An appreciation: Tom Bosley, 1927-2010
Tom Bosley, who died in Palm Springs on Tuesday at the age of 83, was a character actor, and as with most character actors, his many roles resolve themselves in memory toward a hum, an affect: He was round, we remember, and dark and funny. And as with most actors who have the luck, good or ill, to be cast in a long-running television show, the particulars of a lengthy and varied career tend to be absorbed into a single, blinding overwhelming fact. That Bosley won a 1960 Tony Award for the musical "Fiorello!" will be mentioned in many of his obituaries, but nearly all will lead with "Happy Days," the candy-colored situation comedy in which he starred from 1974 to 1984 -- and likely will star, in reruns, long after the rest of us have followed him into the aether.
As befitted that fanciful, though not particularly ironic or satiric, revival of the old-fashioned family sitcom, Bosley's Howard Cunningham was a Mixmastered version of the TV fathers played by Robert Young, Ozzie Nelson and Hugh Beaumont, a man whose quest for a peace long enough to get through the evening paper was disturbed by his children, their friends and sometimes his wife. Of all the characters in that show, whose imaginary prelapsarian American normality made a lovable scamp even of its resident outlaw, Bosley's was arguably the most authentically normal -- the perfected embodiment of Dadness yet with recognizably human edges. He was the now-irascible, now-comforting voice of experience, and the necessary rock against which everything else crashed or clung to. This is an easier part to make iconic than to make interesting, but Bosley did both.
Bosley, who had previously worked on sitcoms led by Debbie Reynolds and Sandy Duncan and voiced the eponymous pater in the cartoon series "Wait Till Your Father Gets Home," was already in his mid-40s when "Happy Days" premiered. It's another quality of character actors to be really noticed only with time, when they have already come into themselves: They ripen on the vine, as it were. Not being saddled with the weight of remembered youth, they can age gracefully, and on the job. Bosley starred in only one more television show after "Happy Days" -- "Father Dowling Mysteries," where he was partnered with Ozzie's granddaughter, Tracy Nelson -- and played a recurring role on "Murder, She Wrote." But he worked until this year, and it's hard to believe he's done now.
-- Robert Lloyd
Photo: Tom Bosley in 1990. Credit: Bob Galbraith / Associated Press