Being Henry by Henry Winkler

Being Henry, the recent memoir from Emmy-winning actor and novelist Henry Winkler, was published late last year.

Being Henry: The Fonz . . . and Beyond by Henry Winkler
Being Henry: The Fonz . . . and Beyond by Henry Winkler (Celadon Books)

My first real introduction to Henry Winkler came by way of Adam Sandler’s first Chanukah song. What soon followed were his appearances in a couple of Sandler films. Despite his popularity as the Fonz in Happy Days, he wasn’t getting too many offers coming his way throughout the 1980s and 1990s. You’d think that things would be different with someone of Winkler’s fame. I mean, we’re talking about a guy that people would recognize everywhere!

I did read something of interest in his book and it stuck with me afterwards. He grew up with a unibrow but the hair and makeup team off prior to Happy Days going into production. In a world where the Fonz makes the unibrow popular, maybe I would not have been on the end of so much while growing up. It is bad enough to grow up transgender and not have the education or awareness to know why your brain and body are not in agreement. Getting through my K-12 years without so much relentless bullying and teasing sounds really good right now. Things would eventually reach a point where I went in for laser hair removal in high school. Suffice it to say, it did not work.

In recent years, I came to know Winkler’s acting work through Royal Pains, Childrens Hospital, and of course, his Emmy-winning run on Barry. If you have an interest in seeing Winkler’s work as he was skyrocketing to fame, Happy Days is currently streaming on Paramount+. His character grew so popular that the network asked him how he’d feel if they changed it to Fonzie’s Happy Days. To which he declined out of respect to the rest of the cast. Many people were putting so much work into the series. What was supposed to be a vehicle for Ron Howard ended up becoming Winkler’s show to an extent. Howard later ended up leaving the series to begin his pursuit in a directing career.

Winkler shares so much about his life. He did not have the best relationship with his parents, who left Nazi Germany for America. The actor grew up dyslexic but would not be formally diagnosed until reaching his 30s. Even when he became famous, his parents used it to their advantage whenever they could. It did not sit well with him as one can probably imagine.

On talking about some of his work, Winkler describes Ground Control as “the worst movie ever made by human beings.” Both the writer and director got fired. On what makes a bad movie bad, Winkler writes:

“People not knowing what they’re doing. People not knowing how to do it, but somehow getting the money to do it. It happens more times than you can imagine.”

He was also close with John Ritter. Prior to Ritter’s tragic and untimely death in September 2003, Winkler had been set to guest star on 8 Simple Rules. Unfortunately, Ritter wasn’t feeling well. Winkler received the tragic call informing him of Ritter’s death in the evening. It was a shocking time to see an actor of Ritter’s caliber dying too young.

Winkler discusses some of the fan mail he received prior to marriage, touching on an engraving in particular. He describes it as being one of the cornerstones of his existence. The engraving reads: “If you will it, it is no dream.” If you’re not familiar with the line, it dates back to modern-day Zionism founder Theodor Herzl. Of the phrase, he writes:

“I gave that simple sentence a lot of thought, and I realized that this is exactly the way the universe works: that without ambivalence, a human being has the power to have an idea and literally make it happen, But if you are ambivalent in anyway, you’re dead in the water. The ambivalence will cut off tour ability to give your dream life in the universe.”

L-R: Hank Lawson (Mark Feuerstein), Eddie Lawson (Henry Winkler), and Evan Lawson (Paulo Costanzo) in Royal Pains.
L-R: Hank Lawson (Mark Feuerstein), Eddie Lawson (Henry Winkler), and Evan Lawson (Paulo Costanzo) in Royal Pains. Courtesy of USA Network.

Prior to getting the job as Eddie Lawson on Royal Pains, the Winklers were a fan of the series and watched it together. Winkler described Mark Feuerstein’s Hank Lawson as being “a MacGyver of doctors.” Furthermore, he writes that “the writing and acting were excellent, and there was just the right mixture of comedy and drama: as a viewer you were never exactly sure about which way a scene was going to go, and that’s a compelling thing. Winkler was so nervous heading into the meeting with cocreator Andrew Lenchewski and producer Michael Rauch that he mistakenly poured his coffee cream onto pancakes. As everyone knows, he got the job and played the role for a few seasons.

One of my favorite late night series airing during the 2010s was Childrens Hospital. Winkler’s manager, Peter Principato, had a number of comedians and comic actors as clients so he reached out to the actor to discuss the series. It turned out that Rob Corddry, David Wain, and Jon Stern were interested in bringing on Winkler to play hospital administrator Sy Mittleman. Despite having a regular role on the series, Winkler admits that he “never understood the jokes.”

Of course, Winkler writes about his Emmy-winning turn in Barry. How could he not? If not for Barry, I would not have sat across from him in March 2018 during the Chicago premiere at the then-Arclight. It would be the first of many interactions with the legend and there was no shark-jumping involved. Oh yeah, he also writes about the two times where he jumped the shark.

Being Henry is a must-read for any fan of Henry Winkler.

Being Henry is available in bookstores.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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