Al Molinaro, Drive-in Owner in “Happy Days,” Dies at 96

31 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Al Molinaro, character actor known for role on “Happy Days,” dies at 96.

GLENDALE, Calif. (AP) — Al Molinaro, the loveable character actor with the hangdog face who was known to millions of TV viewers for playing Murray the cop on “The Odd Couple” and malt shop owner Al Delvecchio on “Happy Days,” died Friday at Verdugo Hills Hospital in Glendale, his son Michael Molinaro said. The bulbous-nosed character actor became widely popular on the sitcom (ABC 1974-1984) as the proprietor of Big Al’s — the hangout where Richie, the Fonz and the gang hung out. According to his bio, Molinaro even capitalized on that fame with fellow “Happy Days” castmate Anson Williams (Potsie) when they opened a chain or Big Al’s Diners across the midwest in 1987.

Before “Happy Days,” which ran from 1974 to 1984, Molinaro portrayed the bumbling but personable police officer Murray on “The Odd Couple,” providing a comic foil for stars Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. “He was one of those really funny, likable secondary comedy characters that the ‘70s were really known for,” said Robert J. His next long-running role was that of Al Delvecchio in “Happy Days,” the 1974-1984 nostalgic sitcom about 1950s life that starred Ron Howard and Henry Winkler. Delvecchio), “The Love Boat,” “Love, American Style,” “Bewitched,” and “Joanie Loves Chachi” (where he also played Big Al”) and the 1976 movie “Freaky Friday.” While many of his siblings took on prominent roles in their home state of Wisconsin — one brother was a judge, another a state assemblyman — Molinaro chose a different path. Marshall was at an improvisation show to watch his sister, Penny, perform her stand-up comedy routine when Molinaro’s “raw but very funny” ad-libbed portrayal of a priest caught his attention. “I hold up Al’s story as an example when I tell people that it’s never too late to follow your dream,” Marshall wrote in “Wake Me When It’s Funny: How to Break into Show Business and Stay” (1997).

Always a few beats behind, he had a habit of answering rhetorical questions, flashing a cross-eyed look in response to real ones and inching his way on set so that for a moment the camera caught only his sizable schnoz. His character was the impetus for many scripted nose jokes, but he didn’t mind, his son said, and later appreciated the boost his most prominent feature gave to his career as a character actor. Delvecchio’s 1950s malt shop, with its wood paneling, orange booths, jukebox jams and neon “A” sign, served as the backdrop for the teenage crushes and small quarrels that propelled the plot.

The tire-bellied chef, whose signature phrase “yeeap, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep” often trailed off into a sigh, rarely passed up an opportunity to offer his loyal young patrons advice. A 1982 Times profile of the show highlighted Molinaro’s endearing role: “The emphasis was always on heart in the episodes in which Molinaro was the star.” He later did work in commercials — most notably as the spokesman for a line of frozen dinners — and had a cameo in a music video for the rock band Weezer. But, he largely stayed out of the limelight — partly, Molinaro contended — because of the types of projects he was willing to work on. “I’m so square that I won’t be in a movie that has four-letter words in it,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 1990. “That puts me pretty much totally out of films these days.”

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