“'Happy Days' was a wonderful, wonderful experience and I would not have traded it for the world.” Marion Ross
First coming to the attention of television audiences as Irish maiden Nora on the TV series remake of “Life With Father” (1953-1954), Hollywood actress Marion Ross rose to stardom two decades later playing benevolent mother Marion Cunningham on the ABC popular sitcom “Happy Days,” which ran for ten years from 1974 to 1984. The role brought the star two Emmy nominations. A productive guest star on TV series, Ross gained resurgence in the early 1990s when she starred as Jewish grandma Sophie Berger on the short-lived, but critically-applauded, show “Brooklyn Bridge” (CBS, 1991-1993). For her performance, she picked up two Viewers for Quality Television Awards and her next two Emmy nominations. Ross enjoyed additional recognition for her Golden Globe-nominated portrayal of Shirley MacLaine's housekeeper in the Robert Harling-directed moving drama “The Evening Star” (1996), her first feature film since 1977's “Grand Theft, Auto,” which was directed by and starred her “Happy Days” costar, Ron Howard. Recently, Ross played recurring roles in such series as “The Drew Carey Show” (1997-2004, as Drew Carey's mother) and “The Gilmore Girls” (2001-2004, as Lorelai 'Trix' Gilmore) and appeared in motion pictures like Don Most's “The Last Best Sunday” (1999), Steven Sawalich's “Music Within” (2007), Gregg Araki's “Smiley Face” (2007) and Craig Mazin's “Superhero Movie” (2008).
In show business since the early 1950s, Ross has collected both Emmy and Golden Globe nominations and has been awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2008, the Albert Lea, Minnesota-born actress was honored by the Albert Lea City Council by changing the name of the “Albert Lea Civic Theatre” to the “Marion Ross Performing Arts Center.”
5' 5,” nice-looking Ross has been divorced from her husband of 18 years, Freeman Meskiman, since 1969. They have two children together, actor Jim Meskimen and writer/producer Ellen Plummer. Currently, Ross is in relationship with actor Paul Michael, who played King Johnny Romano on the TV series “Dark Shadows” (1969). The couple now resides in Los Angeles, California. Talking about her partner, she said, “Paul is a wonderful cook. We have dinner parties all the time.”
In addition to a residence in L.A., Ross also has a country-style home in the San Fernando Valley, California, which she named “Happy Days Farm.”
Childhood and Family:
Marian Ross was born on October 25, 1928, in Albert Lea, Minnesota. She was raised in Albert Lea and in nearby Willmar and Waconia until completing her sophomore year in high school when her family relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota. She studied drama at the MacPhail Center for the Arts and enrolled at Southwest High School. A year later, she moved to San Diego, California. Ross has an older sister named Alicia and a younger brother named Gordon.
An aspiring actress, Ross changed the spelling of her first name to Marion when she was 13 because she thought it would look more pleasant on a marquee. In San Diego, she studied drama at San Diego State College and was voted the school's outstanding actress. She also became involved in local amateur theatricals. She completing her degree in 1950 and headed to Hollywood to try her luck in TV and film.
Ross was married to Freeman Meskiman from 1951 to 1969. They have a son named Jim Meskimen (born on September 10, 1959, in Los Angeles, California) and a daughter named Ellen Plummer.
Named San Diego State University's outstanding actress in her freshman year, Marion Ross participated in several college productions until her graduation in 1950. With a drama degree in her pocket, she began her professional career with the famed La Jolla Playhouse in California where she attracted the attention of the company's director. She was then advised to try her luck in Hollywood.
In 1953, Ross made her feature acting debut in Paramount's “Forever Female,” a based-on-play comedy directed by Irving Rapper and starring Ginger Rogers. Her first foray with fame, however, did not arrive until she landed a regular role on the television comedy series “Life With Father,” which was adapted from the Broadway play and the 1947 successful film starring William Powell. She portrayed Nora, the Irish maid, from 1953 to 1954.
Throughout the 1950s, Ross appeared in many movies, including “The Glenn Miller Story” (1953), “Secret of the Incas” (1954), “Sabrina” (1954), “The Proud and Profane” (1956), “Lust for Life” (1956), “Lizzie” (1957) and “Some Came Running” (1958). She also held her own against stars like Clark Gable and Doris Day in the George Seaton-directed “Teacher's Pet” (1958) and showed her comedic flair in Blake Edwards' “Operation Petticoat” (1959), starring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. She made her television movie debut in the notable remake “Blithe Spirit” (1956), starring Lauren Bacall and Claudette Colber, and dotted her resume with guest appearances on TV series. She debuted on Broadway in a 1958 production called “Edwin Booth.”
Following episodic turns in such television shows as “Father Knows Best,” “Philip Marlowe,” “The Brothers Brannagan,” “Letter to Loretta” (all 1960) and “Stagecoach West” (1961), Ross returned to series TV as a regular on “The Gertrude Berg Show” (1961), where she was cast as daughter Susan Green. She spent the 1963-1964 season as Nurse Bromfield in the drama series “Mr. Novak.” After leaving “Mr. Novak,” she joined the cast of the daytime soap opera “Paradise Bay” in the costarring role of Mary Morgan, but the show, which debuted in September 1965, only had a short life. She also appeared in the motion picture “Blueprint for Robbery” (1961), a crime/drama helmed by Jerry Hopper, and made one television film, “Any Second Now” (NBC, 1969), opposite Stewart Granger and Lois Nettleton.
