Henry Winkler facts for kids
Quick facts for kids
Winkler at the Raleigh Supercon in 2018
Henry Franklin Winkler
October 30, 1945
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Education||Emerson College (BA)
Yale School of Drama (MFA)
Stacey Furstman Weitzman
|Children||3, including Max|
|Relatives||Richard Belzer (cousin)|
Henry Franklin Winkler, OBE (born October 30, 1945), is an American actor, comedian, author, executive producer, and director. After rising to fame as Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli on the American television series Happy Days, Winkler has distinguished himself as a character actor for roles such as Arthur Himbry in Scream, Coach Klein in The Waterboy, Barry Zuckerkorn in Arrested Development, Eddie R. Lawson in Royal Pains, Fritz in Monsters at Work, Stanley Yelnats III in Holes, Uncle Joe in The French Dispatch, Judge Newman in Merry Christmas, Drake & Josh, Al Pratt in Black Adam, and Gene Cousineau in Barry. His accolades include a Primetime Emmy, two Daytime Emmys, two Golden Globe Awards, and a Critics Choice Award.
As a child, Winkler struggled at P.S. 87 on West 78th Street, Manhattan and the McBurney School, where he was berated for his poor academic performance. He then studied theater at both Emerson College and the Yale School of Drama, spent a year and half with the Yale Repertory Theater, did regional theater and commercial work, and appeared in two independent films. After saving up money, he traveled to California in September 1973, and was cast in a small role for The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He also auditioned for Happy Days and won the part of Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli, a role he played for the next ten years. During his time on Happy Days, Winkler was diagnosed as dyslexic.
After the end of Happy Days, Winkler found himself typecast and moved into producing and directing. He helped develop the original MacGyver television series and worked on programs such as Sightings and The Hollywood Squares. He also directed the theatrical releases Memories of Me with Billy Crystal and Cop and a Half with Burt Reynolds. In 2003, he drew upon his childhood struggles with dyslexia to co-write the Hank Zipzer series of children's books with children's literature author Lin Oliver. Winkler also appeared as Mr. Rock in the BBC adaptation of the series. Winkler and Oliver next created the prequel series Here's Hank, the Ghost Buddy series, and the Alien Superstar series. In 2016, he became a reality television star on the NBC series, Better Late Than Never.
Winkler has been honored for his role as "The Fonz", and for his work with dyslexia through the Hank Zipzer series. In 1980, he donated one of Fonzie's leather jackets to the National Museum of American History. In 1981, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 2008, The Bronze Fonz statue was unveiled along the Milwaukee Riverwalk. In 2011, he was appointed an Honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Elizabeth II, and was named one of the United Kingdom's Top 10 Literacy Heroes in 2013.
Family history (1939–1945)
Winkler's parents, Ilse Anna Marie (née Hadra) and businessman Harry Irving Winkler were German Jews living in Berlin during the rise of Nazi Germany. By 1939, rising hostilities against Jews led his father to conclude that it was time to leave Germany. He arranged to take his wife on a six-week business trip to the United States. Although Winkler's Uncle Helmut was supposed to join them, at the last minute he decided to leave later, and was eventually taken away by the Nazis. Winkler later said, "At the time, my father, Harry, told my mother, Ilse, that they were traveling to the U.S. on a brief business trip. He knew they were never going back. Had he told my mother that they were leaving Germany for good, she might have insisted on remaining behind with her family. Many in their families who stayed perished during the Holocaust." Soon after arriving, his parents settled in New York City, where his father established a new version of his German company, which bought and sold wood.
Early life and education (1945–1970)
Henry Franklin Winkler was born on October 30, 1945, in the West Side of New York City's Manhattan borough. The "H" in his first name is a reference to his Uncle Helmut, while his middle name refers to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He has an older sister named Beatrice, and is a cousin of actor Richard Belzer.
Although his family did not keep kosher, Winkler was raised in the traditions of Conservative Judaism. During his childhood, Winkler and his family spent their summers at Lake Mahopac, New York, and as a teenager, he was a water skiing instructor at Blue Mountain camps.
