In some ways, Marion Ross is everyone's mother — and grandmother. The actress made an indelible mark on popular culture playing Marion Cunningham — "Mrs. C" — on Happy Days for a dozen years starting in 1974. Since then, she's played mom to Nora Walker on Brothers & Sisters and Drew Carey on The Drew Carey Show and grandmother to many more — everyone from Lorelai Gilmore to SpongeBob SquarePants.
Ross will appear tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific on the ABC special TV's All-Time Funniest, in which TV fans nationwide reveal their picks for the funniest characters in a variety of categories. Ross is up for the title of All-Time Funniest Mom — battling against Lucy Ricardo for the title.
Recently, I had a chance to speak with the delightful Ross about her long career, being called "Mrs. C" on the street, and discovering the joys of playing a crochety old woman. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation:
What's it like for you to be named one of TV's all-time funniest?
I'm so thrilled. I was sure that one of my relatives must have done this — I want to say thank you to my children, thank you to somebody. Isn't that an honor? I'll tell you — me and Lucy!
You have had such a long and really amazing career in television. Have you seen TV change at all over the years?
Well, there's just too much, isn't there? And too much going on. I can't keep track, and I'll think, "Who is that?" I don't know these people yet! It seems like — I must be getting old or something, but everybody looks alike, all these girls with the long blond hair — they all look alike. It's a new generation, and I surrender, because you kids are running it your way. . . . I think there's more creativity going on now than ever before, and it's better, the actors are better.
What do you think are some of the all-time funniest shows?
Well, [I Love] Lucy, of course. Seinfeld. Even Laverne and Shirley — I loved all their physical comedy. . . I loved Doris Roberts in Everybody Loves Raymond.
More from Ross about the overwhelming amount of TV these days, her favorite characters, and being nastier with age if you
What do you watch these days?
That's about it. I'm not a computer person either. But I think that's typical of my generation, I really do — I bet we're all kind of getting like this. I get overwhelmed with so much going on all the time.
Yeah, my cable gets, what, 300 channels or something like that?
Yep. In fact, I can remember sitting on the set of Happy Days and we were saying among ourselves, "You know what? This may never happen again." We had total control of Tuesday night at 8 o'clock, and everybody watched it, and then when they went to school they talked about it the next morning. Now I think Dancing With the Stars or American Idol are in that kind of position, everybody's watching those.
Have you gotten together with any of the Happy Days cast?
We all went to New York recently and did The Today Show. It makes us so happy when we get to see each other because we were a family. And I talk to The Fonz a lot on the phone, because I think he should be on Dancing With the Stars.
Of all of the characters that you've played, are there any that are particularly close to your heart?
I did a series called Brooklyn Bridge, which hardly anybody saw . . . We only made 35 of those shows and they were absolutely brilliant. We won all kinds of awards. So I'm most proud of that, because it was such a different character. I played a Jewish, bullish grandmother — wonderful. I loved her.
Since you've had so many roles and so many mother roles, I'm wondering what people say to you on the street — Do they call you Mrs C?
They call me Mrs. C. I loved That '70s Show [playing Red's mother] — She was a terrible one. She smoked cigarettes, and had irritable bowel disease — she was just awful. I loved her! After I'd been nice so much, I really enjoyed being rude.
It seems like our celebrities are so different now.
Aren't our celebrities different? . . . Now, the rattier you are, the worse of a person you are, then you can be an instant celebrity and a star! And I thought, well, my mother brought me up all wrong. I'm never gonna get anywhere!
You should have gotten into that meaner side a little earlier.
I know! I try to be a good example, and what is it? It's a waste! A waste of time.