Henry Winkler on His Meteoric ‘Happy Days’ Fame: ‘It Was Scary’

No one can argue that Happy Days actor Henry Winkler’s ascent to fame on the classic comedy was one of pop culture’s more historic moments.

His portrayal of Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli on the sitcom in the mid-1970s began as a minor character. Soon, Winkler found his Fonzie character had taken on a life of its own, with the star’s image in demand on everything from children’s lunch boxes to T-shirts.

While success as an actor was something Winkler had worked hard for, he hadn’t counted on fame being so seemingly instant — or, as he put it, “scary.”

Actor Henry Winkler wears a leather jacket in this 1976 photo as 'Happy Days' character Fonzie.
Henry Winkler in 1976 wearing Fonzie’s trademark leather jacket on ‘Happy Days’ | ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

Marion Ross on the ‘Happy Days’ cast member who was reportedly ‘dejected’ with the Fonz’s fame

In her memoir, My Days: Happy and Otherwise, actor Marion Ross, who portrayed Marion Cunningham on the series, recalled Winkler’s sudden celebrity. While the cast enjoyed the show’s vault in ratings thanks to the star, some members, Ross said, felt practically invisible.

“The fact that Henry had risen to be the show’s breakout star, it did make the rest of us feel like we were supporting players,” she wrote. She recalled Ron Howard stopping by her dressing room to chat, the unhappiness of the situation evident on his face.

“I will never forget the day when, though the show was sitting strongly in the number one slot in the ratings, a dejected Ron Howard came into my dressing room and flopped into a chair,” Ross continued.

“It’s just all about the Fonz,” he told Ross. “Every damn day it’s the Fonz this and the Fonz that. There are other people involved with this show other than him, ya know!”

Ross made clear that Howard’s frustration was directed at the Fonzie character and not Winkler himself who, she added, “never acted like he was the star or was better than anyone else.”

Henry Winkler was glad fame came about well into his 20s

As for the Fonz actor himself, while his popularity was gratifying it both surprised and alarmed him, he explained to the Television Academy Foundation in a 2006 interview. It also taught him solid life lessons.

“I’m glad that I was older; I am happy that I was 28, 29 years old because it was gigantic,” he said. “It was … I don’t know what it was. People wanted my socks without taking off my shoes, you know?

“It was scary. … This is what I learned from stardom: You have got to see it as a mirage. You cannot believe you are more than you are. I didn’t grow; I was still short. My nose was still the same size. I couldn’t wear an Edwardian suit. You can’t get caught up in that.”

What fans say these days when they see the actor

In a chat with The Dan Patrick Show, the actor noted that some fans still approach him for his role as Fonzie. “[Fans] say ‘Thank you for all the years of happiness,” Winkler said. “And the laughter.”

And then others are just caught off guard by the Arrested Development star’s 5-foot-6-inch height: “They’ll say, ‘Wow, you are so short!’ That’s a big thing they say.”

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