Fonzie Knows Best
Puffing away on the Stairmaster at the gym last night, I tuned into Bravo to get a minor injection of cable TV. They were doing a countdown show on the top iconic characters of our time, and I happened to catch the segment including The Fonz. Fonzie. Arthur Fonzarelli. AKA: Henry Winkler.
One thing I never knew (of which there are many, I am sure, especially regarding Mr. Winkler – though I do know he is a producer/director) is that he went to the Yale School of Drama. And during the interview for his segment, he shared a tip for every actor out there: Follow your instincts.
He said that after he was cast as the now iconic greaser, he’d made a little promise to himself that as Fonzie, he would never play to the stereotype by combing his hair (as the character), chewing gum or carrying cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve.
But, during his first day on the Happy Days set, the director told him to go to the mirror and comb his hair. This was his first big job and I can only imagine how eager to please he must have been. You don’t want to not follow direction, and yet… he’d promised himself. So he went to the mirror, pulled out the comb and was about to do the thing he swore he would not… when he followed his instincts and did not primp. Instead, he looked at himself in the mirror and gave his reflection the soon-to-be classic line, “Aaaay” and the thumbs-up of approval, suavely stuck the comb back in his pocket and walked out of the bathroom.
And with that split second decision he not only saved himself from reneging on a promise, but he defined a character that survived a decade.
I know, it’s kind of silly, but I think it’s a good little anecdote to tuck away.