Happy Days' Lynda Goodfriend said playing the perfect girlfriend of America's sweetheart wasn't easy
Fans had to like Lori Beth, because "Richie wouldn’t go with a girl who wasn't a nice person."
When Richie Cunningham crashes his new motorcycle while riding with his steady girlfriend Lori Beth on the back, she ends up injured, wailing for help, and he ends up in a hospital bed, sunk in a coma.
I think we can all agree this was not a very happy day in the history of Happy Days when "Richie Almost Dies" in the 1978 episode. At one point, Fonzie becomes so distraught, he starts sobbing as he prays for Richie's recovery, telling the Big Guy, "I can fix a lot of things, but, um..… this one is all Yours."
This was serious, and fans watching were just as concerned.
For Lynda Goodfriend, the actor who played Richie's girlfriend Lori Beth, episodes like this one proved to the whole cast how much audiences truly loved Ron Howard, a child star they had watched grow up.
Goodfriend told The Daily Herald in 1979 that due to Howard's massive audience appeal as Richie Cunningham, she had to completely reimagine the way she approached playing his girlfriend.
"It's hard being the girlfriend of America's sweetheart," Goodfriend admitted. "You have to be a good person. You have a fight with him, and you can't be mean. Yet, you still have conflict."
This put Goodfriend in an awkward position, where she needed audiences to approve of her as Richie's girl, but she also needed to sometimes disagree with her main squeeze, without everyone always siding with Richie.
She found a creative way to convince everybody watching that she wasn't the bad guy in every fight.
"Richie wouldn't go with a girl who wasn't a nice person," Goodfriend said. "So I change the idea from being angry to being confused."
Her plan worked, of course, and audiences grew to love Lori Beth as Richie's one and only.
When Goodfriend first got cast as Lori Beth, it was because Howard was campaigning for Richie to finally have a steady girlfriend. He felt it was important that Richie had someone else to relate to, other than Fonzie, Potsie and Ralph. Or, you know, his parents.
"There's more freedom of concept, more story possibilities with a girlfriend," Goodfriend said.
In 1978, there was no expectation on-air yet that Richie and Lori Beth would eventually wed, but Goodfriend hinted that year that chatter about wedding bells might be ringing behind the scenes.
"There's talk about us getting married," Goodfriend said. Then she joked, "We could have a kid and name him Opie."
Goodfriend said growing up, she loved watching Howard play Opie on The Andy Griffith Show, but that she didn't have a crush on him or anything. Their chemistry came later.
"Have you ever thought you'd be kissing Opie?" she joked.
She ended up getting the part of Lori Beth after meeting Garry Marshall randomly in New York. That night, she only caught his first name and didn't realize what a big deal he was in TV. So, when she moved out to California, she called him up, but she didn't expect to walk into any plum roles.
"I worked as a waitress until 3 in the morning for about six months," Goodfriend told The Tampa Bay Times in 1979. "And then I got my first job, which fortunately was Happy Days, which was a hit."
Acting with Howard, Goodfriend said, was a dream. "He was wonderful," she said.
Joining the show gave her a chance to be part of something special, and she said after the show ended, she was offered plenty of similar roles to Lori Beth, but nothing that reached into hearts the way Happy Days did.
"Happy Days is a story about love — of your family, of your friends — and the importance of goodness, values," Goodfriend said. "There's a very fine line between being corny and sincere, and Happy Days stays on the sincere side."
Offscreen, Goodfriend was down-to-earth in many ways and adventurous in others, appreciating being in nature, more than being a celebrity on a hit show.
One of her favorite things to do when not filming was mountain climbing, and she said, dangling from a cliff about 19,000 feet in the air, she didn't have to worry about the pressures of being the perfect girlfriend to America's sweetheart.
"The guide says, 'You hang on or you die,'" Goodfriend explained. "That's pretty basic. And you realize the world is big. The world does not know Happy Days. The world does not know television."