Biography

Marian Ross dreamed of stardom from childhood, going so far as to change the spelling of her first name to Marion because she thought it would look nicer on a marquee. When her family moved from Minnesota to California, the 16-year-old aspiring actress plunged into the busy world of amateur theatricals in the San Diego area. She was voted Outstanding Actress at San Diego State University in 1950, then went on to work at the prestigious La Jolla Playhouse. Mel Ferrer, La Jolla's resident director, recommended that Ross try her luck in Hollywood. She worked steadily in TV and films from 1953 onward, but stardom was still outside her reach. Ross played a succession of maids, nuns, nurses, and that nebulous classification, the Heroine's Best Friend. She showed up in small roles in such films as Forever Female (1953), Lust for Life (1955), and Operation Petticoat (1959), earning the respect of her fellow workers but very little in the way of public recognition. "I've always had a way of not attracting attention," she would note with resignation later in life. On television, Marion played unstressed recurring roles on such series as Life with Father, Mrs. G Goes to College and Mr. Novak. She finally achieved stardom as Marion Cunningham, mother of 1950s high-schooler Richie Cunningham, on the weekly sitcom Happy Days. What started out as a shaky midseason replacement in January of 1974 ended up ABC's number-one hit; Ross hitched her wagon to the ever-rising Happy Days star until its final episode in 1983. During this period, she reactivated her stage career, with considerably more success than she'd enjoyed in the 1950s. Ross' post-Happy Days TV gigs included a 1986 guest shot as the new bride of Captain Stubing (Gavin MacLeod) on The Love Boat and the brief 1989 series Living Dolls. In 1991, Marion Ross earned an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of archetypal Jewish mother Sophie Berger on the TV "dramedy" Brooklyn Bridge. In the decades to come, Ross would find ongoing success with recurring roles on TV series like The Drew Carey Show and Gilmore Girls, as well as providing voice acting for animated series such as SpongeBob SquarePants and Handy Manny. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi