‘Happy Days’: Henry Winkler Had to Stop Calling Fans Who Left Their Number on His Mail

If you grew up during the ’70s, Happy Days was likely your favorite TV show. Of course, everyone loved Richie, Potsie, Ralph, Joanie, and Chachi, but everyone wanted to be Arthur Fonzarelli, played by Henry Winkler. However, many forget that it was risky to cast Winkler in the role, and he wasn’t used as much in the first season, meaning he had time on his hands.

Although now people discuss who the current Fonzie is, the recent cool character, it took time for that character to become iconic. The brilliance of “The Fonz” was mostly the choices that Winkler made; his iconic leather jacket and his trademark “Ayyyyyy!” were all choices made by Winkler, not the writers. So what did Winkler do with all that time on his hands during the first season?

Henry Winkler as Fonzie on Happy Days | Walt Disney Television/Getty Images

Who is Henry Winkler?

According to Biography, Winkler was born in Manhattan and was always an extrovert and felt confident on stage and decided that he wanted to act. Despite his bad grades, a stellar audition got him into the Yale School of Drama, where Winkler earned an MFA in 1970. He decided to go back to New York to try to make his mark on Broadway.

Winkler had a few small roles on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show before being 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. Winkler also had his first significant film role in The Lords of Flatbush during this time.

After Happy Days, Winkler produced episodes of MacGyver and Ryan’s Four and directed the film Memories of Me. Winkler also continued to act, having memorable roles in Scream and The Waterboy. In 2018, Winkler starred alongside Bill Hader as acting teacher Gene Cousineau in the comedy/drama series Barry. Winkler’s role won him his first Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 2018.

Why did Winkler have so much time on his hands in the first season of ‘Happy Days’?

RELATED: ‘Happy Days’: Why ABC Didn’t Want Fonzie to Wear a Leather Jacket

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 was afraid that leather jackets were too closely associated with criminals. Therefore, in the first season, Fonzie wore golf jackets and didn’t have his hair styled correctly. As Winkler explained to The Guardian, “At first, they had me put on a flimsy-collared golf jacket. It was unbelievably hard to be cool in puce.” Richie (Ron Howard) was considered the star of the show, and Fonzie didn’t get as much screen time. It wasn’t until Winkler and Garry Marshall convinced the studio to allow Fonzie to wear his leather jacket and Winkler came up with iconic catchphrases that the character took off. 

What did Winkler do with his time on set during the first season?

As Winkler explained to Oprah, “I read all of the fan mail. I had all this time!” he tells Oprah. “There were some letters that were just incredibly heartfelt, from every age, and I would call those people if they left their phone number.” Sadly, almost no one Winkler reached believed it was him, so he stopped. By the next season, he has become the show’s runaway star, and the Fonzie we know today was born.