‘Happy Days’: Ron Howard Gave Henry Winkler a Hilarious Ultimatum for Film, ‘Night Shift’

by Suzanne Halliburton

Ron Howard grew out of Happy Days. He no longer wanted to act. Rather, he wanted to direct and be in charge of the on-screen vision as opposed to playing a part.

First movie to direct? It was the movie, Night Shift. Who did he want in the cast? Someone really familiar. Try Henry Winkler, aka Arthur Fonzarelli. But you Happy Days fans can call him Fonzie.

So in 1982, Howard turned to Winkler for help. It was like Richie asking Fonzie about girls. How many times did that happen in the show?

Howard offered Winkler his choice in lead male characters.

Winkler recalled the offer in a 2011 teleconference with entertainment reporters. He said: “You know Ron Howard said, “You can play either, just be in the movie.”  And I thought, well, I just played the Fonz for a lot of years; I’m going to play Richie.  That’s how I picked Chuck.”

Chuck Wasn’t Exactly a Happy Days Kind of Character

In Night Shift, Chuck wasn’t exactly Richie Cunningham or a character right out of Happy Days. Rather, he was a former stressed-out stockbroker. He quit the job and decided to work the night shift at a New York morgue. Peace and quiet, right? Wrong. He had to work with an outlandish character, played by Michael Keaton, in Keaton’s first big role.

Shelley Long, Diane from Cheers, also starred in the movie, playing a prostitute.

Night Shift also featured some others you may recognize. Howard cast his younger brother, Clint, who like Ron, was a child star. Kevin Costner, everybody’s favorite Dutton on Yellowstone, played Frat Boy No. 1. And Shannen Doherty, who was Brenda on Beverly Hills 90201, was a young scout.

Because it’s a comedy, Chuck and Belinda fell in love. (Think of it as Fonzie-Diane Chambers). Belinda runs a prostitution business out of the morgue. But Belinda wouldn’t go strictly management. There are more morgue hijinx. By the end of the movie, Chuck stops being timid and everyone lives happily ever after.

The movie earned $21.1 million at the box office. Winkler was nominated for a Golden Globe. It was a nice notch on his acting resume. And Howard, post-Happy Days, did a terrific job. He’s now known mostly for his directing. And Howard won an Academy Award for directing A Beautiful Mind.

Winkler Finally Won His First Emmy in 2018

Winkler, after Happy Days, also wanted to edge away from acting. When Happy Days ended — Fonzie was in all 255 episodes — Winkler wanted to produce. He produced episodes for shows like MacGyver. And then Winkler returned to acting in the 1990s.

And in 2018, Winkler won an Emmy for best supporting actor in the HBO series Barry. Winkler gave the acceptance speech he wrote four decades before when he was Fonzie and hanging out with Richie Cunningham.