13 Out-of-This World Facts About Mork & Mindy
Mork & Mindy only lasted four seasons, but from language (shazbot!) to fashion (those rainbow suspenders), the series certainly left its mark on pop culture—including introducing the world to a comedian named Robin Williams. Had the Orkan alien delivered a report on his own show to Orson, here are 13 things he would have shared.
1. THE SHOW WAS INSPIRED BY AN EPISODE OF THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.
You’ve probably heard that Mork & Mindy was a spinoff of an alien character on Happy Days, and that’s true. But the Happy Days character was inspired by an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show called “It May Look Like a Walnut,” which featured an alien played by Danny Thomas. When Dick Van Dyke director Jerry Paris was later hired to direct some Happy Days episodes, producer Garry Marshall mentioned that his Star Wars-obsessed young son wanted to see a spaceman on TV. Paris remembered the success of "Walnut," and Mork's extraterrestrial encounter with the Cunningham clan was created. The episode “My Favorite Orkan” was such a hit that it received its own spinoff: Mork & Mindy.
2. DOM DELUISE WAS ONE OF THE ORIGINAL MORKS.
It's hard to imagine anyone other than Robin Williams playing Mork, but before he made the part his, Dom DeLuise and Roger Rees had both signed on for the Happy Days guest spot. They both backed out of the deal for various reasons, and casting directors were left with a very specific role to fill.
3. WILLIAMS WAS "THE ONLY ALIEN TO AUDITION."
Robin Williams was brought in to audition because the casting agent, one of Marshall's sisters, had noticed him in an acting class another sister, Penny, was taking. Garry Marshall chose Robin Williams because “he was the only alien to audition.” When he was asked to take a seat at the audition, Williams sat in the chair upside down. "It was immediately obvious that he was exactly right for the role: anarchic and a little bit crazy, you could easily believe he was actually an alien," Marshall said.
4. PAM DAWBER DIDN'T REALIZE SHE HAD BEEN CAST.
Pam Dawber had a development deal with ABC where they paid to keep her under contract until they found a project for her or the contract expired. She filmed one pilot called Sister Terri that flopped: "I played a nun who used to be a gang leader but she found God, so she's there to fix up the neighborhood," Dawber explained. It didn't sell, but scenes she filmed for it were later spliced with scenes of Robin Williams from his appearance on Happy Days. The cobbled-together example did the trick, and Mork & Mindy was sold without so much as a pilot. Dawber found out about it when her agent discovered a write-up of the show in Variety. "I hadn't auditioned, I hadn't met, and I knew nothing," Dawber said. "I remember going, 'And who in the hell is Robin Williams?'"
5. BOULDER WAS CHOSEN ON A WHIM.
Much like the rest of the "pilot," the show's location wasn't thought out very well. Garry Marshall had a niece attending school in Boulder, and it was the first place that came to mind when they were writing up a description of the show's plot.
6. CONTRARY TO REPORTS, WILLIAMS DIDN’T AD LIB THE ENTIRE ROLE.
During the height of the show’s popularity, there were rumors and even articles that said the role of Mork was largely unscripted—that the writers would just leave massive blank spots in the scripts that said “Robin does his thing.” As you might imagine, the show's writers didn't take too kindly to that. “We’re up until four in the morning writing Robin’s ad libs,” writer David Misch used to respond.
7. CENSORS WERE OFTEN A PROBLEM.
By today's standards, Mork & Mindy is a pretty wholesome show. In one episode, a character played by Morgan Fairchild tells Mork that she's pregnant. Nothing wrong with that, right? Wrong. Censors wouldn't allow the word "pregnant." The line had to be changed to, "Mork, I'm having a baby." Misch believed the distinction was an important one to the network: "My interpretation of that is: Being pregnant means you’ve had sex, but having a baby is adorable."
8. MORK AND MINDY'S HOUSE IS STILL A POPULAR BOULDER LANDMARK.
Mork and Mindy’s residence was a real house in Boulder, Colorado—in fact, it’s still there, and it’s still a popular tourist destination. After Williams’s death in 2014, fans flocked to the private residence and left memorials on the fence.
9. YOU MAY KNOW THE VOICE OF "ORSON" FROM OTHER PROJECTS.
Mork checked in with his boss, Orson, at the end of every show. Though Orson sounded like a pretty stern fellow, you probably know the voice of actor Ralph James due to some friendlier voiceover work: He was Mr. Turtle in the classic Tootsie Roll Pops commercial.
10. ROBIN WILLIAMS LEARNED ABOUT THE SHOW'S CANCELATION VIA VARIETY.
Much like Pam Dawber found out she was hired, Robin Williams found out they were fired via the media. "I found out the show was canceled by reading it in Variety," he said.
11. THE PITCH FOR SEASON FIVE WAS A LITTLE BIZARRE.
Season four ended with Mork and Mindy stranded in prehistoric times, thanks to a pair of magic, time-traveling shoes. Season five would have added an educational aspect to the show, with the duo using the shoes to meet historical figures such as Ben Franklin and Abe Lincoln. It wasn’t picked up.
12. IT WAS VERY BRIEFLY SPUN OFF INTO A CARTOON.
Though season five didn't materialize, Mork & Mindy did carry on—in animated form. Along with a trio of other sitcom favorites, Mork and Mindy were the stars of an hour-long cartoon on ABC called Mork & Mindy/Laverne & Shirley/Fonz Hour that ran only one season, from 1982 to 1983.
13. WILLIAMS AND DAWBER REUNITED IN 2014 FOR THE CRAZY ONES.
Fans who waited decades to see Mork and Mindy together again were rewarded for their patience in 2014, when Dawber made a guest appearance on Williams's new sitcom, The Crazy Ones. Playing his love interest for an episode was like slipping into "an old shoe," she said. "Fits somewhat more loosely," Williams added.