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Henry Winkler, actor - BBC HARDtalk

Henry Winkler, actor - BBC HARDtalk
my guest today is an

actor

whose long career will always be defined by one role

Henry

Winkler

was the Fonz the cool dude at the center of the u.s. TV show happy days which was a worldwide hit in the 70s and 80s the show portrayed an innocent untroubled 1950s America it was a far cry from

Winkler

's own childhood which was clouded by undiagnosed dyslexia how did a troubled kid come to be a symbol of sunny optimism and what happened to the idealized America of happy days you

Henry

Winkler

welcome too hard too I'm happy to be here I want to begin by taking you back to 1974 the first airing of the show happy days which was to become a massive hit did you have a gut instinct when you first played Arthur Fonzarelli the Fonz that that was going to happen now I remember I was hired as a fringe character so I had six lines I would work one day a week I would sit in my apartment most of the rest of the week because I couldn't play during a work week but I had no work because I only worked one day a week so ah and then remember also we did it one camera like a little movie so the we had 12 um we shot 12 shows we were number 48th in the country if we did not get any better in the ratings we were gone they were going to attend you they were going to Kansas and in September 1975 they came up with the idea of doing it in front of a live audience like one of the comedies that were famous during the 70s and that's what we did and immediately it turned the show around and how...
henry winkler actor   bbc hardtalk
did you manage to muscle your way into becoming let's be honest that the key character the one that the show built itself around and you know what I I did nothing but I concentrate on my character and the character muscled his way into the hearts of the world I mean let's go back to that time you know the mid seventies through the mid 80s it was a time when America was desperate for something optimistic to think about you know you'd been through Watergate you've been through Vietnam through the civil rights struggles right but it is odd is it not looking back at that show that it didn't reflect any of the reality of a tense America well I think that was the that was the main thought behind the show pure pure escapism and that was what Garry Marshall the genius behind that show and Mork Mindi and Laverne and Shirley and The Odd Couple and great movies um you know pretty woman he's my dog I kiss his ring Gary Marshall but he says you know while the people make television that is really like supposed to be smart I make recess but there's something about making recess that at a time like that is a little bit well believe it or not I see I I it's it is a timeless show he made it in the 50s on purpose because you could do moral stories without ever feeling like you were being hit on the head with the point of view but I suppose what I'm getting at early even portraying 50s America as as that place of tight families close-knit communities where...
henry winkler actor   bbc hardtalk
every kid got into scrapes but basically had a heart of gold it just it was fantasy it was never true of the 50s or any other decade I mean well the fact is that why I think it was so popular is uh you wanted a family like that so children who were latchkey kids who came home and had a key to open their apartment and there was nobody there they wanted the Cunningham's they wanted a friend like the Fonz who they thought would take care of them yeah I mean I just maybe I'm overreacting to this but I'm very aware that through the course of making these the show's 10 years you had the Carter years which were difficult and then you had the rise of Ronald Reagan in a certain form of sunny optimistic conservatism that phrase morning in America and it just seems to me that the whole show in a way was the epitome of what Reagan wanted to believe America was all about Wow I met Reagan a very nice fellow not my politics so are you buying my analysis though you know what it is a very interesting point of view that I have never thought about because even today in 2013 people are watching it somewhere in the in the world yeah they are I just think it was just rerun in America what I'm saying in I don't know if I think that that optimism is important for human beings they they are having a hard time getting a job it is always difficult to find a job they are beat up in the world outside they come home I don't think people want cutting-edge television no matter...
henry winkler actor   bbc hardtalk
how you cut it so I now want to bring it to the very personal story a wink-wink low because you you were involved in this very sunny optimistic show and yet of course you know you were a young man and you knew of course you were highly aware that your own child your own upbringing had been far from completely sunny or optimistic not least because your parents had been through hell right they just just managed to escape from that sea that's right before the Holocaust hit the Jewish community right and it sounds to me as though your your relationship your parents was troubled and your relationship certainly with school was also trouble my parents did not get who I was as an individual so that was really difficult it was only after my success that they became proud so I admire them for having escaped Nazi Germany I admire them for starting this brand new life in America I am grateful for the life that I had but emotionally it was um no matter how you look at it it was for me very difficult and then I promised myself that I would be a different parent with my own children and in the course of the interview I want to get to your own parenting and your own kids but but just sticking with your own youth for a little while I was born an optimist I believe that to be true but do you think the the difficulties in your relationship with your parents was it in part a result of maybe psychological damage done to them by their own experience in Jerry in the loss of their own that's...
very possible because they lost it yes they did we lost everybody I act never had a real aunt or uncle they were all the community of those people who escaped Germany and came to New York so that that community that stayed very tight they became my aunt's and my uncles however they were not blood lacking a wider support network within the family you also lacked a nurturing school because let's get on to the subject of dyslexia which is again colored a lot of your life you had real trouble didn't you learning at school I have a lot of trouble learning even today you don't ever outgrow your dyslexia you learn to negotiate it so yes it was really difficult because I was told in so many areas in my life that I would never achieve that I'm an underachiever and then that's the title of the book Hank zips are the world's greatest underachiever yeah Hank zips are being the character you created to help other kids no I didn't it never entered my mind that I was helping anybody I was writing what I knew right ah with my partner Lynn Oliver and it turned out that kids wrote back and said how did you know me so well I thought I was alone and now I know I'm not stupid but you partly thought you were stupid because again without wishing to pick into difficult stuff your own parents told you you yes stupid yes well you know I make a joke I've said this before but ah they had an affectionate phrase for me growing up which was do moment uh and then if...
you well I know what that means dumb dog yeah wasn't really very affection of the doors oh no it's a fighter name I never used actually on my own children but of course my son Max who is now a director always interviewed for his first film he said my biggest problem growing up I was loved too you know you can smile about it and it's wonderful to see you relate these stories with with a smile but I just wonder when you've used phrases in the past like my self-esteem around my ankles yes I mean just how damaged do you think you were that you know what it I believe that there are three very important elements to living one is that you remain relevant and I don't mean you remain famous or you remain in the public eye I remain I mean that you remain are constantly giving out of yourself into the universe so that's one that does sound a little bit Californian to me no I think that's a universal yes I am as soon as a human being is dismissed is no longer useful I believe that they arm they squeeze up into a raisin actually what you didn't do that MA no you were never a raisin I mean what what you did with a very difficult schooling and a problematic relationship with your parents you you found something where you can express yourself and in some ways it's counterintuitive because it was acting you were a shy kid you were a publisher and then suddenly you sort of flowered on ons but I didn't know that I mean I I've always wanted to be an...

