1999-01-29 - Henry Winkler overcomes dyslexia
By Donald H. Harrison
San Diego (special) -- Given the facts that 710 San Diego Jewish men paid to hear actor Henry Winkler, that his character's black leather jacket is on permanent display at the Smithsonian, and that he is remembered the world over as "the Fonz," one might be surprised that Winkler says while he was growing up "my self-image was down around my ankles."
Some of the jewelry had to be sold to pay for the family's lumber business in New York, Winkler said, but "when I was bar mitzvahed, I was given my great-grandfather's watch that came out of Germany encased in chocolate. It was my most wonderful gift and it tied me to people I had never met before and to a life and culture that I had only learned about."
Another relative, perhaps emulating the sage Yohanan Ben Zakkai who lived at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, "came out, secretly, in a coffin," Winkler said,"and at her feet she had a spider plant. ...A cutting of that spider plant was given to all of the family and all of the friends.
"I grew up in New
York with that cutting regenerating itself all over the window sills
of our apartment, and then when I moved to California...I took a cutting
and started one of my own in my first house in California when I started
on Happy Days, " the television series on which he played the character
Arthur Fonzarelli, a very cool high school drop out who secretly wanted
For Winkler, his aunt Anna's spider plant became a symbol "of survival
Winkler said he learned he had dyslexia when he made a film strip for children with learning disabiliities. "I thought 'this is great, I should help these kids, they like the character, and it is a mitzvah that I should do the film script.' And I read the script and I realized that I am not helping these kids; I am one of these kids."
Winkler both runs from and embraces his identification as "the Fonz."
It has been 15 years since the last episode of the television series was
filmed, and since then he has produced and appeared in other movies and
television shows and would like to be recognized for his more recent work.
In one episode of Happy Days, he recalled, "I said ... 'Look at this, Richie, you can get a library card. They're for free. You can go down there, take a book out. You can meet chicks there.' Registration for library cards in America went up 500 percent..."
Another time, he served as honorary chair of a special arts festival
for learning- and physically- challenged students in Los Angeles. "All
of a sudden a little girl said 'Fonzi!' I turned around. Her mother is
shaking. Her mother is crying. We calmed her mother down. We said, 'what
is the matter?' She said, 'you don't understand, my daughter is autistic;
she just spoke the first
And, he recalled, he was about to refuse a request for an autograph
from someone in the crowd at President
Bill Clinton's inauguration until he realized who was asking. "It was
Terry Anderson," who had been "one of the hostages in Beirut.
He said 'when I was watching you through the bars, while the guards were
watching Happy Days, you kept us going.'"