‘Happy Days’ Star Henry Winkler Explains How He Landed The Fonz With His Acting Coach’s Help

by Suzanne Halliburton

Happy Days icon Henry Winkler gives credit to his acting coach for helping him land one of the most significant roles in pop culture history.

Let’s go back to the early 1970s for this classic TV anecdote, which Winkler recently shared with The Daily Beast. Winkler is 76 now. He’s an Emmy winner co-starring on Barry, the HBO dark comedy about a hit man taking acting classes. Winkler’s character is Gene Cousineau, the hit man’s acting coach. So naturally, this conversation turned to Winkler’s own mentor as he recalled how he landed the role on Happy Days.

“The process is, one of my teachers, Bobby Lewis, rest his soul, one of the great acting teachers of history, he said to us, “Your job is to get the job,” Winkler recalled. “Once you get the job, your job is then to do it. But you don’t worry about anything else except getting it.

“And I was ferocious in being single-minded about getting the job,” said the Happy Days star. “The other thing is changing my voice. Changing my voice changed my life. As soon as I changed my voice, I was unleashed.”

Henry Winkler talks to Anson Williams back in 1977 when Happy Days was in its heyday.. (Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Happy Days Fun Fact: Fonzie Was Supposed to be Called the Mash

It took a terrific acting job to go from Henry Winkler, the son of German immigrants who earned a masters degree from the Yale School of Drama, to the Fonz. After all, Arthur Fonzarelli, aka, the Fonz, was the ageless 20-something who was so cool he had his own catchphrase. Heeeey, you can sit on it if you disagree.

Garry Marshall, who created Happy Days, wanted a character similar to the guys back in his neighborhood. He also thought of Fonzie as a “quiet intimidator.” Plus, the guy probably needed to be tall. And his name would be the Mash.

Marshall, in an interview with the Archive of American Television, said an ABC network executive told him: “We need a gang, we need a bad guy.”

When Marshall reworked the pilot, producers favored hiring Micky Dolenz, the drummer for the Monkees, to play Fonzie.

But then Marshall leaned towards Winkler. There might’ve been a simple reason for the change. The rest of the Happy Days cast was on the short side. Plus, Marshall recognized Winkler’s talent.

“Garry Marshall saw it,” Winkler told the Daily Beast. “He wanted a big, six-foot Italian. They got a five-foot, six-and-a-half-inch Jew.”

What they got was the most perfect actor to portray the Happy Days character, Winkler only was supposed to be a background player when the show premiered in 1974. However, Winkler was a scene stealer. The audience response was so immediately positive, Winkler’s Fonzie became a permanent cast member. He and Tom Bosley, who portrayed Howard Cunningham, each appeared in 255 episodes, the most of any actor.

So here’s to the acting coach.