Back to the cinematic industry after almost a decade hiatus, Ross undertook an unaccredited part in the 1970 melodrama “Airport,” based on the No. 1 best-selling novel by Arthur Hailey and starring Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin. The acclaimed film was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Ross then played the supporting role of Angela Fields in the science fiction/thriller “Colossus: The Forbin Project” (also 1970), was cast opposite Brenda Sykes and John Neilson in William A. Graham's drama “Honky” (1971) and played Mrs. Crowe in “The Weekend Nun” (1972, TV).
It was also in 1972 that Ross was hired to play Marion Cunningham in an episode of the comedy series “Love American Style” called “Love and the Happy Days.” On the show, she was the mother of a teenager named Richie (played by Ron Howard) and the wife of Howard Cunningham (played by Harold Gould). Two years later, when the segment was developed into a television series called “Happy Days,” Ross was invited back to play her part and so was Howard, while Gould was replaced by Tom Bosley. Debuting in January 1974, the Garry Marshall-created sitcom went on to become the top-rated show on the ABC network and ran of 11 seasons until 1984. With the success of “Happy Days,” Ross became a household name and was nominated for two Emmys in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Comedy-Variety or Music Series (1979, 1984). During the show's run, Ron Howard cast the actress as Vivian Hedgeworth in his feature directorial debut, “Grand Theft, Auto” (1977), in which Howard also starred as Sam Freeman.
After “Happy Days” left the airwaves, Ross teamed up with James Coburn, Ted Wass and Glynnis O'Connor for the NBC television movie “Sins of the Father” (1985) and a year later, joined the cast of the ABC long-running sitcom “The Love Boat” in the recurring role of Captain Steubing's wife Emily. In 1987, she resurfaced on stage in a production of “Catsplay” (1984) and “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
However, Ross did not enjoy another breakthrough until 1991 when she won the regular role of Sophie Berger on the CBS series “Brooklyn Bridge” (1991-1993). Costarring with Danny Gerard, Matthew Louis Siegel, Peter Friedman and Adam LaVorgna, the versatile performer received two Viewers for Quality Television for Best Actress in a Quality Comedy Series and two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. Three years after “Brooklyn Bridge” was canceled, Ross made a victorious comeback to the silver screen with her scene-stealing role as housekeeper Rosie Dunlop in “The Evening Star” (1996), a comedy/drama directed by Robert Harling. For her fine effort, she was handed a Lone Star Film & Television award for Best Supporting Actress and a Golden Globe nomination in the same category.
Ross filled in the rest of the 1990s with roles in the made-for-TV films “The Third Twin” (1997), “The Lake” (1998) and “About Sarah” (1998) and was seen in the drama movie “The Last Best Sunday” (1999). She also appeared as a guest star in such shows as “Early Edition,” “Touched by an Angel,” “That '70s Show,” “Family Law,” and in 1997, began the recurring role, Beulah Carey, in the comedy series “The Drew Carey Show,” a gig she held until 2004.
In the new millennium, Ross remained busy even though she was now in her seventies. She appeared as Carol in an episode of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” called “Thinking of You; Mama's Soup Pot; the Letter” and voiced Rebecca the Elephant Queen on an episode of the animated series “The Wild Thornberrys” (both 2000). She starred with Olympia Dukakis in the made-for-TV film “Ladies and the Champ” (2001) and played the recurring role of Lorelai 'Trix' Gilmore on four episodes of “The Gilmore Girls” (2001-2004). After leaving “The Gilmore Girls,” she was invited back to the series to play Marilyn in the episode “The Reigning Lorelai” (2004) and “Wedding Bell Blues” (2005).
In 2006, Ross could be seen in the TV series pilot “Community Service,” playing Helen, and starred as Leslie Clyde Onstott on the television movie “Where There's a Will,” for director John Putch and writer Rex McGee. She returned to feature film the following year to appear as a grandmother in the comedy/romance “Music Within,” directed by Steven Sawalich and starring Ron Livingston, Melissa George, Rebecca De Mornay, Hector Elizondo and Leslie Nielsen, and play the character of Shirley in Gregg Araki's “Smiley Face,” starring Anna Faris and Danny Masterson. She also guest starred as Ida Holden in “Brothers & Sisters” and her voice could be heard in the series “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “The Boondocks.”
Recently, Ross portrayed Aunt Lucille Adams in the action comedy film “Superhero Movie” (2008), written and directed by Craig Mazin. Among her costars in the film were Drake Bell, Sara Paxton, Christopher McDonald, Leslie Nielsen, Kevin Hart and Ryan Hansen.
Lone Star Film & Television: Best Supporting Actress, “The Evening Star,” 1997
Viewers for Quality Television: Q Award, Best Actress in a Quality Comedy Series, “Brooklyn Bridge,” 1993
Viewers for Quality Television: Q Award, Best Actress in a Quality Comedy Series, “Brooklyn Bridge,” 1992