Al Molinaro as police officer Murray Greshler in The Odd Couple in 1974.
|Born||Umberto Francesca Molinaro
June 24, 1919
Kenosha, Wisconsin, U.S.
|Died||October 30, 2015
Glendale, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Complications from gallbladder infection|
|Spouse(s)||Jacquelin Martin (1948–?; divorced)
Betty Farrell (1981–2015; his death)
Albert Francis "Al" Molinaro (born Umberto Francesca Molinaro; June 24, 1919 – October 30, 2015) was an American TV actor. He was known for his television sitcom roles as Al Delvecchio on Happy Days and Murray Greshler on The Odd Couple. He also starred in TV commercials for On-Cor frozen dinners for 16 years.
Molinaro was born and raised in the Kenosha, Wisconsin, neighborhood of Columbus Park, the son of Italian immigrants Raffaele and Teresa Molinaro. His father was a prominent tavern/restaurant/hotel owner, and a leader of the Kenosha Italian community who financially sponsored hundreds of Italians to immigrate to the United States. Molinaro was the second-youngest of ten children. His brother Joseph was Kenosha County's longest-serving district attorney and retired as a municipal judge, and his brother George served 30 years in the Wisconsin State Assembly, including one session as Speaker. At school Al discovered a talent for public speaking, although he struggled at high school, staying on an extra year to graduate. In 1940 he left home, taking a bus to seek fame and fortune as an actor in Los Angeles. In 1948, Molinaro married Jacquelin Martin, with whom he had a son, Michael. The couple divorced.
From real estate to acting career
Molinaro moved to California permanently working in odd jobs on the edge of the television industry, finally saving enough money to start his own collection agency. He eventually sold his business and became interested in southern California real estate speculation. His investments paid off when one of his properties was purchased by a conglomerate which used the land to build one of the largest retail shopping malls which provided an income to launch a career in acting. As a result, Molinaro was already financially independent when he decided to pursue his longtime dream of being an actor.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Molinaro studied acting and was offered guest roles and bit parts on TV sitcoms, including Bewitched, Get Smart, Green Acres, and That Girl. He took an improvisation class, in which Penny Marshall was one of the other students. In 1970, Marshall introduced him to her brother, producer Garry Marshall, who offered Molinaro the role of police officer Murray Greshler on the TV sitcom The Odd Couple, which starred Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, based on Neil Simon's play; during which time he lived in a hotel in Midtown New York City. “The first time I went to New York City", said his son Michael, "it was because he had moved there to do a number of commercials. He did not merely play a cop walking the beat on ‘The Odd Couple.’ He used to walk the streets of New York City and loved it.” The show aired for five years until 1975, by which time audiences had grown use to the large man with a weathered-looking face.
In 1976, Molinaro was hired by Garry Marshall to replace Pat Morita on another sitcom he produced, Happy Days. Molinaro's character was the owner of Arnold's malt shop, Al Delvecchio, who was known for the sighing catchphrase "Yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah...". Happy Days was set in Milwaukee, in Al's home state of Wisconsin. It ran for eleven seasons from 1974 to 1984.
In 1981 Molinaro remarried, to Betty Farrell. He left Happy Days in 1982, when tapped by Garry Marshall to play the Al Delvecchio role on the short-lived Happy Days spin-off Joanie Loves Chachi, starring Scott Baio and Erin Moran, in which they (as the title characters) carried on their funny love affair).
It has been credited to Molinaro's influential suggestion that when an actor failed to turn up to play an alien in an episode of Happy Days in 1978, he suggested a young actor named Robin Williams.
In 1987, Molinaro and fellow Happy Days cast member Anson Williams opened a chain of diners called Big Al's. The business went defunct. He revealed in 1990 that he declined acting roles in movies offered to him by Garry Marshall. Molinaro said at the time,
"I can’t work in movies with Garry because I’m so square that I won’t be in a movie that has four-letter words in it. . . . That puts me pretty much totally out of films these days. . . . You get to a point where you don’t want to do just anything for the career. You gotta live with yourself".
Starting in 1990, Molinaro played grandfather Joe Alberghetti on the CBS sitcom The Family Man, which was canceled after one season. The show was produced by Miller-Boyett Productions, which also produced Happy Days.
