Where They Are Now

Bestselling author (and former Fonz)

Henry Winkler, 28 years after Fonzie.

USA Network via Getty Images

USA Network via Getty Images

Despite having dyslexia, Henry Winkler ’70MFA has coauthored a series of successful children's books. View full image

Henry Winkler ’70MFA is coauthor, with Lin Oliver, of the bestselling Hank Zipzer series of children’s books—in which the main character, like Winkler, has dyslexia—and of the new Ghost Buddy series. Best known for his role as Fonzie on the 1970s television comedy Happy Days, he currently appears in the television series Childrens Hospital on Adult Swim and Royal Pains on USA. He stars in the upcoming film Here Comes the Boom.

Y: What impact did Yale have on your career?

W: I have used every morsel of what was given to me in drama, speech, dance, movement. It stays with you: the training, the struggle, the whole gestalt. 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.

Y: You weren’t diagnosed with dyslexia until your 30s. What were your coping strategies?

W: I was told I was stupid, and that tests would “prove” it. I had an inability to focus, so I covered everything with humor. I couldn’t stop talking even during major rehearsals. Then at Yale, one of the professional actors came up to me and said, “I’m going to punch you in the mouth if you don’t shut up. This is serious business.” That one sentence was worth a lifetime.

Y: How did you become an advocate for children with learning disabilities?

W: It just kind of evolved. I started talking publicly as part of making a living. I would include in my story learning about my dyslexia, how it affected me, and how I found the humor in that. It was amazing how many people in the audience would say to me, “That’s me. That’s my husband, child, brother, sister.”

Y: And the Hank Zipzer books?

W: After Happy Days, Alan Berger [Winkler’s agent] suggested I write books for kids. And I said, “I can’t do that, because I’m stupid.” A year later he made the same suggestion and I was smart enough at least to try. I went from thinking I could never do this, I’m not even going to try, to 20 books.

Y: What kind of advice do you give to adults for dealing with kids with learning disabilities?

W: A lot of children fall through the cracks because some adult has not figured out how to relate. I found with my own children, if you slow down, the child will tell you exactly what it is they need at that moment.

Y: I’ve got to ask: in an episode of Happy Days you “jumped the shark,” which years later became an expression referring to when a TV show starts to decline. What’s it like to have your own iconic moment?

W: First, every time they mention the phrase “jump the shark” they put a picture of me on water skis in the paper. The other thing is, we were number one for I think the next five years after that episode. So it really doesn’t matter what anyone says about it. 


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