Everyone knows “The Fonz” from Happy Days. The character with his signature leather jacket and slicked-back hair is likely the first person you think of when you think of the classic sitcom. However, some may not realize that Winkler’s role was never intended to be a main character.
In 1974, when the show first aired, Happy Days writers originally meant for Fonzie to be a bit character. He would pop in from time to time, but he wasn’t supposed to be the focal point of the show. That honor was for Ron Howard who played Richie Cunningham.
Howard was already famous from his time on The Andy Griffith Show as Opie and was one of the largest draws on the sitcom. Yet once Fonzie hit TV screens across America, it didn’t take long for him to steal the show.
Seemingly overnight, Fonzie became a household name. Although the cast had bouts of jealousy over Winkler’s stardom, the actor said that everyone was a true professional 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.”
‘Happy Days’ Star Marion Ross Addressed Fonzie’s Success in Book
Marion Ross, who played Mrs. Cunningham on Happy Days, revealed how difficult it was for the cast to deal with Fonzie’s abrupt rise to fame in her 2018 memoir. He became a fan favorite almost overnight and therefore showrunners increased his role exponentially.
The show had already earned top ratings, so the other actors had trouble being in Fonzie’s shadow. All of a sudden, Happy Days‘ main characters felt like they were taking a backseat to Winkler.
“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 book.
Additionally, Ross shared a story about Howard feeling dejected on set because of “The Fonz” craze. After some prodding, Ross got Howard to open up about feeling the “Fonzie overload.”
“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!”
Yet Ross made sure to differentiate Howard’s thoughts about Fonzie compared to Winkler. She said that Winkler “never acted like he was the star or was better than anyone else.”
All three of the actors are still close to this day, and occasionally meet up for lunch or dinner. But at the time, their professional frustrations boiled over at times. It sounds like Ross’ book My Days: Happy and Otherwise was aptly named.