From Happy Days to Happier Days
by Joe Glauberg
I remember my high school science teacher telling me, “You’ll never be a scientist.” When I protested, citing my excellent grades in science and math, he replied, “Joe, you’ve got show business in your blood.”
I guess he was right. In my late twenties, I got into a comedy-writing workshop in the home of producer Ernie Glucksman. Ernie brought me to the attention of Garry Marshall, who was producing The Odd Couple at Paramount for ABC. He took me under his wing and I soon sold my first two scripts, one for Love, American Style, and another for The Odd Couple. Later on I wrote for Happy Days, and I became co-creator of Mork and Mindy.
There was nothing in my background to suggest I’d end up in the entertainment industry. My father was a civil engineer in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyards during World War II. I was born in Port Orchard, Washington, on November 25, 1943, but my family moved to Des Moines, Iowa, where my dad went to work for Brown Engineering. My mother helped run the White Oak Store, about twenty miles north of Des Moines in a small rural community. My older brothers, Bruce and Jeff, helped run the small store and gas station.
My main Jewish childhood memories are of Saturday nights in East Des Moines, Iowa, at the home of my grandparents, Casper and Sarah, who had come to the United States from Russia. They had twelve children. The huge old house was crowded with Jewish families chattering about things that were of little interest to me. A lot of my unmarried Jewish uncles went to shul on the holidays. I went with them on occasion, but it was all Hebrew to me.
Some of my classmates teased me about being Jewish, to which my mother’s response was, “Don’t pay any attention to them. They don’t know what a Jew is.” The one thing that I seemed to be pretty sure of was that if you’re Jewish, you never mention Jesus.
I really didn’t think much about God, unless you count the time when I was seven and Sharon Klonglan asked me why Jews didn’t believe in Jesus. I gave her a fairly elaborate answer for a person who had very little idea what either of us was talking about.
I didn’t have a lot of Jewish identity until I went to college and met other Jews, but I continued to have virtually no concept of God. With the Vietnam conflict raging, I stayed in college mainly to avoid being drafted, only to find out after finally getting a bachelor’s degree in journalism, I had merely postponed the inevitable. Receiving my draft notice to join the army soon after graduation, I enlisted in the Navy chiefly to avoid the likelihood of direct combat.
I was accepted for Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. I received my commission in early summer 1968. But when I was released from active duty, I headed for Hollywood.
While writing at Paramount, I became good friends with Anne, a wardrobe lady. As we talked about the horrific plight of the world and the grave environmental pollution over which I had been concerned for years, she told me there was a book I really needed to read. I asked the name of it. “The Late Great Planet Earth,” she replied.
“It sounds pretty pessimistic.”
“Oh, but it’s not pessimistic. Just the opposite.”
“How can a book with a title like that be anything but pessimistic, talking about the end of the world?”
“Oh, it’s not the end of the world. It tells about us getting new heavens and a new earth.”
“Sounds a little preposterous to me.”
“Well, it’s all taken from the Bible, most of which was written by your own Jewish people.”
She had me there. I’d heard about certain things written in the Bible thousands of years ago coming to pass, like the desert blooming like a rose. I wrote down the name of the book. If the world was coming to an end soon, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to learn a little more.
I bought the book and read it in a fairly short time. I couldn’t seem to get the idea out of my mind behind one of the main themes of the book—the personal return of Jesus to the earth, to rule and reign as the promised Messiah, having come originally as the suffering Messiah to die for the sins of mankind nearly 2,000 years earlier.
It was a lot to grasp, and I called Anne on the phone: “I read that book, and I’m calling you because you got me into something here, and I want you to help me get out.”
I was soon sitting in her living room asking her what I should do about it. Judging from the overwhelming amount of biblical prophecy, it seemed clear that Jesus’ return was imminent. I wanted to be on his side when he came back, but I didn’t know how.
“It’s quite simple,” Anne explained. “You just surrender your life to him.”
“It’s not quite that easy. See, I’m Jewish.”
“So?” Anne responded. “Jesus was Jewish. He came for the Jews. His disciples were all Jews. What’s more Jewish than following the king of the Jews?”
“Well, that’s not really what I was taught.”
So over the next several weeks I had fairly extensive discussions with Anne. Finally, I said, “You know, I guess there are just too many things I can’t figure out. I’m just going to have to hold off.”
Anne said, “You know, we can only understand so much about God. At some point, everyone who comes to God has to make that final step by faith.” That somehow made sense to me. I vaguely remember surrendering my life to Jesus and receiving forgiveness for my sins. I also recall being struck with an understanding that if this was the creator of the world I’ve committed to follow, I’m going to have to devote myself from here on out to finding out what he wants me to do, and do it!”
Since that day in 1973, I’ve read the Bible, a book which had seemed so enigmatic and confusing to me, every year (several different versions) cover to cover, and I understand it better every time. I really don’t believe anyone can convince me it’s not the inspired Word of the living God, though many have tried.
After giving my life to Jesus, I was willing to do anything the Lord wanted me to do, except go back to writing for television situation comedies. I resisted that to such an extent I spent nearly two and half years running from it. I traveled to Israel, Switzerland and Amsterdam.
On my return to the United States, I decided to visit Paramount after a long absence and share my newfound faith. When I was told I sounded a lot like Bill Bickley (of Bickley and Warren, a comedy writing team who worked with Garry Marshall), I decided I’d better talk to them. It was primarily from Bickley and Warren that I learned I could be a Christian and still write for television.
It wasn’t long after my visit to Paramount that Garry Marshall’s office called. They had done the first season of Happy Days, and Garry asked me if I would be interested in coming on staff. I took it as a call from the Lord to go back to television writing, where I had considerable success for a number of years and was able to share my faith among many of my Jewish friends and others in the entertainment industry. This is also when I became co-creator of Mork and Mindy.
My last television writing credit was an episode of The Love Boat in 1986, after which I did some writing for Adventures in Odyssey, a children’s program for Christian radio. Over the last ten years, I’ve turned to writing, performing and recording original gospel music, having received the Songwriter of the Year Award for 2010 at the Music City Gospel Showcase in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. I’m currently working on a musical comedy entitled, My Brother, The Rabbi, based on the fictitious diary of one of Jesus’ half-brothers. I also continue to work on various projects with longtime industry friends on the West Coast.
As I write this, I’m sitting here at my home in Bella Vista, Arkansas, near where we recorded the music video “Hammers Pounding Nails,” which you can see at youtube.com/newjewjoe. But whatever I’m doing at any particular time, I believe my faith in Jesus is not only instrumental, it is absolutely critical. As Jesus said in John 15:5, “… apart from me you can do nothing.” So if you hear I’m involved in some new project, you’ll know it’s no solo act.