In the mid-’70s, a young Henry Winkler was still trying to find his footing as an actor. The Happy Days star had already earned a degree from the Yale School of Drama, gained experience in theater and commercials, and appeared in a few TV series and movies. Despite that impressive resume, however, he’d yet to get his big break.
So, he saved what he could, packed his bags, and moved to California. “I majored in child psychology,” the beloved actor explained to the New York Post. “Applied to 18 colleges. Then I did commercials. Two a day. To be known in New York, I learned you must first go to California where everyone’s tall, blond, and has big belt buckles.”
Though moving across the country was tough, it was the best decision he could have made. The same year he arrived in California, the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself – an audition for a character on the upcoming sitcom Happy Days.
Henry Winkler auditioned for and won the part of Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli, and the rest is history. Overnight, Fonzie became a cultural icon. He was a teen heartthrob, a role model, and a template for “cool” characters for the rest of time.
As many actors throughout the have learned, however, playing such an iconic role comes at a high price. And once Henry Winkler had cemented himself as “Fonzie from Happy Days,” he found the character nearly impossible to escape.
How ‘Happy Days’ Star Henry Winkler Fought Against Being Typecast
Though he knew playing The Fonz was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, one that many aspiring actors would never achieve, Henry Winkler couldn’t help but feel trapped by the role. To combat being typecast and add some variety to his filmography, he accepted a role in the 1978 film The One and Only.
Unfortunately, however, it wasn’t exactly a smash hit. “So many bad reviews your self-image drops to the bottom of the ocean,” the Happy Days star recalled. “[My] first film was The One and Only, about Gorgeous George the wrestler. I shot all day and wrestled all night. Lousy reviews. In the beginning, I couldn’t get hired.”
“I wondered, what are they watching?” he continued. “You fight back. Onto the next audition. Train. Learn. Pack gratitude with tenacity. I had to develop the voice. I was stilted. I’d say I was still working on that from age 27 to 72.”
With hard work and determination, Henry Winkler eventually broke free. Though he’ll always be known as Fonzie, he’s now built an incredible catalog of work and earned a place among the most beloved actors in Hollywood history.
As such, he’ll always be grateful for Happy Days and The Fonz, despite the roadblocks they caused in his career. “‘The Fonz’ has been great for me,” Winkler said. “You know what? I’ve now finally learned the policy of being with only pros or human beings: ‘No a–holes.'”