‘Happy Days’: Henry Winkler Still Doesn’t Know Why Show Was a Smash-Hit

by Joe Rutland

OK, so you’d think that Henry Winkler, of all people, would have a reason why “Happy Days” was a smash-hit for ABC. Well, he doesn’t.

Let’s let “The Fonz” tell us himself. Winkler, obviously, played the motorcycle-riding, coolest-dude-in-Milwaukee Arthur Fonzarelli on the long-running sitcom.

The Yale School of Drama student (it’s true!) offered this response to a question about the show. Winkler chatted it up with author-journalist Jonathan Alter for “Old Goats.”

“I don’t have an answer,” Winkler said. “What I know is Garry Marshall set the show in the ’50s for a reason, so that when you watched it, it was ageless.

‘Happy Days’ Star Said Stories On TV Sitcom Involved Families and Are Timeless

“The stories are relevant no matter when you watch it,” the “Happy Days” star said. “They are family stories about the smallest details of what it is like to be alive on this planet. And each story had a moral but because it was set in the past, you never felt you were being hit on the head with a point of view.”

“Happy Days” set the tone for a few spin-offs on ABC. “Laverne & Shirley,” “Mork and Mindy,” “Blansky’s Beauties,” and “Joanie Loves Chachi” all came out of the original show.

That Garry Marshall-created series ran for 11 seasons between 1974-84. Besides Winkler, “Happy Days” cast members included Ron Howard, Marion Ross, Tom Bosley, Erin Moran, Donny Most, and Anson Williams.

Outsiders, Winkler’s character was originally one in the background. When he started getting more material that brought him to the forefront, fans fell in love with “Fonzie.” It got so hot that at one point, “Happy Days” producers thought about changing the show’s name to “Fonzie’s Happy Days.”

They brought up the subject to Howard, who had been the sitcom’s lead actor. He wasn’t too impressed with it and was going to leave for film school. Upon leaving that meeting, Howard bumped into Marshall. The show creator asked him how the meeting went. Howard told him what transpired and Marshall flat-out said the show’s name would stay the same.

Winkler Has Made Peace With ‘Fonzie’ Character As Part Of His Career

Of course, everyone knows Winkler from playing “Fonzie.” Others, though, might connect him with “Arrested Development,” “The Waterboy,” or his children’s books.

But what about “The Fonz” after all these years? Winkler said that character casts a huge shadow over him.

“Absolutely—a beautiful shadow,” Winkler said in an interview with Connecticut Magazine. “The shadow is as wonderful as the video I have of my granddaughter discovering her own shadow. Her mother happened to have her iPhone out, and you see this little girl bouncing around, chasing her shadow on the sidewalk—that’s how wonderful my shadow is.”