Sunday, September 13, 2015


Welcome back to another installment of Kip Pullman's American Graffiti Blog.  This post pays homage to drive-in diner, Arnolds that was seen each week on TV's Happy Days.  There is a cross-pollination between the 1973 film, American Graffiti and the TV show, which first aired in January 1974. One of the similarities is  between Mels Drive-in  featured in Graffiti and and the outdoor set of Arnold's diner in Happy Days. This post is a tribute to the drive-up restaurant that looked so real on TV that we wanted to hang out there with the Happy Days gang.

 The association between American Graffiti and the TV series Happy Days is remarkable and the two are definitely linked in some way but not necessary the way most fans think they are. Even though Happy Days starred Ron Howard and premiered in early 1974, which suggests it was inspired by the success of American Graffiti, it actually pre-dates the film, and was as an unsold TV pilot in 1971. ABC aired it in February 1972 as part of the weekly anthology series Love, American Style.


After American Graffiti‘s success, and with the popularity of the Broadway 1950’s style stage hit, Grease, ABC regained interest in the Happy Days pilot and authorized a series.  The show, created by Gary Marshall, presented a romanticized vision of life in 1950s and early 1960s America. The earlier episodes revolved around Richie (Ron Howard) and his friends, Potsie Weber (Anson Williams), Ralph Malph (Donny Most) and local dropout Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler) who hung out at Arnold's. The drive-in was the favorite after-school hangout for Richie, his pals and other Jefferson High School students.

There was no direct spin-off between Happy Days and American Graffiti, but ABC clearly wanted to remind people of the movie. “Rock Around the Clock,” which opened American Graffiti, was also Happy Days‘ theme song for its first two seasons, and even used the same neon style font in its credits. In addition, Arnold's drive-in resembles Mels drive-in featured in Graffiti, as both were the hub of the gang's activities and the place where the kids in both the film and TV show converged.
Where do you hang a tray on a motorcycle?
Arthur's from the pilot episode / 1001 S. Victory Blvd, Burbank 
Before we go any further, here's a little factoid for ya:  In the premier episode of Happy Days the drive-in where the kids hang out was named Arthur's not Arnold's.  The reason for the name change is unclear but Arthur's certainly looked a little more elaborate than Arnold's.
Some of the shots were set up purposely to showcase Arthur's Restaurant sign
Flashing neon and selected lighting gave Arthur's a carnival-like look similar to what Visual-Consultant, Haskel Wexler achieved with the look of Mels in American Graffiti.
Potsie searches the busy drive-in for Ritchie

There were three known owners of Arnolds throughout the 10 years that the show aired. Matsuo Takahashi “Arnold” (Pat Morita) was the crazy, irritable owner of the diner for the show’s third season who also managed the restaurant and flipped burgers for the local teenagers. Arnold later sold the restaurant to a good-natured, easy-going Italian-American named Al Delvecchio (Al Molinaro) who retained the name of the restaurant.  Later in the series, "The Fonz" became Al's business partner at Arnold's Restaurant. 

The 1956 Presidential elections come to Arnold's
"I like IKE & my bike likes IKE!"
 Although Happy Days was filmed in Los Angeles, CA it took place somewhere in Milwaukee and fans have always argued over which drive-in Arnold's was modeled after.  According to Tom Miller, one of the show's Executive producers and co-creators who graduated from Nicolete High School in Glendale, WI., Arnold’s was based on the old Milky-Way, at 5373 N. Port Washington Road, which closed in November 1977.  As of this date (9/14/2015) the location is now a Kopps Frozen Custard. In 1977 Miller reflected on the roots of Arnold's: 
“Let’s face it,” he told the old Milwaukee Journal, “Arnold’s is really a compilation of everybody’s recollections of the drive-in of the ’50s. It’s just that the Milky-Way was closest to me when I grew up on Bay Ridge” Ave. in Whitefish Bay.
Outdoor menu board
Ritchie meets Fonzie's cousin, Spike (Danny Butch)
The outdoor scenes were incredible and really gave the show an authentic feel of ‘50s teenage life. One can see various teens parked and eating in their cars or two lovers making out in the background. A typical scene might include Ralph driving into the parking lot in his hot yellow 1929 Ford Roadster Pickup or Fonzie lying across his motorcycle as a young woman files his nails. Carhops were seen interacting with the patrons, and many teenagers passing by as rock and roll blared from the diners’ outdoor speakers. 
Car Hop, Wendy (Misty Rowe) is anxious to serve the boys

Seasons 1 and 2 were filmed with one camera and a laugh track. This probably made filming outdoors in the parking lot of Arnold's pretty simple. We know the drive-in’s exterior was a dressed area constructed on the Paramount Studios back lot supposedly near Stage 19 where the rest of the show's indoor sets were located. However, astute fans had probably noticed the surrounding exterior backgrounds of Arnold’s were not consistent from week to week. 

