Richie Cunningham (played by Ron Howard): “Arthur Fonzarelli. He dropped out of school.”—Happy Days, Season 1, Episode 1, “All the Way,” teleplay by Rob Reiner, Phil Mishkin, and Garry Marshall, directed by Mel Ferber (1974)
When Happy Days premiered on this date on ABC 40 years ago, the focus of this series was squarely on the Cunningham family, a kind of “Father Knows Best” set-up except seen from the viewpoint of the son, Richie. As the resident greaser, The Fonz was envisioned as a racier counterpart to Richie and his square friends Potsie and Ralph. Little did anyone realize that Fonzie would become the principal attraction of the show (particularly after Ron Howard left after the seventh season to pursue in earnest his directing career); that the role would make Henry Winkler’s career; that Fonz’s black leather jacket (not worn until later in Season One) would wind up in the Smithsonian (well, on display for nearly 30 years, anyway); and that the series itself, envisioned by network execs as a means of capitalizing on the success of the Fifties nostalgia craze epitomized by the film American Graffiti, would last for 11 seasons on the air.
For all the iconic power of the Fonz’s leather jacket, though, I think the coolest thing the man who popularized “Aaaaeeeyyy!”” ever did was to get a library card. (Just the type of thing you’d expect from a onetime librarian such as myself.)
(By the way, 14 years ago I ran into Winkler in person. At the time, the actor was appearing onstage in New York in Neil Simon’s The Dinner Party, with good friend John Ritter. The first time I saw him on the street, I was stunned at seeing this celebrity in the flesh. By the time he was done with his appearance in the show, I would see him twice more, on the street or in the subway, by which time I would become rather blasé about the encounters.)