‘Happy Days’: ‘Fonzie’ Star Henry Winkler Says Ron Howard Was ‘Very Nervous’ Directing 1982 Box Office Smash Hit

by Matthew Wilson

“Happy Days” actors Henry Winkler and Ron Howard reunited on this 1982 smash hit. It was only Howard’s second time as director of a major film. Howard was nervous in the role and asked Winkler to star in the film. The two had entertained audiences for years on “Happy Days” but they had a different working relationship as director and actor.

That film was 1982’s “Night Shift,” which also starred a young Michael Keaton. Before that, Howard had directed “Grand Theft Auto” and a number of TV movies as well. Winkler was glad to break away from his bad-boy character in the Fonz. The film offered him a chance to play against type. But the actor was also a calming element, helping Howard work through some of his directorial jitters.

“Ron asked me to be in his first film for a major studio for Warner Brothers,” Winkler told the Television Academy Foundation. “I thought, ‘Well, I just played the Fonz for ten years, so maybe I’ll play Ron now, I’ll play Richie. So I took [the role of] Chuck in ‘Night Shift.’ Ron Howard was very nervous. Because he was young. He didn’t know if the crew and the cast of that size in a major motion picture would listen to him. Would have respect for him.”

Ultimately, Howard’s fears proved to be unfounded. Winkled watched first hand as Howard took control of the set and commanded the respect of the entire production.

“You would ask Ron Howard a question on the set,” Winkler continued. “He’d say ‘Let me think about that.’ The entire crew, the entire cast, waited to hear what Ron had to say. Because in an instant, he had full command, full respect of the entire operation.”

Ron Howard Convinced Henry Winkler to Work with Michael Keaton

One way Howard stepped in as director was getting both Winkler and Michael Keaton on the same page. Winkler initially had some reservations about working with Keaton on the film. Like Howard, the actor was an unproven element in the Hollywood industry at the time. During early production, Winkler didn’t think the actor’s style gelled with his own. But Howard convinced Winkler to look at things from a different perspective.

“When Henry first read with Michael, he said, ‘The guy’s talented, but I don’t know if I’m comfortable working with him,’” Howard told The Washington Post. “I told him that was good, because Chuck, in the film, is certainly not comfortable with Bill. Before long they were fine, but there was that initial week or two where Henry was not all that comfortable with Michael’s rhythms and that was good — it gave their relationship that off-balance texture.”

Howard’s directing proved to be crucial in making the film work. “Night Shift” ended up making $21.1 million, and Howard’s career in Hollywood started to take off.