actor

I mean I I didn't even think about oh why oh how did that come into my body in my mind I just always had that as a dream was it because you know we talked about escapism before in terms of happy days but maybe it was the place you could ask you know what I never thought of that but yes that might be exactly why whatever the reason I trained to be an

actor

and I now am living every day I'm 67 years old I I'm still working as an

actor

I am living my dream every day it's amazing how on earth did you and maybe do you because you're still a very much a working

actor

cope with read-throughs and I was exactly reading and learning lines I was embarrassed when I it went read-through just to deserve very no a Monday morning we would read through the script for the writers and the producers they could hear it it would be the beginning of the rehearsal to to make the show that Friday and struggling to read struggling struggle to this how did you get away with it I didn't I stumbled and I was embarrassed and I learned to live with my embarrassment I finally said you know what this is me this is how I get through it and um my heart races at every read-through till this day and what even was I dare say you don't really audition so much now everybody knows who you are and what you can do no no no no I don't know what it's like here but in America you have to audition and if you're given a script I'm you're gonna how do you mean it but I...
memorize as much of it as I can I then do the script and I make up what I know to be the nature of the scene and people say to me well that wasn't what was written and I go yeah but I'm gonna do it for Batum if I can't go let's let's go back to to those 10 years on happy days just for a moment longer because there you are you've established this character the Fonz right but you've already said to me you know you were a highly trained

actor

I believe you even trained in drama at Yale University and got a master's degree in acting yes well hey was it not incredibly frustrating when the Fonz is sort of big thing was slouching on the stage with his leather jacket sort of drooling eh and now I'm sticking his thumbs up now and I thought well you tell you why I was tragus I was trained to be an

actor

I was not trained to be an elitist so I loved that character that character introduced me to the world 126 countries I got mail from a hundred and 26 countries from people who said you make me laugh and I want to be your friend I would visit with my children we would visit the Hopi nation in Arizona because in the third year they studied American Native Americans but is it elitist of me away to you now every winter it didn't stretch you you were talent that's not true because every single thing that I use but let me just finish the story we went to the Hopi nation and people would walk out of their homes with fresh bread and give it to me...
because the Fonz was respectful to Native Americans in a Thanksgiving show our holiday but it is not elitist of you to ask the question it is I used every bit of my training as the fonts the aisle just the the episode with Mork and Mindy when wark was first introduced to the world I used the slow-motion training that I used with a Polish a teacher who studied Grotowski who was a famous director and we learned slow-motion and how to use our bodies I use that in the fonts I love that image I love the fact that you know you you can bring so much to everything you did in that show right I just wonder then I come without her I could not have brought everything I did to the show if I didn't have the training so how much did it hurt when the magic of happy days began to slip away and people started frankly to mock it from time to time and then there was that moment and actually occurred relatively early on in the decade of happy days where you did that dramatic thing when you were waterskiing you jumped over it shocking before too long that phrase jumping the shark right had become a subtitle phrase - it's an absolute gimmicky desperation to win an audience right and they were sort of so first of all yeah but that's okay because happy days is still on and that phrase that board game is gone but you know we were number one for about four to five years after that phrase came into being and I had really good legs at that time so every time in the newspaper they would use...
the phrase jumping the shark they would show me on water skis I look pretty damn good I was okay now the other issue I suppose for any

