Ross in September 2011
October 25, 1928
Watertown, Carver County
Minnesota, United States
|Alma mater||San Diego State University|
|Spouse(s)||Freeman Meskimen (1951-1969; divorced; 2 children)|
|Partner(s)||Paul Michael (1988-2011; his death)|
Born Marian Ross in Watertown in Carver County in southern Minnesota, the daughter of Ellen (née Hamilton) and Gordon Ross, she lived in Waconia and then moved to Willmar and eventually to Albert Lea, Minnesota. At the age of 13, she changed the spelling of her name from "Marian" to "Marion" because she thought it would look better on a marquee.
After completing her sophomore year in high school, she moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and worked as an au pair while studying drama at the MacPhail Center for the Arts, and attending Southwest High School. A year later, her family moved to San Diego, California. She graduated from Point Loma High School in San Diego.
Ross enrolled in San Diego State University, where she was named the school's most outstanding actress. After graduation in 1950, she performed in summer theater in La Jolla, California. The director was impressed by her talent, and recommended that she try for work in films.
Early film roles
Ross made her 1953 film debut in Forever Female, starring Ginger Rogers and William Holden. She found steady work in film, appearing in The Glenn Miller Story (1954), Sabrina (1954), Lust for Life (1956), Lizzie (1957), Teacher's Pet (1958), Some Came Running (1958), and Operation Petticoat (1959).
Active in television
Her career on television also began in 1953, when she played the Irish maid on the series Life With Father for two years. Her list of credits spans the history of classic television.
In 1954, she appeared as the daughter of Brother John, Ginny Thorpe, in a Lone Ranger episode titled "Texas Draw" (Season 4, episode 9). In 1958, she appeared in the episode "Peace Bond" of NBC/Universal's Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer as Mary Williams. In 1959, she appeared as a starting teacher, Miss McGinnis, in the episode "Flowers for the Teacher" of ABC's The Donna Reed Show. In the story line, Miss McGinnis is unable to relate to her students until housewife Donna Stone (Donna Reed) steps in with advice to help the situation.
Ross also appeared on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, The Millionaire (1956 episode), Steve Canyon, Perry Mason (The Case of the Romantic Rogue), Buckskin, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, Father Knows Best, The Outer Limits, The Brothers Brannagan (two episodes as Diane Warren), The Eleventh Hour, Route 66, Mr. Novak, Hawaii Five-O, The Brady Bunch, The Fugitive, Night Court.
In the 1961-62 season, she played Gertrude Berg's daughter, Susan Green, in CBS' sitcom Mrs. G. Goes to College, and also starred as a mail order bride in the TV series Rawhide episode, "The Incident of the Woman Trap" and "Gold Fever" (1962).
Ross had an uncredited and non-speaking role as one of the hapless passengers on board Trans Global Flight #2 in the 1970 film, Airport. That same year, Marion played a fellow computer scientist opposite Eric Braeden in the sci-fi thriller Colossus: The Forbin Project.
Happy Days success
Ross' best known role is in the sitcom Happy Days, which aired for eleven seasons on ABC, from 1974 to 1984. She portrayed endearing matriarch Marion Cunningham, mother of Richie, Joanie, and (briefly) Chuck. She received two Primetime Emmy Award nominations for her work on the show, in 1979 and 1984.
The show's pilot was an episode of Love, American Style in 1972, where she originated the character. Ross later reprised Marion Cunningham on the spin-off series Joanie Loves Chachi and on Family Guy.
In 1978-86, she appeared as multiple different characters on The Love Boat. However, in the 1986-7 season, Ross became a series regular, playing Emily Haywood who later became Emily Stubing after she married the protagonist Captain Merrill Stubing (Gavin MacLeod).
She later starred in the short-lived, but critically acclaimed drama—infused with a healthy dose of humor— Brooklyn Bridge, which ran on CBS from 1991 to 1993. Despite lasting only two seasons, the series won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for an Emmy Award following its first season. With Ross in the lead role, even though the series was created and executive produced by Gary David Goldberg and was substantially based on his early life, this "drama" won its Golden Globe and received its Emmy nomination in the comedy/musical category.
In 1996, she starred as housekeeper Rosie Dunlop opposite Shirley MacLaine in the Terms of Endearment sequel The Evening Star. The film was poorly received, and Ross was one of the few participants who received praise. Despite panning the film, New York Times critic Janet Maslin enthused that ‘Marion Ross does a warm, sturdy job as the devoted housekeeper who has been kept too long under Aurora's wing.’ She went on to be nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.
Ross had a semi-recurring role in Touched by an Angel as a homeless woman who talked about the JFK conspiracy, and was in the final two episodes that closed out the series. Additionally, Ross played a secretly ill mother Eunice Fadiman in "The Cat", an episode of Early Edition that first aired on April 13, 1997.
She acted on Broadway and on film, but she preferred television. She played recurring roles as Drew Carey's mother on The Drew Carey Show (during one episode of which she was referred to as her Happy Days character Mrs. Cunningham, a deliberate error for a contest the show was running); as evil Bernice Forman on That '70s Show; and as Lorelai "Trix" Gilmore and Marylin on Gilmore Girls. She also frequently appeared on Hollywood Squares.
