Henry 'Fonz' Winkler is high on fantasy 'Cop'

April 16, 1993|By New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- He's a bit heavier, and his hair's a bit more gray. With his tweed jacket over a shirt and sweater, he looks more like a Gap ad than a biker. Nonetheless, Henry Winkler will forever be the leather-jacketed Fonz to anyone ever caught up in his "Happy Days" TV series from 1974-84.

In 1993, you might have to call him Mister Winkler instead of Fonz. These days, he commands more respect for his accomplishments than his attitudes. And right now, he's on a high -- the movie he directed, "Cop and a Half," was No. 1 at the box office its opening weekend.

The movie stars Burt Reynolds and an 8-year-old named Norman D. Golden 2nd, along with Ray Sharkey and Holland Taylor. And while it wasn't a big hit with the critics when it opened recently, it did just fine with moviegoers.

"Listen," Mr. Winkler says, "this movie is a fantasy -- a kid's dream come true. Any talk about whether or not it is plausible is just irrelevant."

It's a story of a kid (young Golden) who watches too much TV, especially cop shows. When he sees a real crime being committed, he's ready to finger the perp, but only if the cops pay him off some way. How? He wants a badge and handcuffs and a chance to be a real cop. Let him ride in a radio car, hand out summonses, maybe arrest someone.

So he's turned over to a battle-weary plainclothes detective (Mr. Reynolds) with little taste for the assignment.

Naturally, they bond like Butch and Sundance; the bad guys get theirs and -- well, the rest shouldn't be hard to figure.

Mr. Winkler, 47, was perfectly willing to give up acting to become a director, but he's been doing both for the last seven years. He made his directorial debut with "A Smoky Mountain Christmas," a 1986 made-for-TV film starring Dolly Parton. His next was the 1988 feature film "Memories of Me," with Billy Crystal, JoBeth Williams and Alan King. No wonder Ron Howard, Mr. Winkler's co-star on "Happy Days" and producer of "Cop and a Half," picked him to direct. (Mr. Howard also knew how involved Mr. Winkler is in children's issues, and that there would be some empathy with the 8-year-old.) Right after "Happy Days," Mr. Winkler made a video called "Strong Kids, Safe Kids," about how children can avoid abuse and how parents can deal with it.

He also has a production company, JZM, which makes shows aimed at kids. And, he has three kids: he married the former Stacy Weitzman in 1978 and became a father to her son, Jed; their daughter Zoe Emily was born in 1980, and son Max in 1983.

Mr. Winkler's a native New Yorker, though he's called California home ever since his Fonz days. He's a graduate of Boston's Emerson College, with an M.A. from Yale.

"After graduation I was asked to join the Yale Rep company. That was my first professional role. We toured all around. At the John Drew Theater in East Hampton, Cliff Robertson, who lived there, saw me, and six months later, called and offered me a role in a film he was about to direct.

"But I couldn't get out of the play I was in with the Rep -- there was no understudy."

But he did get a role in "The Lords of Flatbush." After that, a role on Broadway, in a play called "42 Seconds From Broadway. "Closed in one night," he remembers. "I was backstage taking off my makeup and there were guys there ripping out the sink."

But he soon had another role, and another, and finally, in 1974, went into "Happy Days." When that was over, his buddy Ron Howard was directing "Night Shift," and cast him in it.

He becomes a bit reflective. "I never decided to be an actor," he says. "It was something I had to do. Know what my first part was? It was in nursery school. I was a tube of toothpaste."

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