From episode #129 of the “(Is It) Good for the Jews?” podcast…
Larry Rosen: Did you know that Anson Williams was Jewish?
Eric Goldbrenner: Really. Potsie! You would think Ralph Malph would be the Jew — that red curly hair.
LR: You’re right. He was pushy, always working an angle, always telling corny jokes …
EG: But I can see Potsie as Jewish.
LR: Do you remember the pilot for “Happy Days?” It was a segment on a show called “Love, American Style.”
EG: No! I remember “Love, American Style.”
LR: It was called “Love and the Happy Days.” The plot was that Richie’s family was getting the first TV on their block. Harold Gould played his dad, not Tom Bosley, but Potsie was the cool friend! Not the Fonz. There was no Fonz. He climbed through Richie’s window, tried to get him to go drinking. Potsie was the cool guy. That must’ve been a tough call for Anson Williams who signed up to play the cool guy and then gets marginalized by the Fonz.
EG: You could see it that way or you could say Potsie was the driving creative force behind “Happy Days.” First he creates the “cool” character, then he switches to become Potsie.
LR: Or it could be a sign of Jewish solidarity: one Jewish actor making way for another to take the more high profile role.
EG: You know, once when Richie was having trouble with the local gangsters, Fonzie said to him, “I’ve got to ask you something. Have you ever seen me fight?” and Richie said, “No, actually.” He said, “That’s right. I don’t have to. I’ve got a reputation.”
LR: How did he get this reputation?
EG: He must’ve messed someone up at some point.
LR: He just liked to work on cars, and remember at one point he had to get glasses?
EG: That had to be humiliating for the Fonz.
LR: No! He made a big deal out of it, like, “It’s cool to wear glasses.”
EG: Oh, he made the glasses cool?
LR: He was reading something in front of a bunch of people at Arnold’s, and he pulled out the glasses. I gotta tell you, I wish that had translated into some bump in coolness among little boys wearing glasses at the time, which I was. Glasses were not cool.
EG: You mean you didn’t make them cool?
LR: Oh, no. God, no.
EG: This big-shouldered baseball player comes out with glasses on …
EG: … with a book full of literature in his back pocket …
LR: Look. I’m talking 7 years old …
EG: … chewing sunflower seeds …
LR: … 7 years old, Jewfro, off the charts math ability, glasses, starts a lot of sentences with “actually” …
EG: Oh, be still my heart. You would’ve been my friend! I would’ve been like, “Who is that guy? Is that Malcolm Gladwell over there?”
LR: … and then they uproot you and move you to Southern California. Let me tell you, there is no amount of sports that can save you at that point. And I was little. Little guy.
EG: I was, too. And I had a Jewfro.
LR: I’ll tell you what. I made a decision, when I was 14, that I was not going to be a nerd. In retrospect it may not have been a good decision. It was all I was focused on.
EG: The only thing you were good at?
LR: No, I wasn’t very good at not being a nerd, but I went after it single-mindedly. Left school one day in ninth grade, got the Jewfro cut off, threw in some contact lenses, next day in English class Mr. Zimmerman says, “My, you’ve really changed your look.” Straight up, Zim. I’m not a nerd anymore.
LR: One more thing about Anson Williams. Did you know he was the second cousin of Dr. Henry Heimlich.
EG: Of the Heimlich maneuver?
LR: The same. They both went on Merv Griffin in 1974 to demonstrate. Do you remember the Heimlich? I remember it suddenly becoming very important right around that time.
EG: We were all trying it out on each other, practically breaking each others’ ribs.
LR: But overall … Potsie … and Dr. Heimlich … good for the Jews. What do you say?
EG: You can’t argue that.