Henry Winkler didn’t come into “Happy Days” as a grizzled veteran actor to play Fonzie. But how old was Winkler when he first played The Fonz?
He was 28 years old and just wrapped up filming the movie “The Lords of Flatbush,” where Henry Winkler costarred with Sylvester Stallone. That was in 1973; the movie debuted in 1974. It was in the same year the TV show first appeared on ABC.
When he auditioned for the “Happy Days” part, little did Winkler know that Fonzie would become quite the phenomenon.
Winkler was a Yale Drama School graduate. Playing in a TV sitcom is quite different from Shakespeare. Yet he took the role and Fonzie, as we mentioned earlier, became the show’s star. This wasn’t in the original plan for “Happy Days” with Ron Howard, who played Richie Cunningham, as its top actor.
‘Happy Days’ Producers Seriously Talked About Changing Show Name
Fans, though, couldn’t get enough of The Fonz. At first, Winkler’s character was a behind-the-scenes player with little attention. Show producers decided to put more emphasis on that character. Soon, the 28-year-old actor was a hot commodity. Ratings for “Happy Days” on ABC were on fire.
It reached a point that talk was running rampant about renaming the show “Fonzie’s Happy Days.” They chatted with Howard. He told producers in an interview with ET Online, “‘Well, I don’t think I wanna be in that show. I wanna be in ‘Happy Days.'” Howard said he’d head back to film school.
A major voice on “Happy Days” wasn’t present at that meeting: Show creator/producer Garry Marshall. Once Howard and Marshall talked, the show wasn’t renamed at all.
Garry Marshall Wasn’t Too Hot On Having Drama School Grad Playing Fonzie
Funny, though, that Marshall really didn’t want someone with a drama school background playing Fonzie.
The “Happy Days” creator said, “I wanted a tall Italian boy named Fonzarelli to get away from the typical, dark-haired, Al Pacino, (Robert) DeNiros.” He talked about the hiring process while being interviewed by the Archive of American Television. It was done before Marshall’s death on July 19, 2016, at 81 years old.
“But Henry came in off the streets of New York. I was looking,” Marshall said about building up his “Happy Days” cast. “He was from the Yale Drama School. I didn’t want Yale Drama School particularly. An actor’s an actor and he came in, he acted it and then he showed me ‘The Lord of Flatbush’ film he played in with Sylvester Stallone.”
Well, in that movie his character looked like Fonzie. It clicked with Marshal and fellow “Happy Days” producer Tom Miller. Winkler went from no lines in the show to superstardom. He’s not rested on those laurels, though, as Winkler continues to act as well as direct and produce.