Happy Days - Just A Piccalo



When comedian and Hollywood star Dudley Moore suggested that Cathy Silvers see his agent, Cathy was selected  to audition for producer/director Garry Marshall, who was in the process of casting for new characters on the popular Happy Days series (following the departure of actor Ron Howard), it set in motion the beginnings of great success and acclaim for Cathy and ultimately the chance to work on a professional level with her father, comedian and actor Phil Silvers.


Cathy was cast in the role of Jenny Piccalo, a fast-talking, street-wise girl and best friend of Joanie Cunningham (played by Erin Moran).  From the outset it was apparent that she had inherited her father's comic genes.


"We were auditioning, and this little girl, who had a marvellous instinct, great timing, and wasn't afraid to be funny, bowled us over!" said Garry Marshall in a 1984 interview. "I thought to myself, 'Where did this young girl learn this?'. Then someone told me she was Phil Silvers' daughter and it all made sense. She learned those rhythms round the house!".


"I know they paid more attention to me when they heard who I was," said Cathy. "But if I couldn't have performed well they wouldn't have given me the job." Jenny Piccalo soon became a firm favourite with the Happy Days fans, as did Cathy with  her fellow cast members, many of who she is still in touch with today.


In 1981 Cathy was finally given the chance to work with her father. The  show's producer, Garry Marshall, had the inspired idea of bringing Jenny Piccalo's father into a storyline and of offering the part to Cathy's real-life father, Phil Silvers.


In an interview given at the time of filming, Phil was asked on what advice he'd given Cathy when she went into showbusiness. "I was never a stage father." said Phil, "But when Cathy asked for advice, I told her, 'Learn your lines and say them real loud!'. I never told her how to tell a joke, but watching her I've said to myself, 'There's my blood'."


"It was hard working with him at first," Cathy admits, "but I got myself together." Said Phil - "I think she was embarrassed at the beginning. But I treated her strictly professionally. What I really wanted to do was kiss and hold her. I had to remind myself that she's a young lady now. I guess there is a time you have to let go."


Cathy very kindly wrote the following about her memories of that particular show:


"When I heard the producers discussing the idea of having my Dad on the show I was nervous. To have a star like my Dad and to work with my Dad just seemed like a wild idea!


As I wrote about my relationship with my father in my book  Happy Days, Healthy Living, I loved him as did the whole world, as the whole world still does, but I did not know what it would be like to work with the greatest comedian of all time, Phil Silvers, my Dad.


I was shaking. I was scared. I knew this meant I would have to work by his side, on the same stage as him. Could I hold my own next to such an immense talent? I was so nervous.


But the people the most nervous to meet and work with Dad were the producers and writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel and Garry Marshall. "A legend is coming to the set!" they said, "A legend! A hall-of-famer from the boards of Broadway, the most brilliant genius of comedic timing ever will be here this week to play Roscoe Piccalo, Jenny Piccalo's Dad! what do we do?"


I could not believe my eyes and ears to see such successful grown men, who were writing for eight years then on  one of the top ten shows on television, Happy Days, be nervous about my dad, but my dad, was Phil Silvers. And so, nerves, were warranted.


The word was out that the part was cast, Daddy had accepted the role and the Monday table read was set. When Daddy arrived, Stage 19 went silent. The stage was packed, every gaffer, grip, stage hand, casting office personel, even the crew from the commissary was sneaking onto the set to see, Phil Silvers.


It was an honor to be there. To be his daughter. It, to this day, remains the most special moment I have had with my Dad when he arrived and the first words he said were, "Isn't my baby a talent? Isn't Jenny Piccolo a chip off the old block? I love my little girl."


Daddy went on to rehearse the scenes with us each day until the shoot on Friday night when we had a live audience. When the red curtain parted for dad, the audience roared! We could hardly shoot the show as the audience went crazy for him and his performance. He delivered each line with such grace and he was of course, hysterical. I am so grateful to Mick for bringing life back to this special episode of Happy Days.


As Cathy mentions, producer Garry Marshall was respectfully in awe of Phil. "I'd seen him in Bilko but I was also lucky enough to see him live on Broadway. He was a genius." said Marshall. 


For writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel it was something neither of them will ever forget. "To write a gag that actually came out of his mouth was an honour. I remember him signing my TV Guide, I was shaking. He was our hero. He walked that tightrope without fear, without a net. Something neither of us will ever forget."


Happy Days - Just A Piccalo was broadcast on US television on November 24, 1981.


And so for Phil, Cathy and all of Phil's family here is a clip from that moment of television history.    

       Phil & Cathy Silvers in Happy Days - Just A Piccalo (1981)