‘Happy Days’: Why Henry Winkler Refused to Comb His Hair As Fonzie on the Show
Happy Days is beloved by a whole generation that grew up during the ’70s. Richie, Potsie, Ralph, and Mr. and Mrs. C. were the icons of our childhood. But no one was quite as cool as Henry Winkler, who played Arthur Fonzarelli. Even though Winkler was a most unlikely casting choice, he found his way into our hearts with his trademark leather jacket (which had to be fought hard to keep) and even into our lexicon by the phrase “jumping the shark,” which is the point a show begins to go downhill.
The brilliance of Fonzie was that he was a tough guy who rarely fought, a cool guy who never had to prove it, and the way he would go to comb his hair only to bust out his trademark “Ayyyyyy!” These were not the writer’s trademarks but from Winkler himself. In the case of the comb, it came largely from a promise Winkler made to himself about how he would portray the Fonz on screen.
Who is Henry Winkler?
According to IMDB, Winkler was born in New York but disliked school due to his low self-esteem and dyslexia, making it difficult for him to excel academically. His parents expected Winkler to get a blue-collar job, but Winkler had fallen in love with the stage after performing in his 8th-grade play. Winkler found ways around his dyslexia and got a BA from Emerson College in 1967 and an MFA from the Yale School of Drama in 1970.
Like most actors, Winkler started in 30-second commercials but was eventually cast as a member of a gang in The Lords of Flatbush. Playing a gang member led Winker to audition for Happy Days, and, improbably, he was cast as Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli. Fonzie rarely appears in the first few episodes, and when he did, he was wearing a decidedly unhip golf jacket, but he was so popular that his role got more prominent as the show continued. He became a ’70s icon and played Fonzie for 10 seasons.
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 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his role on the HBO series Barry.
How did Winkler create the Fonzie character?
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 hoodlum. However, Marshall convinced the studio that Fonzie had to wear the jacket when he was on his motorcycle for protection, and the network agreed. Afterward, Winkler and Marshall conspired to always have Fonzie around his bike, so he never had to take the jacket off until the network gave up. The leather coat, the trademark “Ayyyyyy!”, and using the bathroom as his “office” all combined to create an iconic character.
Why didn’t Winkler think Fonzie would constantly comb his hair?
Winkler explained to the Guardian why he refused to use a comb and be obsessed with his hair like the stereotypical “cool guys” in other shows at the time. He’d already decided he wanted to be different and that meant not always combing his hair — or sticking a pack of cigarettes in his pocket. “Then, in the pilot, I had to look in a mirror. I told the director: “I can’t comb my hair. I made a deal with myself.” He replied: “It’s written. You have to.” So I walked up, held up my comb, then went: “Heeeey … that’s perfect. I don’t need to comb.” And an iconic moment was born.