Henry Winkler has bookended his long career in Hollywood with Emmy-nominated performances. He was 27 when he got his first nom for Happy Days as the Fonz. Last year, at 73, he won an Emmy for his portrayal of the narcissistic acting teacher Gene Cousineau in the hit HBO show Barry, co-starring with Bill Hader.
Jeanne Wolf: Bill Hader has said he was nervous about auditioning with you for your part in Barry because he’s such a huge fan.
Henry Winkler: If he was nervous, I was petrified. I’ve seen Bill Hader for years on Saturday Night Live. He’s brilliant. I got my youngest son, who is a director, to literally coach me. I did the best I could and I made Bill laugh, but it wasn’t a slam dunk. There were weeks and weeks of waiting, sitting on the edge of your chair. Then you get the call that they want you. I’m jumping up and down and telling everybody. Then I go, “Oh my God I just got this great role but I don’t know how to act anymore. Why did I say yes?”
JW: Maybe the most surprising turn in your career was writing children’s books with co-author Lin Oliver. Your latest is Alien Superstar about Buddy Burger, an alien with six eyes who lands in Tinseltown. You take a few shots at the world of entertainment.
HW: If an alien ends up in Hollywood, what could be stranger than that? He becomes a star, and shows both sides of fame. We want kids to know that the reality is not what they see in the pages of a glossy magazine. Being a star is demanding, interpersonal relationships are hard, there’s body shaming — all the things I have gone through in my career. When I got famous that first season as the Fonz, I hardly left my apartment for a year. In those days I never imagined myself writing children’s books. Growing up, it was hard for me to even read because I had dyslexia, which wasn’t diagnosed until years later. Since then, I’ve done a lot of work to create awareness of it. Reaching out to kids and getting them into books is probably my greatest achievement.
JW: With all you’ve accomplished, do you ever have doubts about the future?
HW: I can take anxiety to where you literally see it leaving my body in a cloud. My biggest anxiety is: will I work again? I know what it’s like because after Happy Days, no one would hire me. It was like, “Oh, he’s got talent, but he’s the Fonz.”
In my mind I’m still physically 22. But the reality is I’m grateful for every knee bend. Men my age are waiting for the phone to ring, and I got an Emmy! I think I’ve flipped the numbers and I’m closer to the actor I wanted to be at 27.
—Jeanne Wolf is the Post’s West Coast editor
This article is featured in the November/December 2019 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
Featured image: Shutterstock.
Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now