News of Robin Williams’ death last week reverberated across the country and, indeed, was felt around the world. Williams was certainly a star and will be remembered most for his comedy. We learned only after his suicide that Williams suffered not only from depression, but was also in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.
We know that Williams’ life began in Detroit and that he attended the Julliard School in New York City. We know that his rise to stardom came after we first met him as “Mork from Ork” on the sitcom “Happy Days” and that the character would take on a life of its own on another comedy, “Mork and Mindy.”
Few Americans – even few Iowans, I’d guess – have never heard of White Oak, Iowa. Even fewer, I’m sure, know that “Mork” was born in the mind of a long-ago resident of that small clump of houses.
Joe Glauberg is a 1962 graduate of North Polk High School. He lived with his family, which included a couple older brothers, in a two story building in White Oak that served as the Glauberg Store on the main floor and the family’s living quarters upstairs.
By the time Joe graduated from high school, White Oak – which once had its own school – was merely a wide spot in the road about four miles south of Cambridge and very near the Polk/Story county line. Still, there were two stores. Directly across the street from the Glauberg Store was another, owned by a family named Worrell, featuring the only gas pump in White Oak.
Business was meager at the Glauberg Store, made even more so by competition directly across the street.
I remember Joe’s older brother, Bruce, playing basketball for Alleman in the tiny gymnasium of the old three-story brick building, long ago replaced. Joe wasn’t an athlete, as I recall, but his wit, even back then, was obvious. He always got a top rating in speech contests.
I learned much later that, after he graduated from high school, Joe headed off to the University of Missouri in Columbia where he earned his degree before taking his talents to Hollywood.
His first credits came as a writer in 1969 for “Love, American Style.” Later, he was a writer for “The Odd Couple” before becoming one of the writers for “Happy Days” in 1974.
Arguably, Joe’s greatest claim to fame came when the idea of “Mork” formed in Joe’s mind and he wrote the episode in which “Mork” was introduced to television audiences when he first came to earth to interact with the iconic “Fonzie.” Joe continued to write for “Happy Days” and is also credited as a creator for “Mork and Mindy,” in 1978.
He continued to write Hollywood scripts into the early 1980s, but, alas, fame … and Hollywood … can be fleeting periods of time and Joe found just that.
His name is still listed in the credits of some re-runs of “Happy Days” and “Mork and Mindy,” although his name does not appear in many others. Both sitcoms are now credited mainly to Garry Marshall and Joe’s name has faded away into the history of Hollywood tucked away on reels of tape.
I never, ever watch “The 700 Club” on television and I’m not sure what caught my attention one day during the early 1980s. Perhaps I was channel surfing and heard the name “Joe Glauberg.” I listened and learned for the first time that Joe had grown up Jewish. I doubt many of us who went to school at North Polk in those days knew that the Glauberg family was Jewish.
I listened to Joe explain that he had converted to Christianity while in Hollywood. I was naturally quite interested, more to see an old school chum than to what was being said.
That was the last I heard of Joe until we both showed up at a funeral for the mother of a mutual childhood friend. At the time, Joe had moved back to Iowa. He has lived between California and Iowa – the last time we visited, he was living in the Drake neighborhood of Des Moines.
He’d pretty much given up on hopes to return to writing scripts in Hollywood. In fact, he said at the time, “Hollywood just doesn’t want Christian writers.”
Still, those of us who knew Joe Glauberg back walking the halls of North Polk High School, often with a collar turned up and his thick hair slicked back, can’t help remembering that Joe himself was the epitome of a television character we’d all come to love 40 years ago. It wasn’t “Mork,” the character he created; no, it was “Arthur Fonzarelli.”
To me, and to others who grew up in the 1950s and early ‘60s, Joe wasn’t “Mork.” He was “The Fonz.”