He rose to fame playing ubercool mechanic Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli in hit US sitcom Happy Days – but actor Henry Winkler has revealed that behind the scenes, things weren’t quite so effortless.
Severely dyslexic, Winkler was left undiagnosed for many years, which caused a problem at script readings where he struggled to keep up with fellow cast members.
“You know, everybody else could read pretty well, and they started making fun of me in the beginning,” he said yesterday at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. “And then I made fun of myself.”
“I used humour to cover up my shame and humiliation all through my school, my career.”
Winkler was speaking about his work with UK children’s newspaper First News, as well as his Hank Zipzer series of children’s books which follow a dyslexic boy (modelled on Winkler) and his struggles.
The books were recently made into a series for CBBC following a lack of interest from the American market, as Winkler explained.
“We couldn’t sell Hank Zipzer as a TV show in New York. Couldn’t sell it in Los Angeles. They said ‘We love Hank, he’s so funny! Could you make him a little less dyslexic?’”
“Somebody here said, ‘we’ll make it’ – [and now] it’s on CBBC. We just shot the second season of Hank Zipzer!”
Winkler plays supportive teacher Mr Rock (based on a real person he knew) in the series, and said he was delighted that it had introduced him to a whole new legion of young fans.
“When I first started talking to children all over the country, people said ‘Oh, the Fonz!'” the actor remembered.
“It’s great, and I love him – he introduced me to the world. But now children say ‘Mr Rock!’”