Ask someone to name a classic sitcom character, and chances are Henry Winkler’s Fonzie is the first to spurt out. And if not – he’ll certainly be in the top three. Few personalities will ever reach the sort of cultural precipice this lovable greaseball – in many ways – is responsible for creating himself.
In the case of both ‘Happy Days’ and Arthur Herbert “The Fonz” Fonzarelli, however, both were nearly non-existent.
Before his death in 2016, show creator Garry Marshall would elaborate on each side of this coin to The Guardian – revealing many fascinating tidbits in the process. And there to join him was none other than his biggest star: Fonzie’s Henry Winkler.
“When I did the original pilot, no one would buy it,” Marshall begins for the trade. “The networks said who cares about the 50s? Luckily, along came a wonderful film called ‘American Graffiti’ and ABC said: “We can have some of that.”
‘Happy Days’ Creator Knew Exactly Where The Fonz Came From
Indeed, George Lucas’ pre-‘Star Wars,’ nostalgia-loaded racer was a smash hit and a cultural happening. And according to Marshall, it sounds like we have Lucas to thank for both ‘Happy Days’ and the resulting Fonz.
As for said Arthur Fonzarelli, Marshall says the greaser “wasn’t in the original, but I soon realized I wanted a character from the other side of the tracks.”
From this, the ‘Happy Days’ creator lays out a starling revelation: where did his concept for the most popular television character of all time come from?
“I grew up in the Bronx and patented him off a guy in my neighborhood called Anthony who could tie a rope to an ice truck and pull it along with his teeth,” he recalls. “I always thought that was magical.”
Somehow, knowing The Fonz is at least partially real makes him all the more magical, too.
From there, Henry Winkler would take over Marshall’s “Anthony” concept to incalculable results. Offering an essay as a preamble to the creator’s own, Winkler revealed how he took the character – and ran.
“Everyone who’s ever played a Fonz-like cool character has always done the same things: combed their hair, stuck cigarette packets up the sleeve of their T-shirt. I swore I wouldn’t do any of that,” Winkler told The Guardian in tandem. “Then, in the pilot, I had to look in a mirror. I told the director: “I can’t comb my hair, I made a deal with myself.”
“He replied: “It’s written. You have to.” So I walked up, held up my comb, then went: “Heeeey … that’s perfect, I don’t need to comb.”
“That moment defined the Fonz,”the legendary actor states. “I got the “Heeeey” and the “Whoaaa” from my favourite sport at the time: horse-riding.”
And the rest, as they say, is television history.