My conversation with ‘The Fonz’

Kim Brooks
Babbling Brooks Column
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     There are always perks to the job… any job really. (Though I’ve mostly worked in journalism so I wouldn’t know about ALL of the professions out there. When I waited tables and bar tended in high school and college, the perk was getting to cook your own food and make delicious drinks at the end of the night.)

     Last week I experienced a neat perk to my current job… interviewing famed actor, writer and producer Henry Winkler, “The Fonz!” This was my second time conducting a phone interview with him. In 2011, he was the celebrity spotlight at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Rod & Custom Car Show. Now, this weekend, he will be back in Monticello for the very same car show.

     Henry, as he asked me to call him (as opposed to “Sir” or “Mr. Winkler”), said getting to meet his fans, those who watch what he does for a living, is a fun perk for him. That’s why coming to Monticello to visit with thousands of of people in a two-day span is something he enjoys doing.

     “It’s rewarding in ever way,” he said.

     Forty years in the Hollywood business of TV shows and movies, Henry said he still loves his job.

     He shared four personal traits that anyone who loves what they do for living must possess:

     • Will, the need to do something, whatever that may be.

     • Preparation.

     • Tenacity.

     • Gratitude, the fans.

     “I have a passion to work,” he said. “I wake up and can’t wait to figure out what I’m going to do with my character on set that day.”

     His most popular role of The Fonz on the hit TV show “Happy Days” made Henry a household name.

     “That role introduced me to the world,” he said. “It put a roof over my family’s head, fed my family, and helped put my kids through college.”

     Gary Marshall, who passed away in 2016, is the one responsible for that TV show.

     “He was just so funny,” recalled Henry.

     Both Winkler and his co-star Ron Howard have gone on to have such amazing careers since their “Happy Days” days.

     “Ron knew exactly what he wanted to do,” Henry said of his goal in life.

     As for the success of “Happy Days” and its continued viewership, he said it has a lot to do with the setting (the 1950s) and the moral messages the show always imparted.

     Now, 30 years after “Happy Days,” Winkler is starring in another hit TV show, “Better Late Than Never,” co-starring William Shatner, Terry Bradshaw and George Foreman.

     “It’s been amazing!” he said of the experiences associated with the reality-based show that takes the four-some to far-off places around the world. “We’ve done a lot of amazing things.”

     Henry is an executive producer of the show, and helped shape the “cast” members who joined the team.

     He said even though he’s invested in the show, he never wants to know where their next adventure is going to take them, wanting to be just as surprised as everyone else.

     “I’ve pushed myself to the end of the envelope like I have never done before,” he said of trying new things.

     He said when the group is not together, they honestly miss one another.

     In the early 2000s, Henry added “author” to his list of accolades. He writes books for the children’s series “Hank Zipzer.” There have been 12 books written to date for young readers in grades first through third.

     “Every child has challenges,” said Henry. He said after reading Hank Zipzer, he receives letters from his readers thanking him for helping them overcome those challenges. He said the book series adds laughter and comedy to help overpower those challenges.

     While he’s in Monticello, Henry will have some of his Hank Zipzer books available for purchase and autographs.

     Having achieved his other goals in life, Henry said his ultimate bucket list is to win a Tony award. He’s done a number of theater productions, but one day hopes to star on Broadway.

     “Things come into our lives, so we’ll see what happens…,” he offered.

     As a huge fan of non-fiction, particularly biographies and autobiographies, I asked him if ever planned to write a memoir about his own famed life.

     “I’m not drawn to do that,” he said.

     For now, I’ll have to setting to these interviews and getting to meet him in person this weekend, Feb. 24 and 25 in Monticello.


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