Anson Williams is in Delaware doing something he hasn’t done in decades: Acting.
Williams, who played Potsie on the classic TV series “Happy Days,” is pinch-hitting for friend and fellow “Happy Days” alum Don Most (Ralph Malph) at the Delaware Theatre Company in a production of the Dan Clancy play “Middletown.”
“It’s scary,” said Williams who’s been working behind the camera for more than thirty years. “You’re out there challenging yourself plus Don is so brilliant—thanks, Don—but it’s scary in a good way.”
“Middletown,” which received its world premiere at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas earlier this year, is a bittersweet chronicle of two couples’ journey through life and how they cope with everything it throws at them. It is a story of enduring friendship and love thirty-three years in the making.
That message of friendship is one that resonates with Williams. He and his fellow castmates from “Happy Days” have been in constant contact since the show went off the air in 1984.
“It’s really unusual,” he said. “We’ve been through marriages, divorces, deaths, hard times, good times. It’s like we’re families that stay together through thick and thin for four decades. We’re all just a phone call away.”
Williams plays a pool contractor named Don. “He’s a blue-collar type,” he said. “He tells it like it is, but he’s funny and has a heart of gold.”
This production also marks the onstage reunion of Williams and Didi Conn, who plays his wife Dotty. Conn played Joyce, Most’s girlfriend on “Happy Days.”
The popularity of “Happy Days” helped many of the cast members build careers in other areas of entertainment. Ron Howard, Don Most, Henry Winkler as well as Williams have achieved success as directors, producers and/or writers.
Williams credits the show’s producer and writer for its success and for providing opportunities for the cast to learn the business and be more than just actors.
“Working with Garry Marshall was like having the greatest college professor in the world,” he said. “He opened the whole studio to us. I was able to be right next to [Roman] Polanski while he was doing back lot on ‘Chinatown.’ That was my directing education and Garry made that possible.”
Williams began plying those skills while still appearing on “Happy Days.” He co-produced—along with castmate Ron Howard—the 1980 made-for-television movie “Skyward” starring screen legend Bette Davis.
His directorial debut came in 1985 with “No Greater Gift,” an ABC afternoon special that he also co-wrote and produced. His movies of the week include “Dream Date,” “Little White Lies,” “Your Mother Wore Combat Boots” and “A Quiet Little Neighborhood, A Perfect Little Murder.” Episodic directing jobs include “The Cape,” “Fudge,” “Beverly Hills 90210,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Star Trek: Voyager,” among others.
He is currently working on three reality shows, developing projects on spec and is preparing to produce “Vital Force,” a screenplay he wrote on the life of Samuel Hahnemann, who developed the system of alternative medicine known as homeopathy.
Williams is also a successful businessman. He founded Starmaker Products, a cosmetics company, and more recently, BOBO List, a website to help consumers save money.
But he is most gratified with Alert Drops, a simple spray he developed to prevent drowsy drivers from falling asleep at the wheel. The Centers for Disease Control reports that 1 in 25 drivers aged 18 or older admit to falling asleep while driving in the previous 30 days.
It’s a catastrophic problem,” said Williams. “Caffeine doesn’t help and so many kids go to the hospital from taking things like NoDoz.”
Williams experienced the dangers of drowsy driving thirty years ago while working on the “Slap Maxwell” TV series. After a day of directing in the hot desert sun, he fell asleep at the wheel and awoke to find himself bouncing around in the car off the road. He recounted the episode to his “uncle,” Dr. Henry Heimlich—of the anti-choking maneuver fame.
Heimlich, who was actually Williams’ second cousin, advised him to carry lemon slices in the car to combat drowsiness. “The citric acid in the lemon acts on the limbic nerve on the tip of the tongue, producing a reflex action that causes the body to release adrenaline and you’re instantly awake.”
Williams recommended they put the lemon ingredients into a spray bottle. Heimlich agreed and the product was launched. “I believe ‘celebrity’ should be paid forward,” he said. “We’re saving lives every day. What could be better than that?”
Anson joins Didi Conn, Sally Struthers, and Adrian Zmed on stage in “Middletown” at the Delaware Theatre Company in Wilmington from May 28 through June 2.