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Henry Winkler's Fonzie (continued)

August 1976 (continued from here) —Finally, on September 18, 1973, with $1000 in his pocket, he boarded a plane for the coast. Only 17 days after setting foot in "tinsel town," Winkler landed his first job—a spot in a Mary Tyler Moore Show episode. Success might not have been "just around the corner," but it wasn't far off. After doing parts on The Bob Newhart Show and work in the Paul Sand pilot, Friends and Lovers, he was sent to audition for Happy Days.

In search of the prototypical Fifties "greaser," casting executives interviewed many "hopefuls" including ex-"Monkee" Mickey Dolenz. One production staffer particularly remembers Henry's bid for the part:

"We didn't test Henry. He walked in and he had done his homework. He owned the character." The thing that clinched the part for the hazel-eyed actor was a little of his own "special" brand of improvisation.


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Henry asked the director if he could try something on his own— something other than the four lines he was given to test by. "He did the bit where he walks into the bathroom, goes to comb his hair, but stops because it's already perfect," relates a co-worker. "That was The Fonz' and that was all Henry. No director told him to do that."

On October 30, 1973 Henry Winkler got the best birthday present ever. He was signed to play Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli on Happy Days role the same way he wins audiences weekly on the show — with his unique talent and instinct for the part of "Fonzie."

Few people are aware that Henry conceived the idea for his costume. Originally, he was asked to wear a cloth jacket and penny loafers. That just didn't "jive" with Henry's interpretation of what "Fonzie" was all about. So, on a quick trip to New York, he brought back his own leather jacket and boots. Winkler was already beginning to make the character of "Fonzie" his own.

Ron Howard, Henry's 21-year-old co-star on Happy Days, turned out to be his "savior" in Henry's early days on the set. A veteran of 17 years in television (remember "Opie" of The Andy Griffith Show?), Ron gave Henry lots of "moral" and "professional" support, teaching him his way around a television studio.

Originally a supporting role in the show, "Fonzie" has now become a focal point of the series—but with no hard feelings from the other actors. Henry Winkler's performance is considered the reason the show leaped from 42nd place last year to the "Top-Ten" in 1976. His salary has soared from several hundred a week to several thousand.

Says Henry: "I love the fact that I can go into a restaurant and don't have to order the $3.95 special anymore."

The handsome young TV star lives alone in an apartment in the Hollywood Hills with few possessions save the brown bean bag chair Ron Howard gifted him with, his stereo, and eleven plants. Banking most of the hefty salary he earns now, Henry feels "Hollywood is as fickle as an eighth-grader. You can't take it for granted.'

The heartthrob of Happy Days confesses he's in no hurry to "tie the knot." But Henry does eventually hope to get married. In fact, it's very important to him for the timing to be right. "At this point in time, it would be a "sham" to get married. I put a lot of energy into my career. And relationships demand a lot of work."

What kind of girl is Henry looking for? "I don't need a woman who will say 'yes' to everything because she's trained to do that—and then build up anger," observes Henry. "I need a woman who has her own mind."

When he's not toiling in front of the cameras, Henry enjoys reading books on philosophy and psychology, and spending as much time as he can at the beach.

And he seems to be having nothing but success lately. He garnered good reviews for his performance in the recent ABC-TV movie, Katherine, opposite Cissy Spacek. Appearing before capacity crowds recently at Detroit's Pontiac Stadium, Henry broke the attendance record set by rock star Elton John. And ever since making his "singing debut" on the show, he's had a flood of offers for recording contracts, even including a bid from Paul Anka.

Winkler is well aware of the pitfalls of achieving "too much, too soon." He realizes "Stardom is not easy to handle. If you start thinking you're more than you are, the cockiness will kill you." He's turned down two series offers already—a spin-off of Happy Days and the other the lead in a new fall series based on the motion picture Serpico. (David Birney will play that role on NBC this fall.) But Henry plans to remain loyal to the Happy Days series which made him a star—for at least two more years—and then shed his role of "Fonzie" for, hopefully, a chance to star in motion pictures.

Henry sees the character of "Fonzie" as "the ultimate, universal fantasy" and considers himself lucky to have had the chance to play the part. But how does Henry Winkler manage to-keep all the success and adulation from "going to his head"? One answer might be his belief that, "As soon as an actor starts to think he deserves something, his whole life will start to splinter in front of his eyes. You work for it and if you work hard enough, you get it. I just hope it continues that way."

And so do Henry's millions of fans who experience "happy moments" each week watching "Fonzie" on "Happy Days"!

Henry Winkler's Fonzie — part 1

 


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