Henry Winkler said he got one chance to play ''Richie Cunningham''

The Eighties movie Night Shift was only Ron Howard's second movie as a director and featured Winkler’s quietest character work.

In the second half of the Happy Days two-part episode "Hollywood," Richie Cunningham and Fonzie share a moment where they speculate what it would be like to be in a movie together.

Five years later, the speculation ended when Ron Howard directed the Eighties comedy Night Shift and cast Henry Winkler to star.

Throughout the movie, Howard could be spotted making cameos, like playing a saxophone in the subway or making out with his real-life wife outside Winkler’s character’s apartment. In that way, the movie followed through on painting the picture that Happy Days scene imagined and for the first time, the Happy Days stars acted together on the big screen.

In Howard’s movie, Winkler’s character is described by critics as "mild-mannered," and apparently, the Fonzie actor actually chose to play the more mild-mannered movie role when Howard approached him on the Paramount lot while he was eating lunch.

As Howard remembered, he offered Winkler whichever Night Shift movie part he wanted: the loud unpredictable frat guy or the clean-cut do-right guy. Winkler made the unpredictable choice of playing the latter.

Winkler himself once famously tweeted that he saw taking the Night Shift role as his chance to step away from playing tough guys.

"I thought I'd play Richie Cunningham for once," Winkler joked, telling news outlets that in this movie, he was playing "the kind of character Howard would ordinarily play."

"It’s a sweet character," Winkler told Field News Service in 1982.

To make the movie, it’s said that Winkler divided his time between filming Happy Days episodes in California on Thursdays and Fridays, then joining Howard on the movie set in New York on Mondays through Wednesdays.

The movie was in the same vein as other campy Eighties comedies like Risky Business, showing how a guy as straight and narrow as Richie Cunningham reacts when his moral compass is challenged.

When promoting the movie, Howard played up how many Happy Days people were involved in the movie, including some of the sitcom’s writers.

Night Shift debuted when Happy Days was still on air, clearly trying to tap into Howard’s and Winkler’s established fan base, and out of all the movies where Winkler took a leading role, Night Shift is still said to be his best-performing movie at the box office.

Critics weren’t as crazy about the movie, though, claiming that the jury was still out on whether Howard would fulfill the prophecies that he would become his generation’s greatest director.

Night Shift was only Howard’s second theatrical film as a director, after 1977's Grand Theft Auto, and it’s sweet that he tapped Winkler to help him get through it, even if critics thought Winkler wasn’t as funny as Michael Keaton was in the movie. Keaton took the role that Winkler didn’t take, and it became one of that actor’s earliest roles.

Howard said it was intentional that Keaton was funnier and that Winkler was the one who set up the laughs.

"It was totally planned that way," Howard told The Boston Globe in 1982. "Henry was offered either part, and he opted for the quieter one. Then he helped Michael steal the picture. He gave Michael a lot of choices. With some of the bits, he’d tell Michael, ‘I know you’ll get laughs if you take this routine one step further.’"

We all know now that Howard swiftly proved the prophecies were right, following up Night Shift by directing smash hits like Splash, Cocoon and Parenthood before the Eighties ended.

Going from playing the muted character of Richie Cunningham to his generation’s most exciting director was a natural next step for Howard, who grew up in Hollywood and knew the landscape like most kids know their own backyards. If anything, he felt more at home being in charge on a film set.

"Directing gives me a sense of control that I don’t have in real life," Howard said.

Winkler was happy to continue being part of Howard’s life, still learning about acting from his old pal Ron as he moved on to directing.

"I always listen to Ron," Winkler told Field News Service. "I think he has a real good sense, and he’s very serious about directing."

