On the Tom Boslification of These United States

October 1 is the natal day of the late Tom Bosley (1927-2010) and we’re just a couple of weeks shy of the 10th anniversary of his death, and we’ve dropped his name here on Travalanche about a dozen times, so high time for his own post!

It’s a fact well known to fans of musical theatre that Bosley first came to fame (and in a big way) with his Tony-winning portrayal of beloved New York Mayor Fiorello Laguardia in the original production of the musical Fiorello! (1959). That’s him as da mayor in the photo above. Laguardia was half-Jewish; Bosley was all-Jewish, though unlike the character he was emphatically not a New Yorker.  As you might have gleaned from his accent (spoken in that unmistakable whiny rasp) he was a midwesterner, born and raised in Chicago, which made him excellently well cast as a certain tv dad from Milwaukee.

Prior to this starring role, he had appeared at various regional theatrers starting in the late ’40s, been in Eva La Gallienne’s TV production of Alice in Wonderland (1955), and appeared on Broadway in The Power and the Glory (1958) and The Beax Stratagem (1959). He was to appear on Broadway five more times through the ’60s, never reclaiming the heights he attained in Fiorello! He spent the decade guesting on tv shows, and playing supporting parts in movies like Love with the Proper Stranger (1963), The World of Henry Orient (1964), Divorce American Style (1967), The Secret War of Harry Frigg (1968) and the Lucille Ball comedy Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968).

Then Bosley truly conquered television, with regular roles on a half dozen series over a span of over two decades: he was regular on The Debbie Reynolds Show (1969-70, as her husband’s boss), was also a regular on Funny Face/The Sandy Duncan Show (1971-72), supplied the voice of Harry Boyle on Hanna-Barbera’s Wait ‘Til Your Father gets Home (1972-74), Happy Days and its spinoffs (1974-84, as Richie Cunningham’s wise and affectionate dad, the hardware merchant Howard), Murder She Wrote (1984-88, as a sheriff with a terrible Maine accent), and the title character in The Father Dowling Mysteries (1987, 1989-91).

This is scarcely the end of his significant TV work. He was in the pilot for The Streets of San Francisco (1973, plus two of the episodes) and the pilot for The Love Boat (1976), later appearing on the show several more times (in a related bit of trivia, his Happy Days co-star Marion Ross holds the record for having guest starred on The Love Boat the most times. He’s in numerous memorable TV movies and specials, including the 1973 tv remake of Miracle on 34th Street, The Night That Panicked America (1975, about Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio hoax), the miniseries The Bastard (1978) and The Rebels (1979, playing  Benjamin Franklin in both), Rankin-Bass’s animated holiday musical The Stingiest Man in Town (1978) in which he voiced a character modeled on Ebenezer Scrooge, The Triangle Factory Scandal (1979) and The Castaways on Gilligan’s Island (1979).

You can also see him in several episodes of Love American Style (establish a relationship with Garry Marshall that led to Happy Days), Night Gallery (the classic “Eyes” episode directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Joan Crawford), Me and the Chimp, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Tales of the Unexpected, etc etc etc. His last film was a small role in the Jennifer Lopez rom-com The Back-Up Plan (2010).