On this day in 1945, Henry Winkler, a classically trained actor who will become best known for his role as one of the most popular TV characters of the 1970s—the leather-clad ladies man Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli on the long-running sitcom Happy Days—is born in New York City. From 1974 to 1984, Winkler played “The Fonz,” a motorcycle-riding auto mechanic whose catchphrases included “Heyyy” and “Sit on it” and who was considered by his many fans to be the epitome of cool.
Winkler graduated from Emerson College and earned a master’s in fine arts from the Yale School of Drama. After appearing in TV commercials and small roles on such programs as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show, he was cast as Fonzie on Happy Days. Created by Garry Marshall, the show centered around a 1950s family named the Cunninghams who lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Ron Howard starred as the clean-cut high-schooler (when the show debuted) Richie Cunningham, while Tom Bosley and Marion Ross played Howard and Marion Cunningham, Richie’s straight-laced parents, and Erin Gray played Richie’s younger sister, Joanie. Fonzie was originally intended as a minor character when Winkler was cast for the part, but he eventually became a star of the show. (The pop-culture term “jumping the shark,” which refers to an unrealistic scene in a TV show intended to boost declining ratings, was inspired by a Happy Days episode in which Fonzie goes water-skiing in a leather jacket and bathing suit and jumps over a penned-in shark. In fact, as Garry Marshall later pointed out, this scene took place in a show that originally aired during 1977, when Happy Days was doing well in the ratings.)
After Happy Days, Winkler went on to guest star in a long list of TV shows, including The Practice and Arrested Development. He also directed various TV and film projects and produced such TV shows as MacGyver. On the big screen, Winkler has also appeared in such movies as The Lords of Flatbush (1974); Heroes (1977), in which he plays a Vietnam veteran; Night Shift (1992), which was directed by Ron Howard; and 1998’s The Waterboy, starring Adam Sandler.