Being Henry : the Fonz . . . and beyond

Henry Winkler has worked as an actor, director, producer, and is the author of several series of children’s books. Now, with Being Henry, Winkler tells the story of his own life and it is a fascinating read.

Winkler writes his memoir with charm and grace. He describes the difficulties that faced his parents, who were German immigrants just prior to the outbreak of World War II. He also describes a home life that was an uncomfortable mixture of comfort and abuse. Winkler’s parents were strict authoritarians who often expected more of their son, an undiagnosed dyslexic, than he was able to achieve. Winkler says that their nickname for him was “dummer hund,” which is German for dumb dog. Winkler’s father, Harry, owned a lumber business in Germany, which he restarted and rebuilt in the United States. The family’s plan was for Henry to take over the business from his father, but he had other plans.

To many of us, it would seem that Henry Winkler has lived a charmed life. He chose to follow his passion to become an actor at a young age, in spite of being a life long dyslexic. He attended the Yale School of Drama and pursued theatre work on the east coast before moving to Los Angeles. Within days of arriving on the West Coast, he was cast in a small role on the Mary Tyler Moore show and, shortly after that, at the age of 28, landed the role of Arthur Fonzarelli on Happy Days. Fonzi was the role of a lifetime and it made Winkler world famous. Happy Days ran for eleven seasons. In his new memoir, Winkler allows readers to see that there is more, much more, to him than “the Fonz,” and that the streets he’s taken over the years have not always been as easy.

Winkler describes how, after Happy Days ended, he found that his role as Fonzi had left him cripplingly typecast. He found acting jobs to be few and far between, which only exacerbated his continuing sense of inadequacy and insecurity, which have plagued him his entire life. Upon the suggestion of a friend, Winkler formed a production company and began working as a producer. He also branched out into directing and worked on several recognizable films. 

While Winkler does speak openly and frankly about his parents and several other people he has endured throughout his Hollywood career, this is not a “tell all” memoir. Instead, Winkler chooses to focus primarily on the positive, recounting stories of the camaraderie that existed on the Happy Days set, the friends he has made in the industry, and the kindness and generosity that he has experienced over his lifetime that has led him to lead such a wonderful life.

Winkler also focuses on his family, describing how he met Stacey, his wife of 45 years, and how, over the decades, their family has grown and flourished. Stacey contributes to the memoir, adding her recollections and observations to Winkler’s story.

Being Henry is an enjoyable read, filled with memories, nostalgia, keen observations, and a bit of well-earned wisdom.