|Ted McGinley and Henry Winkler on Happy Days.
Beauty standards change from decade to decade and not just for women. It applies to men, too. Take Happy Days, for example. The popular sitcom happened to come along during the 1970s when a new kind of male sex symbol was dominating pop culture. Instead of the tanned, blond-haired, quasi-Aryan hunks of a previous generation (think: Tab Hunter and Troy Donahue), we were getting earthier, quirkier film and television stars whose names and faces often reflected their ethnic background (think: Jewish or Italian). This was the decade of John Travolta, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Sylvester Stallone, and more.
In other words, it was a perfect time for Jewish-American actor Henry Winkler as Italian-American mechanic Arthur Fonzarelli. Henry definitely didn't look like Paul Newman or Robert Redford, let alone Tab Hunter. He was short of stature and slight of build. He didn't have a lantern jaw or perfectly symmetrical facial features either. In some early publicity pictures, he even has a slight unibrow! But it was the 1970s and Henry's look fit the times. There's a whole episode of the sitcom Taxi about this change in the male beauty standard. Fair-haired, traditionally handsome Bobby (Jeff Conaway), an aspiring actor, sees all the good roles going to guys like his buddy Tony (Tony Danza), a dark-haired Italian-American.
I've noticed a repeating pattern in 1970s pop culture regarding male stars. Producers will often pair a light-haired "pretty boy" actor with a dark-haired, more earthy type. That way, I guess, all the bases are covered. Think of Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford in Star Wars, David Soul and Paul Michael Glazer in Starsky & Hutch (1975-1979), Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in All the President's Men (1976), John Schneider and Tom Wopat on The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985), and, yes, Ron Howard and Henry Winkler on Happy Days (1974-1984).
The 1980s in many ways marked a return to the values and aesthetics of the 1950s, with newly-installed president Ronald Reagan as the new Dwight Eisenhower-esque father figure to the country. Consequently, the traditional hunks of that era made a comeback in popular culture. On Happy Days, this was marked by the addition of a new character, Roger Phillips, played by the muscular, athletic Ted McGinley. Producer Garry Marshall was specifically looking for an actor who looked like a bronzed California surfer. Ted filled that role nicely, at least once he got his hair dyed. (How Ted hated those humiliating visits to the beauty salon!) Happy Days was pretty shameless about promoting Ted/Roger as a sex symbol, putting him in short shorts or other revealing outfits as often as possible.
This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we're reviewing Season 9's "Great Expectations," an episode that largely revolves around Roger. At one point, in order to make him more attractive to the ladies at a party, Fonzie rips the sleeves off Roger's shirt, revealing Ted McGinley's well-sculpted arms. It's like Fonzie is passing the torch to a new generation of male pinups.
Does this make for a good episode of the show in 2023, however? Find out by listening to our latest episode. It's available below.