While growing up, Winkler had a difficult relationship with his father who "wanted me to go into the family business, buying and selling wood. But the only wood I was interested in was Hollywood.” When his father grew frustrated with Winkler's focus on acting, he would ask his son why he had brought the business over from Germany to the United States. Winkler would respond: "Besides being chased by the Nazis, Dad, was there a bigger reason than that?”
Difficulties in school
Winkler first attended P.S. 87 on West 78th Street, Manhattan, and then the McBurney School in Manhattan's Upper West Side. Although he was "outgoing" and "the class comedian" in school, he also lived in a state of "constant anxiety" over his struggles with schoolwork. His parents, who "would not tolerate poor marks," were perpetually frustrated by his poor grades, referred to him as "dummer hund" (dumb dog), and repeatedly punished him for his inability to excel in school. Winkler has said that this time period was "excruciating" as his "self-image was almost nonexistent." He has also stated:
"You want so badly to be able to do it and you can't. And no matter how hard you try, it's not working...I would study my words. I would know them cold. I would know them backwards and forwards. I would go to class. I would pray that I had retained them. Then I would get the test and spend a lot of time thinking about where the hell those words went. I knew them. [They] must have fallen out of my head. Did I lose them on the street? Did I lose them in the stairwell? Did I lose them walking through the classroom doorway? I didn't have the slightest idea of how to spell the words that I knew a block and a half away in my apartment the night before."
In addition, his consistently poor academic performance made it difficult to be involved in the theater, as he was "grounded most of my high school career," and was almost never academically eligible. However, he did manage to appear in two theatrical productions: Billy Budd when he was in the eighth grade, and Of Thee I Sing in the eleventh grade.
Although Winkler graduated from the McBurney School in 1963, he was not allowed to attend graduation, as he had to repeat geometry for the fourth time during summer school. After finally passing the course, he received his diploma in the mail.
Emerson College (1963–1967)
Winkler applied to 28 colleges, but was admitted to only two of them, one of which was Emerson College in Boston, which he joined in 1963. He majored in theater and minored in child psychology, as he considered becoming a child psychologist if he did not succeed as an actor. He was also a member of the Alpha Pi Theta fraternity, and appeared in Emerson's production of Peer Gynt as the title character. Winkler later recalled that, "I nearly flunked out my first year [of Emerson], I almost flunked out my second year, but I was able to go for four years." He graduated in 1967, and in 1978, Emerson awarded him an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (DHL).
Yale School of Drama (1967–1970)
During his senior year at Emerson, Winkler decided to audition for the Yale School of Drama. Although his then-undiagnosed dyslexia led to him forgetting the Shakespearean monologue he was supposed to perform, forcing him to improvise, Winkler was still admitted to the M.F.A. program in 1967.
He appeared in They Told Me That You Came This Way, Any Day Now, Any Day Now, and The Bacchae (as a member of the chorus). During the summers, he and his Yale classmates stayed in New Haven, and opened a summer stock theater called the New Haven Free Theater. They performed various plays including Woyzeck, where he portrayed the title role, and Just Add Water for improv night. He also performed in the political piece, The American Pig at the Joseph Papp Public Theater for the New York Shakespeare Festival in New York City, with classmates James Keach, James Naughton, and Jill Eikenberry. In addition, he also appeared in a number of Yale Repertory Theatre productions while still a student, including, The Government Inspector, The Rhesus Umbrella, Don Juan, Endgame, and The Physicists. He also appeared in Sweeney Agonistes and Hughie.
Winkler would later credit his time at Yale as critical to his future success, stating that he "used every morsel of what was given to me in drama, speech, dance, movement...when I did Happy Days, I used everything—the commedia dell'arte, the movement, the acting. We had teachers from the “poor theater” movement in Poland, which is about doing theater from nothing and speaking through your entire body as opposed to just your voice. I used that and all my movement training in the episode when Mork put a spell on the Fonz."
