Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Podcast Tuesday: "The Baddest Mother of Them All"

Marion Ross and Billie Bird on Happy Days.

There are some TV characters we just never get to see. Maris on Frasier. Charlie on Charlie's Angels. Orson on Mork & Mindy. Vera on Cheers. We hear a lot about them. In the case of both Charlie and Orson, we even hear them. But their faces are never seen. And that's part of the fun. We imagine what they must look like. We each create our own version of the character. So there's not just one Maris Crane; there are thousands, maybe millions.

Happy Days had a strange, recurring habit of establishing such mysterious offscreen characters, then relenting and actually showing them to us. We eventually got to meet Rosa Coletti, Binky Hodges, Arnold Takahashi, Jenny Piccalo, and more.

But viewers probably thought we'd never get to meet Mother Kelp, the notorious mother of Marion Cunningham (Marion Ross). The eternally-offscreen Mother Kelp was one of Happy Days' longest running jokes, frequently mentioned by the characters but never even glimpsed by the audience. We heard about her bad temper, her drinking, her wacky shenanigans, and her undying hatred of her son-in-law, Howard (Tom Bosley). She was the ultimate compendium of all "mother-in-law" jokes.

Finally, in one of the very last episodes of Happy Days to reach the airwaves ("So How Was Your Weekend?"), Mother Kelp appeared onscreen, played by the inimitable Billie Bird. Does Billie live up to eleven seasons' worth of hype? Find out this week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast.