Today, we look at how Chuck Cunningham went from going missing to being written out of existence on Happy Days.
In Abandoned an’ Forsaked, we examine stories and ideas that were not only abandoned, but also had the stories/plots specifically “overturned” by a later writer (as if they were a legal precedent) with a retcon (retcon stands for “retroactive continuity,” but we’re specifically talking about retcons that contradict earlier stories).
His death naturally has people talking about the unusual nature of his character, where he was a recurring character on the series in the first two seasons as Richie Cunningham’s big brother who played college basketball (Randolph Roberts took over from O’Herlihy when the original actor left the show after the first season. O’Herlihy later noted, “I pulled out, I didn’t want to do it. They had me in college, I was going to growl and bounce a basketball once every two weeks for probably three or four years. And at 20, that’s not the gig you want. But it was my big break; it allowed me to establish myself in the city as a kid who warmed up quickly”).
Chuck, of course, became useless when Fonzie took over the “older brother” role for Richie on the show, and so he was written out of the series.
However, written out of a series doesn’t mean retconned out necessarily. In the old days, TV shows VERY rarely addressed characters after they were written out, presumably worrying that it would remind viewers that they are no longer there in case the viewers miss them? I really have no specific idea why it was such a taboo back in the day, but it was the standard way of doing things. So Chuck being off at college or getting a job and just not coming home when we see him would not be completely unbelievable.
That changed, though, in the finale of the series, when Joanie marries Chachi, and Howard Cunningham gives a speech where he states that “both of our children ae now married” (emphasis added)…
So Chuck was no longer part of the series in any way. Some folks have come up with some dark theories like Chuck died offscreen or, even darker, that Chuck came out as gay and was disowned by the Cunninghams (Mr. C would never do that. It’s an absurd notion. Mrs. C…maybe), but come on, clearly, they just decided that enough time had passed that they were just going to retcon Chuck out of existence.
RIP, Gavan O’Herlihy.
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