‘Happy Days’: Here’s Why The Fonz Was Almost Never Seen Without His Motorcycle in the First Season
Arthur Fonzarelli – also known as The Fonz or Fonzie – was originally meant to be a small supporting role on ABC’s Happy Days, which ran from 1974 to 1984. As a friend of the decidedly less hip Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard), Fonzie was simply going to provide some comic relief.
But audiences fell in love with Henry Winkler’s effortlessly cool character so much that The Fonz became a central part of the show. In fact, Winkler appeared on all 255 episodes of the family sitcom.
In her 2018 memoir, My Days: Happy and Otherwise, Marion Ross – who played Richie’s mother, Marion Cunningham, on all 11 seasons of Happy Days – looked back at her friendship with Winkler and the way his memorable character developed. There was one rather strange reason why The Fonz was only rarely seen without his motorcycle in the first season and part of the second.
Winkler wasn’t who Garry Marshall had in mind for the role of Fonzie
In her memoir, Ross reminded fans that the character of Fonzie was initially intended to be “insignificant” in the grander scheme of the show. And his ubiquitous leather jacket, she wrote, was “nonexistent” at first.
Winkler had a hand in changing the role of The Fonz in many ways. According to Ross, Happy Days creator Garry Marshall had a very different image of the side character in his mind before Winkler walked through the door.
“He had imagined him to be a blond 1950s matinee idol type,” Ross wrote of Marshall’s conception of The Fonz.
But after Winkler built more of a name for himself with his role in The Lords of Flatbush alongside Perry King and Sylvester Stallone, he nabbed an audition. It was then that he began to establish Fonzie as a slick-talking greaser who was great with the ladies.
Winkler must have left quite the impression in that first meeting. His audition, Ross revealed, made Marshall change his mind “about who and what Fonzie would be.”
ABC was concerned about Fonzie’s leather jacket making him look like a ‘criminal’
According to Ross, ABC producers were concerned about allowing Fonzie to seem like too much of a bad boy. Happy Days was meant to be an ultimately wholesome show, and they weren’t sure that a leather jacket would fit the bill.
“As for the absence of his leather jacket, that was dictated by the brass at ABC, who felt it would make him look like a criminal,” Ross wrote. Instead, ABC creators agreed to put Winkler in what Ross described as a “god-awful green Windbreaker” for the first half of the first season. She thought it was “dorky” and embarrassing – the exact opposite of what Fonzie was meant to embody.
Although Ross believed his outfit was downright “ridiculous,” Winkler made it work. He firmly established Fonzie as “the coolest guy in the room” at all times, winning Happy Days fans’ hearts within just a few episodes.
The ‘Happy Days’ showrunners came up with a rather odd solution
After it became clear that The Fonz would have a much more prominent role in Happy Days than they previously thought, ABC producers had to rethink how they would costume him. They came up with an eccentric workaround to allow Fonzie to wear leather while maintaining the clean-cut image they wanted for the show.
“Garry was more than aware that the character Henry had created screamed for a black leather jacket,” Ross wrote, “and so, after a bit of negotiating (the television term for arguing) with the powers that be, a compromise was struck and the network agreed to let him wear a leather jacket on one condition: he had to be either on or with his motorcycle.”
The idea was that a leather jacket might be seen a functional necessity for a motorcyclist – instead of as a statement of rebellion or nonconformity.
Fonzie was eventually allowed to wear a leather jacket after the second season
Marshall agreed to the motorcycle compromise. According to Ross, he ensured that Winkler “was never in a scene without his motorcycle” for most of the first and second seasons.
Ross explained that this was why so many Fonzie scenes were motorcycle-centric, with Winkler’s character even driving his bike directly into Arnold’s on a routine basis. (Fun fact: Winkler himself couldn’t drive a motorcycle at all.)
Eventually, Winkler established his character as a lovable and protective cool-guy hero rather than a full-on delinquent bad boy. Producers let him off the hook in the second half of the second season of Happy Days.
Like “eyy,” slicked-back hair, and an almost supernatural level of control over the jukebox, a leather jacket was now simply a part of Fonzie – and stayed that way.