‘Happy Days’ Icon Henry Winkler Played an Integral Role in Making ‘Rocky’

by Caitlin Berard

In his nearly 60 years in Hollywood, Henry Winkler has had some truly incredible roles. From The Fonz in the classic TV series Happy Days to Barry Zuckercorn in Arrested Development to his newest project Barry, in which he plays acting coach Gene Cousineau, Henry Winkler’s career thus far has been nothing short of legendary.

Perhaps his largest contribution to Hollywood, however, was the part he played in bringing to life a film in which he had no part – a little-known sports drama, Rocky. In an interview on The Tonight Show, Henry Winkler described how he helped create one of the most popular film franchises of all time.

Sylvester Stallone and Henry Winkler first met on the set of the 1974 film The Lords of Flatbush and became fast friends. So when Sylvester Stallone first arrived in California, he knew just who to call.

Without hesitation, Henry Winkler helped him get his footing in the new chapter of his life. And after moving Sly into his new apartment, Henry set off for a meeting with his network, ABC, on Stallone’s behalf.

“[Sylvester Stallone] gave me a script and I took it to ABC,” Winkler explained to Jimmy Fallon. “I was working on Happy Days at that time. And they liked the script! And I sold them the script and I called Sly and said, ‘We sold the script!'”

How ‘Happy Days’ Star Henry Winkler Saved Sylvester Stallone’s Career

Though the world now knows Sylvester Stallone as the iconic actor behind incredible franchises such as Rambo and The Expendables, he was virtually unknown in the early 70s. As such, when ABC got the script and saw the name “Sylvester Stallone” stamped across the front, they weren’t sure he was the right fit for the job.

When Henry Winkler called his friend to give him the bad news, Sylvester Stallone pleaded with Henry to change their minds. “[Stallone] said, ‘Henry, don’t let them do this to me,'” Winkler recalled using his best Sylvester Stallone impression.

The Happy Days star agreed and went back to the network to ask for a reversal of the exchange. At first, the company denied Henry Winkler’s request. They didn’t want their money back, they wanted what they likely knew would be a hit script, and explained to the young actor that they didn’t do refunds.

After a bit of begging from one of their top stars, however, ABC agreed. Henry Winkler then returned the script to Sylvester Stallone, and a year later, Rocky was born.

With that one favor for a friend, Henry Winkler not only saved what would go on to become a historic franchise but very possibly Sylvester Stallone’s entire career. Who knows where the actor would be without Rocky kickstarting his progression through the ranks of Hollywood.