought:
hallowsquiggy copy

(They didn’t make it, for the record.)

When we were seated for the movie, Henry, Penny, and Cindy walked in (Cindy was “hosting” the movie) and Naperville’s Mayor Pradel gave the three of them keys to the city, and then Cindy did a ten-minute question and answer session before the movie started. She was delightful. She said that Ron Howard was a good kisser, that she and Penny Marshall were paid (for “Laverne & Shirley”) less than ten percent of what the cast of “Friends” was paid, and that filming “American Graffiti” was like going to a “risque church camp”. I wanted to invite her over for dinner.

Another fantastically unforgettable weekend…

Happy Days, indeed.