Bosley was born in Chicago, the son of Dora (née Heyman) and Benjamin Bosley. Although well known for playing a Catholic priest—and numerous Protestants—Bosley was actually Jewish. During World War II, Bosley served in the United States Navy. While attending DePaul University, in Chicago, in 1947, he made his stage debut in Our Town with the Canterbury Players at the Fine Arts Theatre. Bosley performed at the Woodstock Opera House in Woodstock, Illinois, in 1949 and 1950 alongside Paul Newman. Bosley played the Knave of Hearts in a Hallmark Hall of Fame telecast of Eva Le Gallienne’s production of Alice in Wonderland in 1955. But his breakthrough stage role was New York mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia in the long-running Broadway musical Fiorello! (1959), for which he won a Tony Award. In 1994, he originated the role of Maurice in the Broadway version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Bosley also toured as Cap’n Andy in Harold Prince’s 1994 revival of Show Boat.
His first motion picture role was in 1963, as the would-be suitor of Natalie Wood in Love with the Proper Stranger. Other films include The World of Henry Orient, Divorce American Style, Yours, Mine and Ours, Gus and the made-for-television The Triangle Factory Fire Scandal. Bosley shared a heartfelt story about his experience with the Holocaust in the documentary film Paper Clips. While he isn’t found in the credits, Tom Bosley also appeared in “Act One” in 1963. His visage and voice are unmistakable. He is seen about 50 minutes in, at the far right of a table of men, from where he speaks one line.
Among his early television appearances was in 1960 on the CBS summer replacement series, Diagnosis: Unknown, with Patrick O’Neal. In 1962, he portrayed Assistant District Attorney Ryan in the episode “The Man Who Wanted to Die” on James Whitmore’s ABC legal drama The Law and Mr. Jones. About this time, he was a guest star on the NBC police sitcom, Car 54, Where Are You? He also appeared on episodes of Bonanza, Bewitched, The Silent Force, The Streets of San Francisco, Night Gallery, A Touch of Grace, and The Love Boat. In 1969, Bosley appeared in a comical episode of The Virginian. He also played the boss of Debbie Reynolds’s husband in her eponymous NBC series (1969–1970).
Bosley’s best known role was the character Howard Cunningham, Richie and Joanie Cunningham’s father, in the long-running sitcom Happy Days. Bosley was also known for portraying Sheriff Amos Tupper on Murder, She Wrote. He portrayed the eponymous Father Frank Dowling on the TV mystery series, Father Dowling Mysteries. Among myriad television appearances, one notable early performance was in the “Eyes” segment of the 1969 pilot episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Joan Crawford. In 1979 he played the role of Benjamin Franklin in the television mini-series The Rebels. He narrated the TV program That’s Hollywood from 1976 – 1982. He played Ranger Tasker in Little Bigfoot 2: The Journey Home as well as Emil Farkas in Get Smart. Bosley starred in the 2008 Hallmark Channel television movie Charlie & Me. In 2010, he appeared in The Back-up Plan starring Jennifer Lopez, which was his final film. In 1984, Bosley guest-hosted the “Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular” with local newscaster Pat Harper.
Bosley was known for his unique gravelly voice, leading to a number of voice acting roles. Bosley hosted The General Mills Radio Adventure Theater, a 1977 radio drama series for children. He voiced many cartoon characters, including Harry Boyle in the animated series Wait Till Your Father Gets Home. He provided the voice of the title character in the 1980s cartoon The World of David the Gnome and the shop owner Mr. Winkle in the children’s Christmas special The Tangerine Bear. Bosley also narrated the movie documentary series That’s Hollywood. Additionally, he played the narrator B.A.H. Humbug in the Rankin/Bass animated Christmas special The Stingiest Man In Town. Bosley was also the voice of Mister Geppetto, Pinocchio’s ‘dad’ in Filmation’s Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night, released in 1987. Bosley was also the voice of Mr. Winkle in the animated Christmas movie The Tangerine Bear: Home in Time for Christmas! released in 2000.
Bosley died of heart failure on October 19, 2010, at a hospital in Rancho Mirage, California, near his home in Palm Springs, California. He was 83 years old. His agent, Sheryl Abrams, said Bosley had been battling lung cancer. His remains are interred at Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery.*
- October, 01, 1927
- Chicago, Illinois
- October, 19, 2010
- Rancho Mirage, California
Cause of Death
- heart failure
- Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills)
- Los Angeles, California