With good looks and charm, it was no wonder teen idol Scott Baio had great success when he was young. From 'Happy Days' to 'Charles in Charge', what's next for the star?
From his big screen debut as Bugsy Malone to his lovable appearances on ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Charles In Charge’, Scott Baio has spent his career defining the big and small screen characters of wholesome America. Whilst this clean-cut image has since been scuffed by his forays into reality television and frank personal admissions, the determined actor and director has always remained a household favourite, his continued work representing a legacy in progress.
Scott Vincent James Baio was born in Brooklyn, New York on 22nd September 1961 to Italian-American used car salesman Mario Baio and his wife, Rose. The outgoing child grew up in the close-knit Ridge Bay neighbourhood with his parents and older twin siblings, Steven and Stephanie.
With his brother, sister and cousins Jimmy and Joey all involved in acting, Baio developed an interest in the art and began auditioning for roles from a young age. Whilst disliking the routine of having to go to midtown Manhattan after school for these trials, the aspiring actor persevered, mostly appearing in advertisements.
By the age of 12, Baio was weary of the process and often chose to play stickball with his friends instead of braving the rush hour traffic to the city. However, on one particularly rainy day, when asked to visit a film director, Baio found that stickball was an unlikely prospect given the weather and agreed to attend the meeting. The decision would launch his career.
In fact, the director in question was Alan Parker and he was searching for the title role for an all-child gangster movie-musical called ‘Bugsy Malone’ (1976). Baio’s distinct New York accent and confident, nonchalant stance made him ideal for the part and he was immediately chosen to star as Bugsy alongside Jodie Foster.
With the unusual twist of kids playing adult roles and its catchy musical numbers, the film proved a box office hit and won five British Academy Awards as well as being nominated for an Oscar. However, while Jodie Foster was hailed by the British Academy as the Best Newcomer of 1977, Baio failed to win such accolades, his performance attracting only lukewarm praise such as merely “good” from critics such as Vincent Canby of the New York Times.
Nevertheless, with his big screen debut behind him, the rising star gained the attention of Hollywood executives, who competed for a contract with the young, dark-haired performer. Baio and his father, now acting as his son’s manager, finally signed with the ABC network and the whole family moved to Southern California to pursue Scott’s career.
Initially, the promised flurry of work did not materialise and Baio found himself taking part in fleeting ABC sitcoms such as ‘Blansky’s Beauties’ (1977). However, later that year, Baio was asked to join the cast of an already popular TV show called ‘Happy Days’ (1974).
The 16 year old slotted into the idealised depiction of 1950’s life as Chachi Arcola, the tough cousin of main character and icon, Arthur ‘Fonzi’ Fonzarelli, played by Henry Winkler. Baio’s character was an instant success, transforming him into a teen heartthrob who reportedly received 5,000 fan letters each week. Capitalising on this success, and keen to expand his appeal, Baio pursued other avenues of work.
Throughout the series’ run, Baio concurrently appeared in many more television shows, such as the short-lived ‘Who’s Watching the Kids?’ (1978) as well as starring in the low budget movie ‘Skatetown USA’ (1979) with Patrick Swayze. Baio was also frequently featured in TV films.
Often cast as a troubled youth, the brooding teen starred as a marijuana smoking teenager in the ABC After School Special, ‘Stoned’ (1980), for which he was nominated for a daytime Emmy Award, as well as an alcoholic jockey in ‘The Boy Who Drank Too Much’ (1980). That same year, Baio reunited with Foster in the rebellious teen movie, ‘Foxes’ (1980). He later admitted to having had a relationship with Foster.
The boyish actor’s character on ‘Happy Days’ also encountered romance. As the storyline developed, ‘Chachi’ began dating actress Erin Moran’s character, ‘Joanie’. The relationship, which became one of the central plotlines of the show, was mirrored in real life, where Baio and Moran became involved.
In 1982, network executives decided that the two characters could support their own sitcom and Baio and Moran starred in a spin-off series to ‘Happy Days’ called ‘Joanie Loves Chachi’ (1982). However, like their off-screen romance, the show soon fizzled and was cancelled after only a year, forcing both actors to return to ‘Happy Days’.
