‘Happy Days’ Creator ‘Didn’t Want’ a Drama School Graduate Like Henry Winkler for ‘Fonzie’

by Joe Rutland

When “Happy Days” creator Garry Marshall was looking for someone to play “Fonzie,” a drama school grad wasn’t anywhere in his mind.

All that changed, though, when a guy named Henry Winkler showed up in Marshall’s life.

“I wanted a tall Italian boy named Fonzarelli to get away from the typical, dark-haired, Al Pacino, (Robert) DeNiros,” Marshall said.

He was interviewed by the Archive of American Television prior to Marshall’s death on July 19, 2016, at 81 years old.

‘Happy Days’ Creator Said Winkler Showed Him Work On ‘The Lord of Flatbush’ Film

“But Henry came in off the streets of New York. I was looking,” Marshall said about building up his “Happy Days” cast. “He was from the Yale Drama School. I didn’t want Yale Drama School particularly.

“An actor’s an actor and he came in, he acted it and then he showed me ‘The Lord of Flatbush’ film he played in with Sylvester Stallone,” Marshall said.

“He played a hood that looked like ‘Fonzie’ and he won me over and Tom Miller,” Marshall said. Miller, who was a producer on “Happy Days,” died in 2020 at 79 years old.

“It was the whole key to casting Henry Winkler and there he was,” Marshall said. “Started out with no lines and slowly worked his way up.”

In fact, show producers found viewers loving “Fonzie” so much that they started turning scripts into focusing on him. This proved troublesome to other “Happy Days” stars, especially Ron Howard, who played Richie Cunningham.

Winkler, Howard Hash Out Any Differences Around Casting

“Happy Days” was supposed to be an ensemble show with Howard being its central star.

That, though, changed as “Fonzie”-Mania took its own path. But Winkler talked about that specific time with Alex Baldwin in 2019 during an interview for “Inside the Actor’s Studio.”

Winkler told Baldwin that his “Happy Days” character’s success was stunning to him.

“I was supposed to be seven out of 13, which meant I was only supposed to be in seven out of the 13 shows each cycle,” Winkler said. “(But) ‘The Fonz’ has taken off.”

Winkler and Howard took a car ride to get real about the situation.

“The fourth year, we went to a dude ranch and did a two-parter, riding wild bulls,” Winkler said. “I had to sit on a bull. Ron Howard drove me home in his VW. And I said, ‘Ron, tell me now. How are you feeling? We haven’t talked about this.’

“He said, ‘You didn’t do one thing other than be good at what you’re doing,'” Winkler explained. “‘You never do anything on the set where you try to be the star. And it’s good for the show. My feelings were hurt, but it’s good for the show.'”

Both actors remain friends to this day. “Happy Days” will forever tie them together.