Molinaro was proud of his role on Happy Days and defended its anachronistic look as authentic and a genuine show that did not sentimentalize the past. Its success was down to syndication of the series into a franchise that was marketed around the world in many countries. Molinaro was a frequent guest on the Don and Mike Show, a nationally syndicated radio show that aired from 1985 to 2008.
Molinaro reprised his role as Al Delvecchio from Happy Days in Weezer's 1994 music video of the song "Buddy Holly", which was set in Arnold's diner. He introduced the band by saying, "OK kids, Arnold’s is proud to present Kenosha, Wisconsin’s own Weezer!" His somewhat laid-back laconic sideways glance at the humour lead him to remark,
In the industry, they used to consider us like a bubble-gum show. But I think they overlooked one thing. To the public in America Happy Days was an important show, and I think it still is.
He retired from acting in television and films in the early 1990s, but continued to appear in TV commercials until the early 2000s. He appeared in 42 commercials for On-Cor frozen foods between 1987 and 2003. He also starred in television advertisements for Cortaid hydrocortisone cream and Mr. Big paper products. In reflecting on his acting career in 2004, Molinaro said, "I spent 20 years here before I got anything going...You’ve just got to be lucky and in the right place at the right time". The same year, Molinaro announced plans to write a book about his childhood in Kenosha and his acting experiences.
Molinaro died in a Glendale, California, hospital on October 30, 2015, at the age of 96. He is survived by his wife Betty and son Michael, who said his father's death was the result of complications from an infected gallbladder. Molinaro had three grandchildren.
|1976||Freaky Friday||Drapery Man|
|1969||Get Smart||Agent 44||"Ironhand"
& "Ice Station Siegfried"
|1970–1975||The Odd Couple||Officer Murray Greshler||73 episodes|
|1976–1982||Happy Days||Al Delvecchio||146 episodes|
|1979, 1982||Fantasy Island||Lou Fielding
& Max Grant
& "Dancing Lady/The Final Round"
|1982–1983||Joanie Loves Chachi||Al Delvecchio||17 episodes|
|1982||The Ugily Family||Sal Ugily||A 30-minute failed TV pilot|
|1985||Punky Brewster||Imprisoned Santa Claus||"Christmas Shoplifting"|
|1990–1991||The Family Man||Joe Alberghetti||22 episodes|
|1992||Step By Step||Joe Passarelli||"The Boss"|
- Bernstein, Adam (October 30, 2015). "Al Molinaro, character actor on ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Odd Couple,’ dies at 96". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 30, 2015.
- Fox, Margalit (October 30, 2015). "Al Molinaro, Diner Owner on ‘Happy Days,’ Dies at 96". The New York Times. Retrieved October 30, 2015.
- Potente, Joe (October 30, 2015). "Al Molinaro, actor from Kenosha, dead at 96". Kenosha News. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
- 'American legislative leaders in the Midwest, 1911-1994,' Nancy Weatherly Sharp and James Roger Sharp, Greenwood Publishing Group: 1997, Biographical Sketch of George Molinaro, pg. 178
- 'Legislative leader Molinaro dies,' Wisconsin State Journal, October 1, 1978, section 3, pg. 7
- Information provided by Michael Molinaro (son) to Margalit Fox of New York Times, on 30 Oct 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/31/arts/television/al-molinaro-diner-owner-on-happy-days-dies-at-96.html?_r=0
- Brant, Marley (October 1, 2006). Happier Days: Paramount Television's Classic Sitcoms, 1974-1984. Random House Digital, Inc. pp. 43–. ISBN 9780823089338. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
- The Daily Telegraph, Monday 2 November 2015, Obituary [paper only], p.29
- "A Cast Replays Its Happy Days". People Magazine. September 3, 1992. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
- Elber, Lynn (October 31, 2015). "Al Molinaro, drive-in owner in "Happy Days," dies at 96". Idaho State Journal. Associated Press. Retrieved October 31, 2015.
- The Daily Telegraph, Monday 2 November 2015, Obituary [paper only], p.29
- The Daily Telegraph, Monday, 2 November 2015, Obituary [paper only], p.29
- Sherlock, Barbara (April 10, 2003). "Frozen-food wizard developed On-Cor line". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 31, 2015.