Long before she became an iconic TV mom, Marion Ross — a.k.a. Mrs. Cunningham from “Happy Days” — dreamed of becoming an actress.
“The desire was enormous that I had. I was about 13,” Ross said, “and by the time I was 22 I was under contract to Paramount. Now I realize how amazing that was.” After moving to Southern California from Minnesota, Ross found steady work on stage, TV and in such films as “Sabrina,” “The Glenn Miller Story,” “Teacher's Pet” and “Operation Petticoat.”
But it was her warm performance as Ron Howard's mom on “Happy Days,” the classic sitcom that aired from 1974 to 1984, that defined much of her career. In fact, long after the show ended, Ross was in demand to play mothers and grandmothers — not all of them as sweet as Mrs. C.
“On 'That '70s Show.' I was really a dreadful mom,” she said. Her favorite fictional mom role was that of the outspoken matriarch of a Jewish family in the 1991-93 CBS dramedy, “Brooklyn Bridge.”
And she’s known to a different generation as SpongeBob SquarePants' grandmother. “I will meet a little kid who is like 11. I say, 'Do you know that I am SpongeBob SquarePants' grandma?’ They will turn around shaking all over and show me their SpongeBob underwear. Isn't that something?”
As for her mothering abilities, Ross — who divorced in 1969 and has lived with actor Paul Michael for two decades — said proudly: “I did a great job.” Her son is actor Jim Meskimen and her daughter is Ellen Plummer, a former writer-producer of “Friends” who wrote for CBS' “The New Adventures of Old Christine.”