‘Happy Days’ Creator Revealed the Moment That He Knew ‘Fonzie’ Was Going to be a Hit

by Chris Haney

While speaking with Happy Days creator Garry Marshall in a 2000 interview, the showrunner opened up about just how big Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli became as he shot to fame in the ’70s.

As Marshall admitted, he didn’t mean for Henry Winkler to play the part of a main character. The hit sitcom hired him for a bit role, and never expected Fonzie’s meteoric rise to stardom. However, it didn’t take long for Marshall and the show’s writers to realize they had something special with Winkler and The Fonz.

Seemingly overnight, Fonzie blew up. Wherever you went, you couldn’t help hearing about or seeing the Happy Days character. Marshall shared a story of the gate guard protecting the studio lot where Happy Days was filmed. One day, the guard said to Marshall, “You know this guy you got, Fonzie, he’s pretty good.” It was around that time that Marshall knew they had struck gold with Winkler’s casting.

“[Fonzie] became bigger than I ever imagined. He was on people’s clothes, on people’s pajamas, on their bedsheets. He was all over the place,” Marshall said to the Television Academy Foundation about the Fonzie craze. “You always know a character or something’s a hit if it’s on the other pages besides the TV pages in the newspaper.”

“They were referring to Fonzie all over the place. In sports, in government, and everywhere they made references. I remember [tennis legend] Arthur Ashe played – I can’t remember the other tennis player – and they said, ‘You got a big match tonight, is it going to be long?’ He said, ‘Oh no, short. We’re getting home. We gotta see Fonzie and Pinky Tuscadero.’ It was in the sports section. So he became big, Fonzie, no question,” Marshall added.

‘Happy Days’ Star Explains Why Cast Had No Hard Feelings About Fonzie’s Fame

During an interview with Henry Winkler in 2010, the actor touched on his Happy Days character. Additionally, he revealed how the rest of the cast treated him as he shot to stardom.

Rumors circulated that the rest of the cast held a grudge over Fonzie’s sudden rise to popularity. However, Winkler addressed the speculation head-on and got it done. When the sitcom first aired in 1974, Marshall didn’t intend for Fonzie to be the focal point of the show.

That honor went to Ron Howard, who played Richie Cunningham. Howard already made a name for himself from his time on The Andy Griffith Show as Opie. Consequently, he was arguably the largest draw on the sitcom. Yet once The Fonz hit TV screens across the nation, it didn’t take long for him to steal the show.

Fonzie rapidly became a household name. The cast may have had bouts of jealousy over Winkler’s rise to fame. But none of them were anything but true professionals on set.

“The cast of Happy Days, no matter what their age, were completely professional,” Winkler explained in the 2010 interview. “There was no attitude, not even for a moment for the ten years of the show’s run. We played charades together, played baseball together, traveled all over the world for the USO together and worked very hard together to make the show as funny as it could possibly be.”