Hold up, we’ve got the Fonz on the phone. How cool is that?
Sure, his real name is Henry Winkler. But for generations of TV watchers, Winkler’s just about inseparable from his character Arthur Fonzarelli, the icon of cool with a perpetual leather jacket on “Happy Days.”
Winkler’s since branched into a variety of roles and projects, including “Childrens Hospital” on the Adult Swim Network and the USA Network’s “Royal Pains.” Winkler, 69, has also created a successful series of children’s books with the character Hank Zipzer. The fourth-grader in the book series is based on Winkler’s experiences growing up with dyslexia.
And now Winkler’s hitting the comic book convention circuit. He appears Friday through Sunday at the Wizard World Comic Con at the Sacramento Convention Center, where he’ll meet with fans and likely pose for a lot of pictures while saying the Fonz’s trademark, “Heeeeeeeey.”
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Here’s what Winkler had to say about playing the Fonz and his other career projects:
Q: How long have you been appearing at comic cons? What’s the experience been like for you?
A: I’ve been doing them for the past three or four years. We go all over the country and bring children’s books, photographs, some collectibles and have a most wonderful time. When you shoot a (TV) show you’re in a sound stage or a warehouse, or sometimes you shoot on location. But you never get to see the people who supported you, who are the fans.
When I do the comic cons, I actually stand on the other side of the table. I don’t sit down. I’m right there with the people as they come and talk to me. It’s a gift.
Q: How did you develop the character of the Fonz? Was he based on any neighborhood tough guys you grew up with, or people like that?
A: You start with your self. He was learning-challenged. He was appreciative of his friends. He made sure they were all looked after well.
I had just finished a movie with Sylvetser Stallone, “The Lords of Flatbush.” I would think, “What would Sylvester Stallone do here?” I would stand on the street and say, “What are you lookin’ at?” to passers-by. And underneath that tough guy was a very funny and literate writer. The Fonz was everyone I wanted to be, but I didn’t have that in me.
Q: On “Happy Days,” you got to work with Robin Williams in his breakthrough role for TV. Did you know at the time that he was going to become such a comic legend?
A: Within 15 seconds I knew I was in the presence of greatness. I knew my job that week was to not smile, to not laugh and get out of his way. This was really special.
Q: Since you’re so closely identified with the Fonz, did that hinder your career at any point?
A: Not as much today. When I stopped doing “Happy Days,” I was typecast like a lot of other people. What you find is that you’re responsible to push through. That’s when I became a producer and started to direct. I had to wait a little while to be taken seriously as an actor.
Q: You’ve also found success as a children’s book author. What’s the process like in putting a “Hank Zipzer” book together?
A: It takes about three months. I go to my partner’s office (Lin Oliver) either at 8 in the morning and write until 11, or 10 until 1. Lin sits at the computer, and I walk around and talk, and we fight over every word, over rhythms and alliterations. It’s a creative push and pull. If we don’t make each other laugh, it doesn’t go in the book.
Q: Put all this together, with your variety of acting roles and book projects, it sounds like a very gratifying phase of your career.
A: I have a new mantra. I used to say, “If you will it, it’s not a dream.” I changed it about a month ago to something that I talk about when I’m talking to children. Now, it’s, “I will try.” If I didn’t try, I wouldn’t be a fly fisherman or write a book. What I don’t want to do is shrivel up like a raisin. It’s a constant anxiety of mine, that I will rest on my laurels and become a prune.
- What: The actor best known as “the Fonz” will be available for photo ops and autographs at the Wizard World Comic Con
- Where: Sacramento Convention Center, 1400 J St., Sacramento
- When: Fan appearances Friday-Sunday; a hosted Q&A session 2:30 p.m. Sunday
- Cost: $45 for a photo op with Winkler, plus admission.
- Information: www.wizardworld.com