During the mid-1990s, Marion Ross became active in voice over work. She played Ms. Wakefield on the FOX animated series King of the Hill, Grandma SquarePants on Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants, Crane's mother on Nickelodeon/DreamWorks Animation's Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness and Mrs. Lopart on Handy Manny. She also guest starred on The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries, The Wild Thornberrys, Generator Rex and many more animated series.
In an episode of the ABC drama Brothers & Sisters that aired in January 2007, she guest starred as Ida, the not-so-loving mother of Nora and Saul, making an unwelcome visit to celebrate a milestone in her daughter's life. In April 2010, she returned for a guest appearance in the series' fourth season. In an episode that aired April 10, 2011, on ABC, her character dies of a heart attack. Also in 2007 she played the Grandmother in the film Music Within.
On June 7, 2008, the Albert Lea Civic Theater in Albert Lea, Minnesota changed its name to the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center. Also in 2008, Ross played Aunt Lucille in the film Superhero Movie.
In April 2010, Ross guest starred in Nurse Jackie as a homeless woman with dementia, and on May 13, 2010 she guest starred in Grey's Anatomy as Betty Donahue. Also in 2010 she appeared in the Cartoon Network movie Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster as Mrs. Trowburg, along with former Happy Days/The Love Boat co-star Ted McGinley. She participated in the end of season 4 of The Middle, as deputy principal Dunlap
In January 2014, she made a guest appearance on Two and a Half Men's Season 11, Episode "Baseball. Boobs. Boobs. Baseball."
In September 2015, she began making brief appearances on MeTV to share her memories of her Happy Days co-stars.
Ross lives in Cardiff by the Sea, a neighborhood of the City of Encinitas, California in north San Diego County (Ross attended high school and college in San Diego). She is well known in the community, and in July 2011 was grand marshal of Cardiff Centennial Celebrations. Ross also lived in Los Angeles, California with actor Paul Michael (died July 8, 2011).
Her two adult children also work in entertainment: Son Jim Meskimen's credits include How the Grinch Stole Christmas and appearances on Whose Line Is It Anyway?. Marion and Jim have both acted in The Boondocks and Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness (though not always in the same episodes). Daughter Ellen Plummer was a writer/producer on Friends.
Happy Days lawsuit
On April 19, 2011, Ross and four of her Happy Days co-stars, Erin Moran, Don Most, Anson Williams and the estate of Tom Bosley, who died in 2010, filed a $10 million breach-of-contract lawsuit against CBS, which owns the show, claiming they had not been paid for merchandising revenue owed under their contracts. The cast members claimed they had not received revenue from show-related items, including comic books, T-shirts, scrapbooks, trading cards, games, lunch boxes, dolls, toy cars, magnets, greeting cards and DVDs where their images appear on the box covers. Under their contracts, they were supposed to be paid five percent from the net proceeds of merchandising if their sole images were used, and half that amount if they were in a group. CBS said it owed the actors $8,500 and $9,000 each, most of it from slot machine revenue, but the group said they were owed millions. The lawsuit was initiated after Ross was informed by a friend playing slots at a casino of a "Happy Days" machine on which players win the jackpot when five Marion Rosses are rolled.
In October 2011, a judge rejected the group's fraud claim, which rejects their claim to millions of dollars in potential damages. On June 5, 2012, a judge denied a motion filed by CBS to have the case thrown out, which meant it would go to trial on July 17 if the matter was not settled by then. In July 2012, the actors settled their lawsuit with CBS. Each received a payment of $65,000 and a promise by CBS to continue honoring the terms of their contracts.
- Francisco, Mollee (January 5, 2012). "‘Happy Days’ in Carver County". Chanhassen Villager.
- King, Susan (October 7, 2009). "Marion Ross on 'Happy Days' and today". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-19.
- "Marion Ross - Wilbert Brummett - Cast". Archived from the original on February 11, 2007.
- "About Our School". Point Loma High School.
- "History of SDSU". San Diego State University. Archived from the original on May 4, 2012.
- "The Donna Reed Show: Season 2, Episode 9 - Flowers for the Teacher (19 Nov. 1959)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
- The Evening Star (1996). She's Back, Stll Coping, Still Crying
- Music Within, The Hollywood Reporter, December 2007
- "The name change is official". Albert Lea Tribune. June 9, 2008.
- Marion Ross at Future Movies
- Betty Donahue at the Internet Movie Database
- Zamost, Scott (April 20, 2011). "'Happy Days' actors claim fraud, money owed for merchandising". CNNMoney.
- Gardner, Eriq (June 5, 2012). "'Happy Days' Actors Win Key Ruling in CBS Lawsuit". The Hollywood Reporter.
- Scott, Zamost (June 5, 2012). "'Happy Days' cast members' lawsuit heading for trial". CNN.
- Daley, Sean (August 6, 2012). "Chachi done with broke Joanie". New York Post.
- Zamost, Scott (July 7, 2012). "'Happy Days' actors settle lawsuit with CBS". CNN.