Sometimes to the immediate right of the restaurant there was a large brick wall. On the other side there appeared to be a tall apartment building(s) mixed in with really tall homes that had Spanish style roofing. Other times there is no wall but a tall grayish stucco building with a sign that reads "All American Frozen Foods." There is also a large neon EAT sign to the right of the interior entrance of Arnold's whose position changes height and locations throughout various episodes and bushes below the sign that disappear and re-appear. 

So what’s with all the changing scenery? Perhaps the Arnold's set was torn down when they weren’t using it. Then when a particular episode called for an outdoor scene at Arnold’s the set was re-constructed on a random part of the Paramount back lot that wasn’t being used at the time. Hey, as my friend Jeff says, Rumors have to start somewhere.  

Carhop, Marsha (Beatrice Colen) reports a crime
The sign to the right of Arnold's reads,  All AMERICAN-CHINESE FROZEN FOOD

Joanie (Erin Moran) poses with the boys. Notice the Bicycle shop in the background
Bicycle shop  (Click on the pics to enlarge)
The exterior surroundings to the left of Arnold's restaurant were rarely seen but in a few early episodes they are visible.  For example, at the beginning of a second season episode we see Ritchie, Potsie and Ralph cruising in his 1929 yellow Ford truck before they pull into Arnold’s parking lot.  First they pass a white bicycle shop (see above picture). This must be where patrons at Arnold's buy their bikes because there's plenty of 2-wheelers in Arnold's parking lot too.

 It was easier for many of the the cast to use bicycles to get around the Paramount back lot.  This may explain the seeming surplus of bikes at Arnold's.  They were transportation and unlike golf-carts they didn't have to be hid from the camera.
Hanging a left to enter the restaurant's parking lot. door to the bicycle shop, directly across the street of Arnold's parking lot entrance is a gas station. This extra attention to dressing up some of the surrounding buildings really helps create an interesting and realistic outdoor ambience. 

Notice the odd looking buildings or homes on the other side of the wall.

In another episode we see the surroundings to the left of the restaurant. Here's a shot of the gas pump from the filling station in the background as Fonzie enters the drive-in parking lot.

Now we can see the white bicycle shop in the background and again lots of bikes at Arnold's too. 

As Fonzie makes his way further along we can see more of the bicycle shop.  There's also a large Taggart's construction sign to the right of the shop. 

 Fonzie (Henry Winkler) appears triumphant having made it through the parking lot without spilling. Apparently, Winkler had difficulty driving a motorcycle and had crashed on several occasions.
Aaaaay, Kip's American Graffiti Blog is cool!
An atmosphere of fun and action was conveyed in the exterior settings at Arnold’s.  Unfortunately, by the third season the producers made the choice to shoot the TV sitcom indoors with 3 cameras, in front of a live studio audience so filming outdoors no longer became practical. Once Happy Days moved to an all-indoor set the TV show lost something important... a little magic that the series would never regain.

The later seasons shamelessly recycled a few seconds of stock footage from the first two seasons (such as the above picture and the one below) for establishing shots of Arnold's in each episode. 

Arnold's Drive-up restaurant looking abandon before it was finally torn down.

~ ENDE ~

Saturday, September 5, 2015


'55 movie clone car owned by Jeff Zastrow

I was going through my cell phone and realized I had a few more pictures I'd taken from Nostalgia Days in Novato, CA. that I didn't share on my last post.  (Click here to go to previous post).  So, I thought I'd share 'em with my readers, (that'd be you).

True to the original coupe there are slicks on the back and a missing rear window to accommodate sound & film crew

Bitchin' 40th anniversary film car built by David Acheson and now owned by Jeff Zastrow

Notice all the autographs from various American Graffiti related stars and personnel on the interior of the coupe.

Incidentally, anyone who has an American Graffiti related event and would like to have the two most popular cars from the film on display: 1.) Falfa's '55 black Chevy and 2.) Milner's '32 yellow Ford coupe the owner of these movie tribute vehicles, Jeff Zastrow just might be available to hook you up.   Jeff has been known to display his sweet rides in the past for a minimal fee.  Sometimes as little as the cost of expenses for travel and lodging.  That's it!  "It's not about the money,"Jeff said, "It's all about the excitement on people's faces when they see these cars." These are real racers. They weren't built just to look pretty.  Imagine having these two cars at the next grand opening of a new The Original Mels, or special event at a car show, or the next showing of American Graffiti at the theater of your nostalgic event. Okay, you get the picture.
Jeff can be reached at or call him on his cell phone (916) 719-7135

'58 Impala owned by Ken Crawford.  The open trunk is filled with a case of Old Harper and Coke.

"Shit, Holstein!"  1961 Ford police car

Bitchin' Camero

Gnarly little surf machine
Heading home from Novato towards San Francisco on the Golden Gate Bridge

~ FINI ~