Henry Winkler was born in Manhattan, New York City, New York on October 30, 1945 and will be celebrating his 68th birthday tomorrow.
His parents who were Jewish emigrated from Germany in 1939, escaping from the Nazi regime. His childhood was not an easy one for Winkler, since his parents were critical of his difficulties in school. His father spoke 11 languages, so had little patience with a son struggling with his studies. Winkler said he was punished for his learning problems in school.
Winkler graduated from the Yale School of Drama in 1970, with a Master of Fine Arts Degree. It would be four years later, before he landed some television roles and also appeared in 30 commercials.
He appeared in an episode of Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart and Rhoda in 1974. He also appeared in two movies released in 1974, which were Crazy Joe and Lords of Flatbush.
His big break came later that year, when he was cast as Fonzie in Happy Days. Winkler was cast as a high school dropout, even though he was 29 years old at the time. In retrospect looking back it seems strange that a 29-year-old man would be hanging around with teenagers in high school.
My own experiences in high school told me that the popular kids in high school like Ron Howard as Richie Cunningham did not hang out with someone like Fonzie, who was from the other side of the tracks.
Still, the show caught on with viewers and Fonzie was treated like family by the Cunninghams. One of my favorite scenes was when Fonzie and the guys were on a camping trip and the birds and animals in the woods were making an awful racket and Fonzie said “cool it” or something to that effect and the woods became so quiet you couldn’t hear a sound.
Fonzie was also adept at making balky coke machines work, by hitting them a certain way and the cold drink would come out. ABC television network at first was reluctant to let Fonzie be shown in the early episodes, in fear that he would be known as a hoodlum. His character became so popular, that he was being featured more often in the episodes.
Ratings shot up for the show after Fonzie became a central character in the show. The best thing about Winkler is that he never let his popularity go to his head and was kind to his fans.
Winkler was married in 1978 to Stacy Weitzman and they have now been married for 35 years.
He is the cousin of actor/comedian/writer Richard Belzer and you can see the resemblance in their facial features.
An interesting bit of trivia is that he rode the same motorcycle in Happy Days, that Steve McQueen rode in the Great Escape film.
Even though Fonzie was seen with a motorcycle on Happy Days he never rode one on the show and in fact fell off the motorcycle, when he attempted to ride it off camera.
Winkler also authored 12 novels and they were about his struggles with dyslexia as a child, which he didn’t learn he had till he became an adult.
He portrayed Fonzie in five different series, including Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy, The Fonz and Happy Days Gang and Joanie Loves Chachi.
Winkler doesn’t have any kind words about actor Tom Hanks. He was fired from the movie and said he got along better with Hooch in the movie Turner and Hooch, than he did with Hanks.
His production company Winkler-Rich Productions produced the television show MacGyver. He did act in the movie Waterboy playing a high school football coach in the Adam Sandler movie.
Winkler is currently appearing in the comedy-drama Royal Pains on the USA Network. He is also filming a new television series Hank Zipzer, which should be seen on the small screen in 2014, with Winkler being the lead actor in the series.
By the time Happy Days left the air in 1984 Winkler was 39 years old and still playing a high school dropout of a much younger age.
It is good to know that Winkler went from an unhappy childhood, because of learning problems, to receiving a bachelors, masters and doctors degree.
Happy 68th birthday Fonzie!!!