 
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

28 Comments

Post a comment
CoreyC 2 months ago
Henry played a Richie type on The Mary Tyler Moore show.
TownOfMayberry 2 months ago
I own this movie on DVD. It’s hilarious! Micheal Keaton does a great job. 👍🏻
vinman63 2 months ago
I saw it once don’t remember much but I do remember Michael Keaton was funny in it.
Mob39 2 months ago
Just watched this movie a few weeks ago. Michael Keaton is great as Bill. Still quote this movie to this day! This is Chuck to remind Bill to shut up! The love broke brokers! Hold the phone, feed the mayonnaise to the tunafish, edible trash. Trim that. Hey kid, do you like music? Jumpin Jack flash is a gas, gas gas. That Barney Rubble, what an actor. Michael Keaton is funny in this movie… One of the best and it’s a classic.
TownOfMayberry Mob39 2 months ago
I do the same thing. I quote the movie as well. I own it on DVD and watch it from time to time.
LoveMETV22 2 months ago
Interesting story. I like the fact that Ron Howard and Henry Winkler have remained close friends over the years.
CoreyC LoveMETV22 2 months ago
Henry is Ron's daughter Bryce godfather.
LoveMETV22 CoreyC 2 months ago
That's nice.
LoveMETV22 CoreyC 2 months ago
According to the NY Post Henry Winkler is godfather to all four of Ron Howard's children.
CoreyC LoveMETV22 1 month ago
Which is shocking cause it disrespected Ron's brother Clint or his wife Cheryl siblings if she had any.
Michael 2 months ago
What about the time Fonzie plays a nerd on Happy Days?
cperrynaples Michael 2 months ago
That wasn't Richie he was doing, it was either Ralph or Potsie!
LoveMETV22 cperrynaples 2 months ago
There were several episodes on Happy Days where Fonzie portrayed Richie, Potsie, or Ralph in his own nerdish interpretation of them.
CoreyC cperrynaples 2 months ago
Fonzie played a nerd when his cousin Chachi was captured by a female gang.
MrsPhilHarris 2 months ago
I remember liking the movie but to be honest all. I can remember is it had something to do with a morgue.
"A mild-mannered morgue attendant is assigned to the night shift, and his new coworker, along with his prostitute neighbor, convince him of running a prostitution ring out of the morgue." I remember watching it ONCE, but only because it had Shelley Long in it.
Michael JDnHuntsvilleAL 2 months ago
Thefirst time I saw Shelley Long, it was in 1980's Small Circle of Friends. She plays a minor character, a friend of Karen Allen's character.
I think I only saw it once too.
Michael MrsPhilHarris 2 months ago
I saw it when it came out, then maybe later on tv. But I paid a few dollars for a used DVD a few years back. It's always interesting what people get rid of, or buy in the first place.
MrsPhilHarris Michael 2 months ago
I was thinking the same thing when I dropped off some donations at a thrift shop. Looked around at some of the stuff and thought “Who would give that away/buy that?”.
Andybandit 2 months ago
Good movie. I didn't know Ron Howard directed the night shift.
Michael 2 months ago
Night Shift starts in a morgue. Henry Winkler's character works there, I think he likes the quietness of the overnight shift. Then he's joined by the very noisy Michael Keaton, who is loud and full of ideas, talking into a tape recorder every time he gets an idea. I forget how it happens, but they use the overnight morgue to run a prostitution ring.

Much better than Risky business. And an all star cast, though many were just starting out.
WordsmithWorks 2 months ago
Underrated movie. Michael Keaton's first big screen role. Pre-Dionne and Friends' "That's What Friends Are For" crooned by Rod Stewart. Excellent cameos by Richard Belzer ("Open up") and Vincent Schavelli ("There. No mustard"). One of the classic "spit in the face" scenes. I wish this was more widely available.
All of that is true! Not sure if you can stream it now!
cperrynaples 2 months ago
How could you ignore Winkler's co-stars? Michael Keaton was the wacky guy he didn't to play and Shelly Long was the hooker he fell in love with!
walligans 2 months ago
Critics didn't care for the movie, I did and still do!
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?