Happy Days Are Here Again : Marion Ross Finds Life After Mrs. C on 'Brooklyn Bridge'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Paramount Studio in Hollywood has played paramount importance in the life and career of Marion Ross.

She was under contract to Paramount as an ingenue in the 1950s and appeared in such studio films as "Forever Female," "Sabrina," "The Proud and the Profane" and "Teacher's Pet." Ross returned to the lot in the 1970s to play Richie Cunningham's all-American mom, Mrs. C, on ABC's "Happy Days" for 11 seasons.

Now the third time at the studio has quite literally been a charm for Ross, 63. The actress has received some of the best reviews of her career as the fiercely determined and proud Polish-Jewish matriarch Sophie Berger on the CBS series "Brooklyn Bridge."

"I am the senior here (at Paramount) now," Ross said during a lunch break in her trailer. "I am so at home, so comfortable here. Maybe there is meaning in my life."

As one would expect, Ross is proud of "Brooklyn Bridge," a critical hit based on creator Gary David Goldberg's childhood in Brooklyn during the 1950s. Ross' Sophie is based on Goldberg's own grandmother, who is still alive.

"(Sophie) is so flawed," Ross said. "She is so sure of herself. She is right and she is fierce. I love her so. She makes me laugh. I read the script and I just die (laughing), and the director says, 'Don't be funny, just be real.' "

Ross said the show's directors have given her much guidance on how to play Sophie. I say to director Sam (Weisman), 'We are creating this woman. You are the brains and I am the heart.' Whatever he asks for I can do it ...

"We will do retake after retake after retake. Everything is not good enough. They'll say, 'That's great, let's make it greater.' "

Though Ross herself is not Jewish and didn't have "grandmas around" while growing up in Minnesota, she understands Sophie perfectly. "That body language and the clothes that I wear, that is just out of my past."

Ross went through a long auditioning process to get the role of Sophie. "I would have never thought of myself for the part," she said. "They liked me right away and hired a coach for my accent. Then they tested me. I have about 20 people now who say I was their idea."

Even with two Emmy nominations under her belt as Mrs. C and stage appearances ranging from "Arsenic and Old Lace" to "Long Day's Journey Into Night," Ross only finally came into her own as Sophie Berger.

"I would love to have this blow my whole career wide open so I can do movies," she said. "Everybody I worked with from Ron (Howard) to Garry Marshall on 'Happy Days,' the whole crowd is making all of these movies now. I want to do those movies, too."

Because "Happy Days" is alive and well in syndication, Ross is constantly recognized as Mrs. Cunningham while "Brooklyn Bridge" has less recognition. The show is trying to reach new viewers in its new Wednesday night time slot.

"I was in the shopping mall a couple of days ago and they said 'Mrs. C, Mrs. C, what have you been doing lately?' I said, 'Get out of here. Listen to me now, are you watching "Brooklyn Bridge"?' Some are and others hadn't heard of it. So the job of getting the word out to the public is enormous. But they will find us."

"Brooklyn Bridge" airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBS.

Repeats of "Happy Days" air Sundays at 6:30 a.m., Mondays-Fridays at 2 p.m. and Saturdays at 9 a.m. on TBS and Saturdays at 10 a.m. on KTLA.

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