Born: June 24, 1919
Died: October 30, 2015 (at age 96)
Birthplace: Kenosha, Wisconsin, U.S.
Albert Francis "Al" Molinaro (born Umberto Francesco Molinaro; June 24, 1919 - October 30, 2015) was an American actor. He was known for his television sitcom roles as Al Delvecchio on Happy Days and Murray Greshler on The Odd Couple. He also appeared in many television commercials, including On-Cor frozen dinners.
Molinaro was born and raised in the Columbus Park neighborhood of Kenosha, Wisconsin, the second-youngest of ten children of Italian immigrants, Raffaele and Teresa Molinaro, from Calabria.
Molinaro's 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's 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.
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.
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 1974-84.
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.
Molinaro starred in a failed TV pilot called The Ugily Family (1982) as the patriarch of an unattractive clan who is constantly correcting mispronunciations of his surname as "ugly”.
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 led 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.
In 1992, he appeared in the Happy Days Reunion Special on ABC. He did not participate in Happy Days: 30th Anniversary Reunion, which the network aired in 2005.
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 was 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|
|1971-1972||Bewitched Season 8 Episode 5||Tour Guide|
|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"|