Celebrating Seniors – “The Fonz” turns 70
Baby boomer and actor Henry Winkler was born on October 30, 1945 in New York City to German Jewish immigrant parents. Winkler has said in interviews that he struggled in school and was bullied; even his parents and in particular his father, Harry Irving Winkler (a lumber company president who spoke 11 languages), called him “dumb dog” as a nickname. It would not be until he was 31 and his step-son was getting tested for a learning disability that Winkler was finally diagnosed with dyslexia, a learning disability.
Despite his academic struggles, Winkler graduated from Emerson College with a B.A. in 1967, followed by an M.F.A. from Yale (he attended their School of Drama) in 1970. Learning dialogue and memorizing it was particularly difficult due to his dyslexia, and he would often only be able to memorize the first part of a monologue and then try to “do his best” with the rest. After graduation Winkler worked steadily on stage/in the theater, then started scoring television commercial work, small parts on television series and then moving into movies including The Lords of Flatbush (1974).
Henry Winkler’s big break – and the role he is likely still most identified with by seniors and baby boomers – is that of “Fonzie” or “The Fonze” on Happy Days (his character’s real name was Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli). Happy Days ran for 10 years, from 1974-1984, and Winkler was nominated 3 times for Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (1976, 1977, & 1978). He’s made a number of cameo appearances in character as “Fonzie” for music videos and specials.
During the run on Happy Days, Winkler got married to Stacey Furstman in 1978. The couple has raised three children – Stacey’s son Jed Weitzman (from her first marriage), their daughter Zoe (b. 1980), and son Max (b. 1983). He also appeared on a CBS television special for children, Henry Winkler Meets William Shakespeare (1977), and appeared in some other big-screen movies, including Night Shift (1982). Right photo: pinterest.com
His working relationship with Happy Days co-star Ron Howard became a solid off-screen friendship and lasting professional relationship as well; Howard directed Winkler in Night Shift, and Winkler is Godfather to Ron Howard’s daughter Bryce Dallas Howard.
The documentary Who Are the DeBolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids was produced and narrated by Winkler; it won the Academy Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary in 1978, and a television version won two Emmy Awards in 1979.
Post-Happy Days, during the 1980’s and early 1990’s Winkler began focusing on directing and producing. He produced television series (MacGyver), made-for-television movies (Scandal Sheet 1985), and game shows (Hollywood Squares 2002-2004). He also directed the big-screen movies Memories of Me (1988) and Cop and a Half (1993); and by the early 1990’s Winkler had also made a return to acting in the movies and on television.
Below, Zoe, Henry & Max Winkler 2009 photo: la-confidential-magazine.com
In his 50+ years, Henry Winkler appeared briefly in the hit movie Scream (1996) as a high school principal. He’s appeared in 4 Adam Sandler comedies – The Waterboy (1998) as a college football coach, Little Nicky (2000) as himself, Click (2006) as Sandler’s father, and You Don’t Mess With the Zohan (2008) as himself. A recurring role on the television comedy Arrested Development (2002 -2006 season) as lawyer Barry Zukerkorn, saw Winkler playing father to his real-life son Max Winkler (playing Barry’s son). He’s worked steadily guest-starring in other television series including The Bob Newhart Show, The Drew Carey Show, The Practice, The Simpsons, Crossing Jordan, and many others. He was co-starring in 8 Simple Rules (for Dating my Teenage Daughter) in 2003 with close friend John Ritter (at Ritter’s request) and was devastated when Ritter died unexpectedly.
Winkler turned his creative talents and personal experience growing up with dyslexia, to writing children’s books in 2003. Now in his senior years, he’s written over 16 books about a dyslexic 4th grader, Hank Zipner, and starred in the Children’s BBC television series adaptation Hank Zipner (2014) as teacher Mr. Rock. Winkler has appeared in various Peter Pan-based pantomimes in Britain (2006-2013), and has been recognized there for his work to promote literacy and help children with dyslexia and special needs. He was appointed an Honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2011 and named as a United Kingdom Top 10 Literacy Heroes (December 2013).
As a senior citizen, Winkler has continued to act on television and has appeared most recently in the comedy Parks and Recreation as Dr. Saperstein, and on Royal Pains as senior and father Eddy Lawson. Below, actor Mark Feuerstein (Dr. Hank Lawon) and Henry Winkler (his father, Eddy Lawson). Photo: aoltv.com
Over the years Winkler seems to have gained a well-deserved reputation as one of the nicest people in the industry. He and wife Stacey are together (37 years +); step-son Jed works in the entertainment industry, daughter Zoe (who also struggled with learning disabilities as a child) became a teacher, and son Max is an actor, director, producer and writer.
Happy 70th Birthday, Henry Winkler!