Around this time, Baio was cast to appear in the film ‘Zapped!’ (1982) alongside fellow teen actor, Willie Aames as well as recording a self-titled album for RCA Records. Both projects failed to impress audiences, the album only briefly entering the US Billboard Charts and the film barely making an impact at the box office. However, while ‘Zapped!’ was widely berated, such as the New York Times’ pronouncement that it was “half-baked”, it would later achieve cult status.
Baio’s time playing Chachi came to an end in 1984, when ‘Happy Days’ was cancelled. With the conclusion of this significant chapter of his life, Baio immediately set out to find a new central role.
The former child actor found a new part playing the title character of Charles in the CBS sitcom ‘Charles In Charge’ (1984). Once again working with Aames, Baio was cast as a fresh-faced college student who worked as a male nanny for a New Jersey family and lived in their basement.
The show was actually cancelled after only one year, but was successfully resurrected in 1987 as a first-run syndication, after which it ran for a further three years. ‘Charles In Charge’ became a family favourite, returning Baio to the forefront of television stardom, once again reaffirming his position as a household name.
In addition to exercising his acting skills at this time, Baio also proved himself a talent behind the scenes, directing the children’s series ‘Out of this World’ (1987) throughout its run to 1991. By this time, ‘Charles In Charge’ had run its course, having been cancelled in 1990, and Baio was once again searching for work. He starred in the sitcom ‘Baby Talk’ (1991), but this spin-off version of the popular film ‘Look Who’s Talking’ (1989) proved a failure and was soon cancelled.
After appearing in a popular one-off ‘Happy Days’ reunion in 1992, Baio joined Dick Van Dyke in the drama series ‘Diagnosis Murder’ (1993). As one of the sleuthing medics, the actor took on the character of the reformed wild child, lock-picking doctor, Jack Stewart. While the charismatic persona seemed perfect for Baio, he left after only two seasons, leading to speculation about his career prospects.
To some, the rumours appeared to transform Baio into a self-fulfilling prophecy. While he was a popular candidate for cameo appearances on TV sitcoms such as ‘Full House’ (1987) and ‘Veronica’s Closet’ (1997), he would not find another big role for the remainder of the nineties.
However, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera, Baio continued to showcase his talent and indulged in a variety of smaller projects. Baio wrote the screenplay for the film ‘Face To Face’ (2001), which his brother produced. He also starred in a number of independent films, including the Italian-American romance ‘The Bread, My Sweet’ (2001) and the gangster spoof, ‘Very Mean Men’ (2000).
The television icon returned to the small screen as the star of a number of films, such as ‘Danielle Steel’s Mixed Blessings’ (1995) and as the host of a show called ‘Before They Were Stars’ (1996), which broadcast clips of celebrities before they became famous.
One of the actor’s least publicised achievements around this time however was his directorial work. In addition to directing a number of advertisements, Baio became known in the industry for his episodic work on TV series such the ‘The Wayans Brothers’ (1995) and ‘The Parkers’ (1999).
Baio once again graced television screens in the US in 2005 as he reunited with former co-star Ron Howard of ‘Happy Days’. Having become executive producer of the acclaimed sitcom, ‘Arrested Development’ (2003), Howard cast Baio as the arrogant lawyer Bob Loblaw.
In July 2007, Baio introduced himself to a new audience as he starred in his own television reality series, ‘Scott Baio is 45… and single’ on VH1. Allowing cameras into his life, Baio explored the reasons behind his serial monogamy and inability to commit to a relationship by talking to a life coach and to his old girlfriends. In the series, Baio admitted to having romanced a number of actresses, some of them past co-stars including Pamela Anderson, Nicole Eggert of ‘Charles in Charge’, Denise Richards, and Heather Locklear.
In fact, this deeply public introspection appeared to have worked, as, on 8 December 2007, he married his long-term girlfriend Renee Sloan. The couple had welcomed their first child, daughter Bailey Deluca, into the world in November of that year. The show was also a commercial success, attracting over 1.3 million viewers and spawning a sequel entitled ‘Scott Baio is 46… and pregnant’ (2008), cataloguing the run up to the birth of the couple’s first child.
A child star turned teen idol and household name, Scott Baio spent his early career epitomising clean-cut America. As his audience matured, so did Baio, taking on darker roles and expanding his skills set to include writing and directing. While he is still recognised by most as ‘Chachi’, Baio has proved himself a Hollywood chameleon, able to adapt both in front of and behind the camera in order to consistently keep the audience entertained.