Henry Winkler (Happy Days, Barry) loves Thanksgiving. That’s because the holiday features one of his favorite foods. During a visit to Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C., the 78-year-old actor and author told the audience, “I wait 363 days a year for Thanksgiving, and then it is not just the meal. It’s the sandwich the next day!”
That sandwich consists of leftover turkey with mayo, fried stuffing, cranberry out of the can, and more mayo before you smush it all between two slices of Wonder Bread. But Winkler wasn’t in town just to chat about culinary preferences. His memoir, Being Henry: The Fonz…and Beyond, came out from Celadon Books and is already a New York Times Bestseller.
An accomplished author already, Winkler has cowritten children’s books with Lin Oliver. However, the idea of putting out a memoir made him nervous at first. His youngest son, Max, kept encouraging him to look into it.
Winkler’s advice for overcoming nerves and doubts is to “put one foot in front of the other.” Ignore the excuses for why you think you can’t do something. “If you just say I am going to try, you will amaze yourself.”
On Challenges in School
Despite struggling with dyslexia for years—a diagnosis he didn’t get until adulthood—Winkler finished a bachelor’s degree at Emerson College and a Master of Fine Arts at Yale School of Drama. These programs were challenging. One of his instructors was Stella Adler, who studied under the great Konstantin Stanislavski.
In one of Adler’s assignments, students were supposed to give the class a tour of their imaginary gardens. When she called on Winkler, he began his performance. “I open the imaginary gate and I walk through. She said, ‘Sit down. You see nothing.'”
Startled by her words, he tried unsuccessfully to salvage his assignment. He gestured toward the floor. “Stella, I swear to God. My forget-me-nots are right here!”
Carmen de Lavallade, an actress and prima ballerina, was another instructor of acclaim. Winkler did a play with her where they had to be deer. As they rehearsed, he became alarmed by the thought that his deer wasn’t as good as hers. De Lavallade said, “Your deer is different than mine, and we are in the same herd.”
For Winkler, those reassuring words “just resonated with me forevermore that I did not have to be like anybody. Just what you do—if it is working—is just fine.”
On Connecting with Children
After graduation, Winkler did commercials and acted in plays. He moved to Los Angeles and landed the role of Arthur Fonzarelli, “The Fonz,” on Happy Days. With the character’s popularity then and now, Winkler often received invitations to events.
Once he served as honorary chairman at the Los Angeles Music Center’s Very Special Arts Festival. As he passed by the young artists, who were all physically challenged children, he heard a little girl say, “Fonz.” When he turned around, he saw the mother nearby in tears and he asked her what was wrong.
The mother said to him, “My daughter is seven. She has just spoken her first word.”
Winkler appreciates the positive impact of The Fonz on fans, particularly with children. “Somehow my doing what I love had jumped off the television and gone into this little girl.”
On Projects After Fonzie
With Happy Days winding down, Winkler wanted to avoid being typecasted. He admitted that he may have moved too quickly from The Fonz. One new 1980s project was Night Shift, directed by his friend and former Happy Days costar, Ron Howard.
“I had just been flamboyant Fonz for 10 years, so I played Chuck. I made that decision. But when I was trained, I was trained to play everything. In my mind, I was just doing what I do.”
Until the late 1990s, Winkler worked primarily as a producer because he couldn’t get acting roles. “He’s wonderful. He’s funny. But he’s The Fonz.”
Wes Craven gave him a small part in Scream as the principal. After the bloody death scene, Craven said, “Do you think it might be more excruciating than that? Could you scream a little louder?”
Winkler appreciated that Adam Sandler wanted him for The Waterboy, which opened more doors including acclaimed roles in Parks and Recreation and Barry. In 2018, he won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for Barry. “I had 39 seconds left. I talked so fast and thanked so many people. At the end I said, ‘You can go to bed now, kids. Daddy won!'”
His three children were already in their 40s.
Visit the Celadon Books website for more information about Henry Winkler’s memoir and book tour.