Henry Winkler is still the definition of cool! Between 1974 – 84 he donned the leather jacket of ‘Happy Days’ legend the Fonz. And after the jukebox stopped playing he went on to make his mark on both the big and small screens.
Check out these 7 awe-inspiring facts that remind us why Mr Winkler is so beloved… Ayyy!
7. He inspired a well-known expression
“Jumping the shark” is when a TV show passes its prime. But where did that weird expression come from?
Its origins lie in an episode of ‘Happy Days’. In ‘Hollywood, Part 3’, the Fonz strapped on some water skiis. That image was strange enough, but producers wanted him to go a stage further. The story required the character to jump over a shark for some reason!
Winkler was an accomplished water skiier, hence the plot. But people couldn’t shake the idea the series was running short of ideas. 1997 saw the immortal words “jumping the shark” enter popular culture, care of Jon Hein’s show-ranking website. The original idea was supplied by old uni buddy Sean Connolly. But we wouldn’t be aware of it at all without that crazy water stunt…
6. His parents fled Berlin
Winkler’s Mom and Dad, Ilse Anna Marie and Harry Irving, traveled to America in 1939. The official reason was they were on business – in reality they knew the war was coming, and wanted to be out of Hitler’s reach.
Harry had to be inventive in order to survive. Winkler was interviewed on public radio show Fresh Air in 2019: “He took his mother’s jewelry, bought a box of chocolate, melted the chocolate down, put the pieces of jewelry in the chocolate box, poured the chocolate over the jewelry [and] put the box under his arm. So when he was stopped by the Nazis, and they said, ‘Are you taking anything of value out of Germany? Now you can open every bag?’ — we’ve got nothing.”
Young Henry was born in Manhattan a few years later. His first name is a tribute to his Uncle Helmut, who was killed back home by the Nazis. Winkler’s middle name is Franklin, after President Roosevelt.
When he took part in reality show ‘Better Late Than Never’, Winkler made a surprising discovery about his Uncle. Staying in Berlin, he found a plaque dedicated to Helmut.
In the process he learned that Helmut escaped to Holland before being caught, tragically ending his days at Auschwitz in 1942. Originally his relative was supposed to accompany his parents to America, but decided to wait 24 hours for a jacket to be finished. The decision proved fateful…
5. He loves the theatre
While known for his work on movies and TV, Henry Winkler has trodden the boards frequently during his career. A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, he became part of the illustrious school’s Repertory Theater. He’s as at home with the Bard as he is hanging with the Cunninghams.
The late 1970s saw him star in a TV special for young people called ‘Henry Winkler Meets William Shakespeare’. And the man who would be Fonz was in great company. Kevin Kline, William Sadler (aka “Death” from ‘Bill and Ted’, among other roles) and ‘Hill St Blues’ star Bruce Weitz were also part of the fun…
4. He almost directed ‘Turner and Hooch’
Like former co-star Ron Howard, Winkler has called the shots on various productions. One major gig for him was ‘Turner and Hooch’ the cop meets dog comedy starring Tom Hanks from 1989.
Unfortunately the former Fonz didn’t have the coolest of experiences. He was sacked, with Roger Spottiswoode taking over the reins.
What happened? Winkler hinted the collaboration between him and Hanks wasn’t a meeting of minds. He even joked he got on better with the canine half of the equation!
“It has been rumored that Winkler held up production over shooting locations, which had Hanks complaining to producers” writes Movieweb. In an odd coincidence, Hanks previously appeared in ‘Happy Days’ as a character who gets into a fight with Fonzie…!
3. He produces ‘MacGyver’
As well as directing, Winkler is an accomplished producer. With John Rich he oversaw a now-legendary show about a guy with a mullet who operates like a one man ‘A Team’… ‘MacGyver’!
The popular adventure series ran between 1985 – 92 and starred Richard Dean Anderson. Modern audiences may be more familiar with the character through ‘The Simpsons’, where Patty and Selma Bouvier harbor lustful thoughts toward Anderson – at one point abducting the man himself!
Winkler is executive producer of the rebooted ‘MacGyver’ starring Lucas Till, which has been airing since 2016.
2. He’s a best selling author
At the age of 31, Henry Winkler was told he had dyslexia. He found this out in an unexpected way. His stepson was tested for the learning disorder, but the star began to realize he might have been struggling with it himself all these years.
Talking about that turbulent time to Fresh Air, Winkler revealed his stepson “was so verbal, and he is so smart, but he couldn’t do reports. He couldn’t write. He couldn’t organize his thoughts. And when we had him tested, everything that they said about Jed was true about me, and I realized … ‘I actually have something with a name.’ …”
Winkler took this experience and, together with Lin Oliver, used it to create a series of children’s books centred on the character of Hank Zipzer. The veteran actor later appeared in a British TV adaptation that lasted 3 seasons…
1. The Fonz he is not!
‘Happy Days’ just wouldn’t be the same without Winkler’s performance. But believe it or not, he wasn’t what producers had in mind for the character at all.
Garry Marshall, the show’s creator, “originally envisioned Arthur ‘Fonzie’ Fonzarelli as being a tall, blonde, muscle bound model,” writes 80 Kids, “and almost cast former Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz in the role.”
When Winkler arrived for his audition and showed what he could do the game changed, and small screen history was made. In a 2011 interview for The Guardian, he spoke about the affection people still have for the Fonz. The Fifties may be over, but for some those Happy Days never end.
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“I’m stopped on the street, I’m invited for dinner, I’m hugged, by every age” Winkler said. “I’m never treated other than [as] a friend. I’m never challenged on the street to see how tough I am. People are unbelievably warm to me, no matter where I am.”