Though he stands small at 5'6½", this actor created one of television's biggest characters: as the ultra-cool greaser Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli on "Happy Days" (1974-84) he became a pop idol overnight.
Henry Franklin Winkler was born in New York City on October 30, 1945 to Jewish holocaust escapees Harry Irving and Ilse Anna Maria Winkler. This backdrop had a profound influence of his youth. For instance, the synagogue Winkler's family attended was built by holocaust escapees and survivors.
In many ways, Winkler's real relationship with his parents was reflected in his account of Fonzie's relationship with his father. At age 31, when Winkler was diagnosed with dyslexia, he reflected back on his childhood, "...all those arguments, all that disappointment, all that punishment and grounding was for naught." As he addressed the Austin College of 2002, he concluded with, "Thank you for listening to me... my parents never did."
But one element of Winkler that did not carry over to Fonzie was his desire for education. Whereas, Fonzie was a dropout who only later appreciated the importance of finishing High School, Winkler attended New York City's Horace Mann Schools. Later, he received advanced degrees from New England schools such as Emerson College (M.A., Drama), Yale School of Drama (M.F.A.), and again Emerson College (Ph.D., Hebrew Literature).
More recently, Dr. Winkler, with Lin Oliver, started a series of books called "Hank Zipzer". The books are about a boy in fourth grade that has dyslexia. The series includes books with bizarre titles and are mildly autobiographical.
As an actor, he appeared in dozens of commercials before making his screen debut, prophetically enough in the youth gang picture The Lord's of Flatbush (1974). He had a bit part in Crazy Joe (also 1974) before landing the role of "The Fonz." His subsequent attempt to translate TV fame to film stardom with leading roles in Heroes (1977), The One and Only (1978), and Night Shift (1982, directed by his "Happy Days" costar Ron Howard) were only modestly successful.
In 1978, Winkler married child welfare advocate Stacey Weitzman. Weitzman had a 6-year-old son Jed, through whom Winkler learned of his dyslexic condition. For the more Winkler learned of his stepson's condition, the more he saw the very symptoms in himself. In addition to Jed, Winkler and Weitzman have a daughter, Zoe Emily, and a son, Max.
As "Happy Days" wound down, Winkler started directing his energies behind the camera. He coproduced the popular TV series "MacGyver" (1985-92) and the less successful "Mr. Sunshine" (1986), and directed the theatrical features Memories of Me (1988) and Cop and a Half (1993). He returned to acting in the TV movies Absolute Strangers (1991) and The Only Way Out (1993), and took the starring role in the sitcom "Monty" (1994) playing a right-wing talk show host.