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Henry Winkler's Fonzie

Henry Winkler's Fonzie

August 1976 —What is it about the character “Fonzie” – that living testimonial to cool - that attracts millions of viewers to the tube each Tuesday night to watch ABCs “Happy Days”?

“The Fonz is his own man,” Henry Winkler surmises. “No one tells him what to do.”

“Hey, it's entertainment. People are always looking for a way to relieve tension. Look at the headlines; the tension is screwing people into the ceiling. It's logical to me that people want to believe in a hero – someone larger than life. But he's also human, he takes care of his own.”

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Henry Winkler was born in New York on October 30, 1945.During Henry's teenage years, when real-live "Fonzies" were around, he remembers: "I lived an insular life in New York. I went to temple dances and wore a blue blazer. If I would have met 'The Fonz' then, I would have pretended I was blind so he would leave me alone."

Winkler feels a strong identification with his Jewish background. I'm very proud of my religion ... proud of its heritage. Proud of that history—the fact that, through thick and thin, they managed through integrity to maintain a strength."

Deciding to become an actor was almost a "traumatic" experience for Henry. His father and mother had "other ideas"—like their son taking over the family lumber business and becoming a "toothpick tycoon." As Henry tells it, "My father and I recreated all the great wars of history. My mother was more subtle. She'd fix breakfast for me—eggs, toast and guilt!" But his determination to become an actor won out.

When Winkler auditioned for the prestigious Yale School of Drama, he was sure he wouldn't be accepted. Despite his personal doubts, he was chosen to attend. "The first day at Yale they told us, 'A lot of you aren't going to make it,'" he recalls. "I packed my bags!"

But Henry eventually unpacked them and, of the 25 who originally enrolled in the program, he was one of the proud 11 who made it all the way to graduation day. Others had more confidence in him than Henry allowed himself. One friend at Yale remembers: "Everyone knew he was a rare comic actor. He was a natural talent that way."

Before he had time to frame his diploma, Henry had joined the Yale Repertory Theatre Company which served as a proving ground for his acting talents. And, as an added incentive, they paid him $175 a week.
From there, he made a beeline for Broadway and appeared in "42 Seconds From Broadway," which Winkler jokingly says, "lasted about 42 seconds!" A role in Arthur Miller's play, "Incident at Vichy," followed.

Next stop on his career climb was motion pictures. Henry won a part in Lords of Flatbush, a "fifties"-themed movie released in 1972. And in 1973, he was cast in Crazy Joe with Peter Boyle and Paula Prentiss.
Not much came from his exposure to the "silver screen." Oddly enough, Henry got most noticed doing TV ads. Maybe you remember seeing him in one of his 27 commercials, including "Close-Up," "A&P," and "Schick Injector Blades" that earned him $50,000 in just one year.

The real turning point, however, in Henry Winkler's career came when his New York agent suggested he make "the big trip" to Hollywood. He was "terrified." Henry remembers: "Every day for 16 days my agent would say “GO” and I would say“NO”.

Henry Winkler's Fonzie — continued


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