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Origin of ‘Nanu, Nanu’ and More Little-Known Secrets about the ‘Mork & Mindy’ Cast

Plus, learn which star was Robin Williams' real-life idol!

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In the late 1970s, a television show burst onto screens, taking the world by storm with its unique blend of humor, heart and an out-of-this-world premise. Mork & Mindy and it’s talented cast was not only a hit in its time, but the show also became a beloved classic in reruns and anchored itself in the hearts of new generations.

The sitcom focuses on an alien Mork (played by the late, great Robin Williams) who comes to earth to study its residents and live with a human woman, Mindy (played by Pam Dawber). The show was an immediate ratings hit, finishing number three overall during its first season. It launched in 1978 and lasted five seasons until 1982.

Related: ‘Mork and Mindy’ Star Pam Dawber on Robin Williams, Mark Harmon & Her Return to TV

Mork and Mindy
Robin Williams and Pam Dawber play Mork and Mindy, 1979Alan Houghton/Shutterstock

Many people don’t realize that much of the script was on-the-spot improvisations by Robin Williams. The improvs proved to be so effective and popular that the series’ writers soon included specific sections in the scripts where Williams was allowed to perform freely, marked as “Robin goes off here.” In fact, if you watch the series again today and pay particular attention to Pam Dawber, you can often see her having difficulty not laughing at his ad-libs.

Did you know? Like Joanie Loves Chachi, Mork & Mindy was also a spin-off of Happy Days. Garry Marshall was a writer and producer for both shows.

Here, we take a look at the amazing Mork & Mindy cast and find out some fun and fascinating facts about the hilarious ensemble and find out what they did after the show.

Robin Williams as Mork

Robin Williams as Mork (Mork and Mindy cast)
1980/ 2011Getty

After his role as Mork, Robin Williams’ career skyrocketed. He became one of the most iconic and beloved comedians and actors of his time. His frenetic energy, improvisational talent, and unique brand of humor earned him a place in Hollywood’s elite. His career included starring roles in several iconic movies, including Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Dead Poets Society (1989) and Mrs. Doubtfire (1993).

Tragically, Williams passed away in 2014, leaving behind a legacy of laughter and tears. He was survived by his three children, Zak, Zelda and Cody Williams.

Did you know?

Mork’s “nanu nanu” hand gesture greetings was inspired by Mr. Spock’s “live long and prosper” hand salute from Star Trek, a show which Robin Williams loved.

Related: The Original ‘Star Trek’ Cast: Where They’ve Boldly Gone, Then and Now

Pam Dawber as Mindy

Pam Dawber as Mindy (Mork and Mindy cast)
1979/2015Getty

Pam Dawber, who played the sweet and sensible Mindy McConnell, continued to act after the show ended. She took on various television roles in the ’80s and ’90s. After the Mork & Mindy cast, she starred on the sitcom My Sister Sam (1986-1988). The show received critical acclaim but was tragically cut short when her co-star, Rebecca Schaeffer, was murdered in 1989.

Dawber took a break from acting to focus on her family. She married fellow actor Mark Harmon in 1987, and they have two sons, Sean and Ty.

In 2021 Dawber returned to the small screen. She agreed to a recurring role on NCIS alongside her real-life husband of 35 years.

Did you know?

Dawber did not audition for the role of Mindy. To sell the show to the network, producer Garry Marshall edited clips together of Dawber’s performance from a failed ABC series of Sister Terri (1978), with existing footage of Robin Williams’ earlier guest appearance as Mork on My Favorite Ork an episode of Happy Days (1978). ABC was sold on the idea, and the show was picked up. Being cast on the show came as an unexpected, but pleasant, surprise to Dawber.

Conrad Janis as Fred McConnell

Conrad Janis as Fred McConnell (Mork and Mindy cast)
1978/2009Getty

Conrad Janis, who portrayed Mindy’s father, Fred McConnell, maintained a steady career after being in the Mork & Mindy cast. Janis continued to appear in numerous television series and made guest appearances in shows such as Laverne & Shirley, Fantasy Island, and The Love Boat.

Later, Janis appeared in several movies including Mr. Saturday Night (1992) and The Cable Guy (1996). In addition to being an actor, Janis was also a skilled jazz musician.

Janis died in 2022 at the age of 94.

Did you know?

Garry Marshall originally suggested Mork from Ork as the title of the sitcom, but network bigwigs didn’t like it. He also suggested The Mork Chronicles, but it was thought that most viewers would not know what a chronicle was. Finally, Marshall suggested Mork & Mindy. It caught on immediately.

Elizabeth Kerr as Corabeth

Elizabeth Kerr as Corabeth (Mork and Mindy cast)
1982MoviestillsDB.com/ABC

Elizabeth Kerr, who played Corabeth, the quirky landlady of the house where Mork & Mindy lived, appeared in several popular television shows. She made guest appearances on series like Little House on the Prairie and Knight Rider.

Kerr passed away in 2000 at the age of 82.

Did you know?

The producers wrote Fred (Conrad Janis) and Cora (Elizabeth Kerr) out of the second season because they felt the two didn’t have chemistry together. The move made viewers upset, and Fred and Cora were both brought back by the third season.

Jonathan Winters as Mearth

Jonathan Winters as Mearth (Mork and Mindy cast)
1970/2012Getty

Jonathan Winters, joined the show as Mearth, Mork and Mindy’s child. Winters was already an established comedian and actor before his appearance in the Mork & Mindy cast.  He was a frequent guest on The Andy Williams Show and The Tonight Show.

People may be surprised to discover that Winters did animation, lending his voice to beloved characters such as Papa Smurf in The Smurfs and Scrooge in The Christmas Carol adaptation.

He passed away in 2013 at the age of 87.

Did you know?

Jonathan Winters was Robin Williams’ idol. Winters came to the show in season three to help improve the ratings as well as boost Williams’ performance. The two comedians worked well opposite each other.

Ralph James as Orson

Ralph James, the actor who provided the voice for Orson, Mork’s superior on the planet Ork, continued to work as a voice actor in various animated series and commercials. He lent his distinctive voice to characters in shows like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Ralph James passed away in 1992.

Did you know?

The name of the character Orson is a tribute to Orson Welles and his historic 1938 CBS Radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds in which Martians landed in New Jersey.

Tom Poston as Franklin Delano Bickley

Tom Poston as Franklin Delano Bickley (Mork and Mindy cast)
1962/2005Getty

Tom Poston, who portrayed Mindy’s neighbor and friend Franklin Delano Bickley, had a successful career in comedy.  He appeared in various television series, including The Bob Newhart Show. He also became a recurring panelist on the game show To Tell the Truth.

You may also remember him from movies like Christmas with the Kranks (2004) and The Princess Diaries 2 (2004).

Poston was married three times, his last marriage being to actress Suzanne Pleshette in 2001.

Tom Poston passed away in 2007 at the age of 85.

Did you know?

Poston had a successful career in Broadway. In addition to acting, Poston was also a pilot.

Robert Donner as Exidor

Robert Donner as Exidor (Mork and Mindy cast)
1982/2007 Getty

Robert Donner, who played the eccentric character Exidor, continued to act in various television shows and movies after being in the Mork & Mindy cast. Donner made appearances in series like The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie, and Bonanza.

Donner passed away in 2006 at the age of 75.

Related: 10 Fascinating Facts About the ‘Bonanza’ Cast


For more 80’s TV, click through the links below!

‘Fantasy Island’ Cast: Fun Behind-the-Scenes Facts About the Beloved Drama

‘The Golden Girls’ Secrets: 12 Amazing Stories About Rose, Blanche, Dorothy and Sophia

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