Out of his original cohort of 25 actors at Yale, Winkler was one of 11 who graduated when he received his MFA in 1970. Over two decades later in May 1996 he served as the Senior Class Day Speaker for Yale University's graduating seniors.
During a 2018 interview for SAG-AFTRA, journalist Michael Schneider said that "the rumors are true," that Winkler is "one of the nicest, most genuine men in all of Hollywood."
Winkler met Stacey (formerly Weitzman; née Furstman) in a Los Angeles clothing store in 1976, and they married in 1978, in the synagogue where he had his bar mitzvah. They have two children, Max and Zoe, and Jed Weitzman, Stacey's son from her previous marriage with Howard Weitzman, is Winkler's stepson. In addition, almost 80 years after his parents had left Germany in 2018, Winkler returned to Berlin for the television show Better Late Than Never and shared their story on the Season 2 episode "Berlin: How Do You Say Roots in German?". Finally, Winkler continues to remain close with members of the Happy Days cast, telling the Hollywood Reporter in November 2021, that "I loved the people. They are still my friends. Tomorrow, I am taking Marion Ross to lunch for her 93rd birthday. Ron [Howard] is like my brother, my younger brother; and [fellow castmembers] Anson [Williams] and Donny [Most], we talk all the time."
Winkler contributed via Zoom to social justice issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 7, 2020, the Office of the Governor of California posted a video of Winkler on Facebook and Twitter reminding Californians to practice physical distancing and to follow stay-at-home orders.
During this time, Winkler also offered aid "to SAG-AFTRA artists and their families" in May 2021 through a virtual table read of Season 3, Episode 2 ("The Motorcycle," 1975) of Happy Days. Winkler reprised the role of "Fonzie," while SAG members Glenn Close, John Carroll Lynch, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Jamie Chung, Luke Newton, and Nicola Coughlan read the roles of Marion Cunningham, Howard Cunningham, Richie Cunningham, Ralph Malph, Joanie Cunningham, Potsie, and a waitress at Al's diner.
TV Guide ranked "The Fonz" as No. 4 on its "50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time" list in 1999, and a 2001 poll conducted by Channel 4 in the UK, ranked him as 13th on their list of the 100 Greatest TV Characters.
When asked which books influenced him in childhood, American journalist Anderson Cooper, who is likewise dyslexic, responded that, "I also loved the Fonz and read a book when I was around 8 called The Fonz: The Henry Winkler Story. I actually keep it in my office at CNN. Henry Winkler was very important to me when I was a child. Meeting him as an adult — and discovering what a kind and gracious person he is — was amazing." This sentiment reflects National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution curator Eric Jentsch's statement on the description of Fonzie's leather jacket that Winkler donated to the Smithsonian in 1980: "Fonzie was a representation of cool at a time when you were learning about what cool was."
Winkler won two Golden Globe Awards, and earned three Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for the role. In 1981, he received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (for Television), largely due to his portrayal of Fonzie. A few decades later, American artist Gerald P. Sawyer, unveiled the Bronze Fonz on the Milwaukee Riverwalk in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin on August 18, 2008.
Hank Zipzer and dyslexia awareness
Winkler would eventually be recognized for contributing to a greater understanding of dyslexia through the Hank Zipzer series. He was given the Key to the City of Winnipeg for "contributions to education and literacy" in 2010, was appointed an Honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) "for services to children with special educational needs and dyslexia in the UK" by Queen Elizabeth in 2011, was named one of the United Kingdom's Top 10 Literacy Heroes in 2013, and was awarded the Bill Rosendahl Public Service Award for Contributions to the Public Good for his children's books in 2019.
Books by Winkler
- Winkler, Henry (with Lin Oliver). Hank Zipzer: The World's Greatest Underachiever (18 volumes, 2003–2010, 2015).
- Winkler, Henry (with Lin Oliver). Ghost Buddy (4 volumes, 2012–2013).
- Winkler, Henry (with Lin Oliver). Here's Hank (12 volumes, 2014–2019).
- Winkler, Henry (with Lin Oliver). Alien Superstar (3 volumes, 2019–2021).