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

Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli from Happy Days is iconic thanks to his comedy catchphrases and leather jacket, however, ABC didn’t want him to wear a leather jacket. They had a very specific reason for thinking the character should dress differently. However, legendary television producer Gary Marshall managed to find a loophole in their demands.

Fonzie with a red background
Fonzie | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

Why leather jackets were originally too much for ‘Happy Days’

Firstly, a little background. When people think of 1950s men’s fashion, they often think of leather jackets. Part of this is because of actual 1950s icons like James Dean and Marlon Brando. Another reason is that fictional characters from the 1950s like the greasers from Grease and Fonzie from Happy Days adopted the look.

According to an interview Winkler gave to Entertainment Weekly, ABC didn’t like the idea of Fonzie wearing leather. Why? “[T]hey thought I’d be associated with crime,” Winkler recalled. It’s fascinating to think a character on a sitcom as wholesome as Happy Days could possibly scandalize ABC but it was a different time. 

The Happy Days theme

Why ABC allowed Fonzie to wear a leather jacket

So why did ABC ultimately allow Fonzie to wear a leather jacket? “The leather jacket came when [exec producer] Garry Marshall made a deal with ABC. [The network] said, ‘Yes, all right, you can use him in leather only when he’s with his motorcycle.’” 

This dictum had a huge impact on Fonzie’s portrayal. “Garry went back and said to the writers, ‘Never write a scene without his motorcycle again.’ So I always stood next to my motorcycle — inside, outside, in my apartment, in Arnold’s. Didn’t matter where, I was always with my motorcycle. And that’s how I got out of the golf jacket and into leather.”

Fonzie | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

How the world reacted to Fonzie’s look

Winkler recalled how ABC’s attitude towards Fonzie evolved considerably. “It went from there to a few years later [ABC] offering my own [spin-off] show, which I thought was the kiss of death. That was flattering, but he lived and breathed in that environment with those fabulous people. You take him out of that, and what do you got? You got nothing.” 

According to TV Guide, Winkler did play Fonzie in a cartoon spinoff called The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang. The spinoff featured members of the Happy Days cast reprising their roles. In addition, Fonzie wore his jacket in that show.

The Fonz with a blue background
The Fonz | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

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Fonzie would later be memorialized by a statue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That’s pretty interesting as there are very few statues of television characters. The statue, sometimes called ‘The Bronze Fonz,” depicts Fonzie in his leather jacket, showing how iconic the look had become. In addition, Fonzie is depicted wearing a leather jacket in “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Fonz,” an episode of Family Guy where Peter Griffin founds a religion based on Happy Days. The world liked that jacket — even if ABC didn’t at first.