As originally conceived by the late Garry Marshall, Happy Days was designed as a star vehicle for actor Ron Howard in the days following his success in the film American Graffiti and before he moved on to become a director. But as often happens on a hit show, the so-called “Second Banana” becomes the most popular character. That’s certainly what happened on the 1950s-set series that turned Ron’s Richie Cunningham into best pals with Henry Winkler Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzirelli.
It became apparent fairly quickly that the audience was falling in love with the leather jacket-clad Fonz, which could have been become a problem, though it never did. While appearing on Inside the Actor’s Studio, and being interviewed by Alec Baldwin, Henry shared that when it was happening he sat down with Ron to have that conversation.
“I said to Ron, ‘Tell me now: How are you feeling? We haven’t talked about this,’” said Henry. “I was supposed to be in seven out of 13, which means I was only supposed to be in seven out of 13 shows each cycle. And then Fonzie took off. And he said, ‘You didn’t do one thing other than be good at what you’re doing. And it’s good for the show. My feelings were hurt, but it’s good for the show.’”
Seven seasons into the run of Happy Days, Ron decided he wanted to leave to pursue a career in directing and he turned to Henry for advice. Recalls the actor, “I said, ‘I think that if you wanted to be a brain surgeon, whether I needed it or not, I would be your first patient.’”
Seriously, that relationship between Henry and Ron was so cool, and being cool is… well, cool. And cool defined Fonzie. Wearing his leather jacket and oftentimes on his motorcycle (even in his apartment), he did help turn the show into a pop culture sensation. He also made famous phrases like “Ayy” (accompanied by two thumbs up), “Correctamundo,” “Exactamundo,” “Perfectamundo,” and, in his own unique way, “Cool it!” People watching Henry on HBO’s Barry may find it hard to believe that that’s the same guy who played the Fonz, but it is.
While once being interviewed by radio station WXOU, Henry addressed the impact Fonzie had on him: “He gave me a worldwide recognition, gave me a job in the very arena that I dreamt about. He was fun to play. I loved the people that I acted with. He put a roof on my head. He put my children through school. He created good will. He gave me the key to the door — now, once I walked through that door, I had to create it — but he gave me the key to the door to my future.”
To commemorate the fact that Happy Days is currently celebrating its 45th anniversary, scroll down to check out some of The Fonz’s coolest moments.
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