If American Graffiti and Grease were the appetizers for ’50s nostalgia, Fonzie was the main course. Dispensing with the teenage angst and the Freudian complexities of Rebel Without a Cause, Henry Winkler’s Fonz became an ambassador for a time that never existed.
Launched into living rooms reeling from the Vietnam War, hippies, feminism and Watergate, Happy Days reinvented the untroubled naïveté of the Eisenhower years and became America’s No. 1 TV show. Ducktailed, motorcycle-driving, leather-jacket-wearing, high school dropout Fonzie would have been a threat 20 years earlier. But in the ’70s, the forever-after-typecast Winkler became lunchboxes, posters, T-shirts and dolls. Fonz was so cool he even gave us a language: “Nerd,” “Aaaayy” and the ever-popular retort “Sit on it!”
How far-reaching was Fonzie’s influence? The headmaster of a school for troubled boys wrote to Happy Days producer-director Garry Marshall and asked for an episode in which Fonzie cried. By having the Fonz shed tears, the educator reasoned, his students would learn that showing emotion was a healthy thing. Whoa!