When Henry Winkler landed a spot on Happy Days, he was supposed to be part of an ensemble that supported lead actor Ron Howard. But instead, he became a pop-culture icon who quickly became the star of the show.
Winkler, of course, played Arthur Fonzarelli in the classic TV series. Arthur—aka the Fonze or Fonzie—was a smooth-talking, leather-clad greaser who oozed coolness and won the hearts of 1970s America. Writer Garry Marshall had originally penned the series to surround Howard’s Richie Cunningham, an all-American 50s teen. But Fonzie pushed him out of the limelight and ultimately out of the show.
“I was very aware never to be less than respectful to [Howard]. I was always careful never to flaunt anything that was happening to me on the sound stage in front of the cast members, including him. I’m lucky [my character’s popularity] was happening,” Winkler told Fox News Digital.
In his new memoir, Being Henry: The Fonz… and Beyond, which hit shelves on Oct. 31, Henry Winkler described his climb to Fonzie mania and how it affected his relationship with his now-best friend. As he explained, Ron was far too professional to treat Winkler unkindly. In fact, he taught him how to navigate Hollywood.
Ron Howard Was “Never Angry” at Henry Winkler
Ron Howard got his start in the industry at only six when he starred in The Andy Griffith Show. By the time Happy Days debuted in 1974, he was already a household name. Henry Winkler, however, was basically a breakout celebrity.
“I learned a lot from Ron,” Winkler wrote in his book. “He was completely grounded by his parents, who never allowed any bad behavior. He was being a professional. This was his job, and I learned from watching him. I’m older — 10 years older — so I had the experience of theater and commercials on the East Coast on how to be a professional. I never doubted my responsibility for what I had to do, but I still had a lot to learn.”
What showed the most professionalism was that Howard continued to treat Winkler as an equal. And he never faulted the actor for stealing his lead. Winkler explained that he had a heart-to-heart with Howard during the height of his fame, and Howard admitted he was angry. But the feelings were never directed at him.
“You’re not letting this go to your head or change who you are,” Howard told him. “You’re a great team player. What you’ve created is incredible… for the show. But if I’m honest, I have to say it does hurt my feelings; more than that — it’s made me angry at times. Because you’re right — I was supposed to be the star of the show. But I was never angry at you, Henry.”
When Henry Winkler became a hit, the producers and network execs openly favored him. While doing so, they cast Howard aside. One producer even pushed to re-title the series Fonzie Happy Days. Because of the disrespect, Howard left the show ahead of Season 8. Winkler made sure Howard was the first to know.
The situation turned ugly for Howard, but it also gave him his closest friend. Ron Howard and Henry Winkler are the godparents to each other’s children, and they consider each other family to this day.
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