‘Happy Days’: Henry Winkler Got the Last Laugh Over Yale Colleagues by Doing Commercials

by Matthew Memrick
(Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

When Yale acting peers couldn’t understand why “Happy Days” star Henry Winkler did commercials, he showed them how they opened doors for his career.

Winkler attended Emerson College in Boston and then Yale University from 1967 to 1970. While he was there, he did some notable commercials with Sanka coffee, American Airlines, H&R Block, Gleem toothpaste, etc.

“I got great at getting commercials, and I didn’t have to do another job to make ends meet,” Winkler told NPR’s Terry Gross in 2019.

That cash helped him do plays for free at the Manhattan Theatre Club.

Many of Winkler’s Yale peers couldn’t understand Winkler’s commercial work. They told him they trained only for theater. But it seems his plan worked out well.

It turns out those commercials helped Winkler’s road to acting success. He ignored his agent’s pleas for him to go to Hollywood at first but eventually gave in 1973.

Winkler told NPR that the commercial money helped him go to California for a month and “survive.” Within two weeks of getting there, he got his “Happy Days” gig as Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli on his birthday (October 30, 1973), and the rest is history for the “Fonz” actor.

By the way, TV Guide ranked “The Fonz” as number four on its “50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time” list in 1999. Wonder how it stacks up today.

“Happy Days” Actor Said Attitude Helped Him Land Roles

When Henry Winkler stepped into his role as the Fonz, his world changed. The actor said he had success with the show, but it was hard to get out of that stereotyping for future acting jobs as its magic faded.

But he kept a good attitude about life and work. He’s stayed in the acting world since 1972.

When it comes to finding the right role, Winkler’s got a basic approach.

“If you’re supposed to have it, you will have it,” the star said. “If you’re supposed to get a role, it will come to you. I tried, it didn’t. Sometimes it did.”

Sure there have been ups and downs, but Winkler’s made it through many of the tough times with grace and gratitude.

“Happy Days” Actor’s Current Show Will Have His Most “Dramatic” Moment

Recently, Henry Winkler spoke at the Vulture Festival and shared some news about his current character on the HBO series “Barry.”

Winkler plays acting coach Gene Cousineau and helps a man named Barry (played by actor-director Bill Hader) learn how to act while working another job as a hired killer. 

Anyway, a fan asked about the show’s upcoming third season, and Winkler updated the crowd saying that the season production recently finished. But then the 76-year-old added that the season would prove to be the most “dramatic” role of his entire career.

Winkler’s had numerous comedy roles over the years, so we’ll have to give this season a chance. The actor talked about a few plot lines, including one where his character will get back together with someone close to his late wife.