actor

and not so long ago on the show we interviewed William Shatner who of course very wonderful fella but fair or not will always be defined by Captain Kirk just as you have you like he he's a great stage

actor

uh he now he I think he invested in a company that it does commercials all the time in New York but my point I guess yeah without going too far to him because I've already seen him yeah right with you where they great I did his talk show yeah you had lots of different shows you produced you directed you acid of course and you still do yes you've had some hits you've had some proudest moment proudest moment are the novels that I wrote with Lynn Oliver really yeah not acting at all no they are they are my proudest moments outside of my rude children mmm yeah well I want to talk about the book because that they bring us back to dyslexia which has been a huge theme through your life but but I job final question on this acting do you ever wonder what if what if I hadn't won that part what if I hadn't played before all the time would I actually have gotten more out of my acting career no I couldn't have gotten more I now at this moment in 2013 I do three television shows I act on a show called Children's Hospital which started as a webisode on the web on the internet on the internet last year won the Emmy for...
the best short you know short comedy it's only 11 minutes long at 12 o'clock at night because it's absurdist I do a Royal Pains which is shown right here on a terrestrial channel I don't know the name so you're not going to you're not going to go to your grave bitter about type guy I'm not bitter at all I am grateful I live by two words tenacity and gratitude tenacity got me to this chair and grin and gratitude does not allow me to be angry about most things end up my daughter's use of our credit card interesting you talk about anger because I've searched that's perhaps a private conversation we had but yeah but interesting you talk about anger because I can't help comparing your daughter has a credit card allow me now to suggest a shredder okay I have a daughter of my own I can hold on to that but well she's 15 so she's got one yes but no but she's getting there yet she will be let-let-let

Henry

would bring Little Rock yes I mortgage is going to a pair of shoes I'm just going to tell you now well you've told me Jimmy shoes you could have you know or choose could have bought a house you just mentioned something interesting about anger get I want to have you reflect on what we see among some of the equivalents of

Henry

Winkler

in the TV business today that is the biggest stars thinking of people like Charlie Sheen Rach maybe him more than any other rank the sorts of behavior they've indulged in when...
they're at the top of that television very very different from yours and you've always talked about the importance in any production of being a team player do you think that has disappeared from the modern know there are level there are wonderful are team players here is the problem you are treated almost like a deity you walk in the street people want to touch you want some of your clothes would like to cut your hair to have some uh you know you cannot believe what people are telling you I am still short I did not grow one inch because I was famous I am still

Henry

I know only what I know I am NOT an authority now on stuff I don't know you want so badly to buy in you want so badly to believe I'm special I can walk on water and it just isn't true and there are lots of people who don't who make it a pact with the devil and go down that road and it will destroy you like you were hit by a car like that like an oncoming train that kind of hubris will cut you in half honestly that is the truth before we end yes before we end I do want to spend a little more time talking about dyslexia with you because you've turned that into one of your life's works and you talked about the pride you in the books you've written garbage of course relate to that through your character you created but you have in your own life yes children I do who will and they are dyslexic so tell me this in your view now that you know as much as you do about this life yes is...
this is what I know rigid you know what do you know about it how I know that it is hereditary so those families that have children who learn differently and that are embarrassed by the child because it does not live up to snuff you've created it actually it comes from your genes parents out there is that sometimes of a danger of overdiagnosis that yeah kids have different talents absolutely intellectual abilities absolute maybe sometimes maybe particularly in America where I live but I'll tell you where they change really is here's the real danger in not allowing it to be true in not in telling a child they're just lazy in telling a child that doesn't exist just work a little harder you know change the curriculum and learn Latin and you're going to be like a great student and there are there are children who are wired to learn a foreign language and I lived in a family that spoke German and I know just a few words I my brain doesn't comprehend it why do we only um celebrate the top 10% when it is the bottom 10% that create a plastered room ah an art piece ah they are great athletes ah but they also are dyslexia you you learn to meet your destiny why don't we help them and well what is the help you know you've spent a lot of time you've not just written the books you've visited schools you know and all of the programs what is the cue know what I tell them here's for me the key acknowledge that the child is having trouble realize...
that their self-image is imploding because that you don't have to tell a child that you're not doing well in school they know they know how hard it is to write the math problem or to learn a language or to read a book they know you support them and make sure that their self-image is powerful and strong and they will meet their destiny we began by talking about optimism yes you come across to me as one of the most optimistic I am Telling You you know how I see my life you know that toy that has sand at the bottom you punch it it goes down and then it comes right back to center right you blow it up plastic that's how I see myself I go down I get back up and Here I am sitting in this chair I've written 23 novels with my partner a brand new one about a ghost buddy which sounds like the Fonz 8 you could call me a banshee but that's rude call me a phantom or I could live with that

Henry

Winkler

's a great way to end thank you very much for being a hard talk what a pleasure really thank you very right conversation