Tom Bosley, who played Howard Cunningham on Happy Days, said at first glance no one would have considered Henry Winkler to play The Fonz. And the fact Winkler was able to pull it off so convincingly shows the depth of his talent.
Bosley spoke with the Archive of American Television before his 2010 death about some of his castmates. The interviewer wanted to know what it was like working a megastar in the making.
Bosley said Winkler and Arthur Fonzarelli would likely never be in the same room in real life. But he was the right choice to play the part.
“Henry was perfect for that role,” Bosley said. “I mean if you had interviewed Henry Winkler with his background you probably would have never even considered him for that role: highly-educated, comes from a good family, European background went to Yale (University Drama School).”
Winkler was also smart. He knew that the limelight of playing Fonzie on Happy Days would hem him in, so he went another way, Bosley recalls.
“Henry is dedicated, hard-working, always faced whatever challenge came, Bosley recalled. “He handled his success really wonderfully well and is an extremely charitable person. He got married during the show and raised a stepson, and then had a couple of children of his own. And I think the wisest thing that he did when we were finished was he laid off acting for a while, and went into production and went into directing.”
Cast Admitted to Being Jealous of Fonzie’s Fame
Henry Winkler was an odd choice for The Fonz. He was 28 years old playing a teen. And producers picked him mainly because of his height. The other actor up for the part was too tall.
But once Arthur Fonzarelli showed up in living rooms across America, he was bigger than just about anyone could be.
“I said to Ron, ‘Tell me now: How are you feeling? We haven’t talked about this,’” Winkler said to Closer Weekly. “… (After) Fonzie took off. And he said, ‘You didn’t do one thing other than be good at what you’re doing, and it’s good for the show. My feelings were hurt, but it’s good for the show.’”
Marion Ross, who played Mrs. Cunningham, wrote in her book feeling the sea change when the character exploded.
“The fact that Henry (Winkler) had risen to be the show’s breakout star, it did make the rest of us feel like we were supporting players,” Ross wrote in her 2018 memoir.
“I will never forget the day when, though the show was sitting strongly in the number one slot in the ratings, a dejected Ron Howard came into my dressing room and flopped into a chair,” she wrote.
“It’s just all about the Fonz,” Howard told Ross. “Every damn day it’s the Fonz this and the Fonz that. There are other people involved with this show other than him, ya know!”
It wasn’t much of an issues as Howard and Winkler have remained close friends for the rest of their lives.