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Tom Bosley, left, and Michael Learned, second from right, with the rest of the cast in 'On Golden Pond,' which ends its tour in Huntsville this weekend.
Courtesy photo by Rob Levine
Tom Bosley, left, and Michael Learned, second from right, with the rest of the cast in “On Golden Pond,” which ends its tour in Huntsville this weekend.

A 'Golden Pond' of memories for longtime father figure

By Patrice Stewart · 340-2446

A famous dad who is older and wiser now will be on stage in Huntsville this weekend.

Tom Bosley, known for his role in television's long-running "Happy Days," says he portrays a different kind of dad as Norman Thayer in the touring Broadway production of "On Golden Pond."

The show will open Friday night at the Von Braun Center with Michael Learned, known for her role as the mom on television's "The Waltons," playing Norman's wife, Ethel.

In a telephone interview, Bosley said this role is a lot different from his 11-year portrayal of pleasant, humorous television dad Howard Cunningham (1974-84).

However, he thinks that "Mr. C., when he got as old as Norman, might be a bit cantankerous and concerned about what is in his future and might want to mollify some relationships."

"On Golden Pond" follows the Thayers as they spend their 42nd summer at their lakeside cottage in Maine. Thayer, a retired professor who is feeling his years, is reunited with their adult daughter and rejuvenated by the 14-year-old boy she drops off for the summer as she heads to Europe to marry the boy's father.

"My wife says I'm perfect for this part," said Bosley, who has seven grandchildren, including two in the young teen stage.

He has plenty of background as a dad and granddad, both in real life and in other roles such as the television sitcom "Wait Till Your Father Gets Home." He logged a lot of TV hours with Ron Howard, Henry Winkler and other young actors in the "Happy Days" era, and on Broadway he originated the role of Belle's father, Maurice, in the Disney musical "Beauty and the Beast."

Asked about his favorite role, he cited the "Father Dowling Mysteries," a television series.

"Even though I lean more to the theater, because that's where I started out and I think that's where I will end up, 'Father Dowling' was the first show in which I was given the opportunity to be the leader, and I had a lot of input," Bosley said. "And we had a wonderful response from the church in regard to portraying priests and nuns as real human beings."

Bosley, who is 79 and lives in Los Angeles, said he has no plans for permanent retirement.

"This Huntsville show will be the end of this tour, after seven months on and off the road, and then I'll be retired until I get my next job," he said.

"When you start out as an actor, you usually play old men, and then you reach a time in the middle of life when you have to play yourself. Then later you play old men again," Bosley said. "It's a strange oxymoron most actors go through.

"I'm at the age now where we don't get the offers we used to, and Hollywood is run by younger people."

The patriarch and matriarch of top TV families make a good pairing for Broadway Theatre League's five performances of this Jeffrey Finn touring production.

"On Golden Pond" premiered in New York in 1978. Its playwright, Ernest Thompson, adapted it for the 1981 film version starring Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, Jane Fonda and Dabney Coleman; it won three Academy Awards.

If you go

What: "On Golden Pond" touring play sponsored by Broadway Theater League

Where: Von Braun Center Concert Hall, Huntsville

When: Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m.

Tickets: $31 to $51; call Broadway Theatre League, 518-6155, or Ticketmaster, (800) 277-1700 or

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