Happy Days is one of the most iconic TV shows of all time, featuring Ron Howard as Richie, Anson Williams as Potsie, and Donnie Most as Ralph Malph, but the star of the show was Henry Winkler as Arthur Fonzarelli. Although Winkler was a most unlikely casting choice, he not only became one of the most popular characters of the show but is immortalized by the phrase “jumping the shark.”
The brilliance of The Fonz was mostly the choices that Winkler made: His iconic leather jacket, (which the director had to fight hard to keep), his perfect hair, and of course, his trademark “Ayyyyyy!” These were not the writer’s trademarks but the creations of Winkler himself, just as many premier actors put their own stamp on their characters. But where did Winkler get his inspiration?
Who is Henry Winkler?
According to IMDB, Winkler was born in Manhattan and did poorly in school. He had low self-esteem and dyslexia, which made it difficult for him to excel. Although his parents expected Winkler to work with them in a lumber company, Winkler only felt confident on stage and decided that he wanted to act. Despite his disability, Winkler got a BA from Emerson College in 1967 and an MFA from the Yale School of Drama in 1970.
He started out doing commercials, but his big break came as a member of a gang in The Lords of Flatbush. This led Winker to be cast on Happy Days, a new sitcom on ABC, as Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli. Fonzie rarely appears in the first few episodes, with network executives being afraid he’d be seen as a hoodlum, but he was so popular that his role got more prominent as the show continued. He became a ’70s icon and stayed on the show for 10 years until its cancellation.
After Happy Days, Winkler worked mostly behind the camera as a director and producer. In 2018 after nearly 45 years as an actor, director, and producer, he won his first Prime Time Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his role on the HBO show Barry. He is also an accomplished author, having written over 16 children’s novels.
How did Winkler come up with Fonzie’s mannerisms?
The character of Fonzie was a tough guy with a heart of gold. From the beginning, Garry Marshall, Happy Days‘ creator, wanted him to wear a leather jacket as leather jackets were cool, but the network didn’t want Fonzie to be seen as a thug. However, as a concession, they allowed him to wear his jacket when he was around his motorcycle, so Winkler and Marshall always conspired to have him around his bike until the network gave up.
Winkler explained to the Guardian how he came up with his iconic catchphrase, “Ayyyyyy!” “Everyone who’s ever played a Fonz- like cool character has always done the same things: combed their hair, stuck cigarette packets up the sleeve of their T-shirt. I swore I wouldn’t do any of that,” he said. But he needed something to set his character apart since he refused to do any of the stereotypes. “I got the ‘Heeeey’ and the ‘Whoaaa’ from my favorite sport at the time: horse-riding.”
What is Fonzie’s legacy?
People to this day discuss who the current Fonzie is, that is, the recent cool character. However, Winkler downplays the more outrageous sides of his character. “Never snap your fingers at a girl. They will break them off your hand,” Winkler told The Guardian. “And I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but if you hit a jukebox at the same time as a man named Fred plugs it in, you too can start a song playing.”