Ron Howard wasn't stoked when Henry Winkler stole the spotlight on Happy Days
“I was still in every scene, and my parts were the same, but I felt awkward,” Howard said.
The fifth season of Happy Days began with a three-part "Hollywood" episode most famous for the scene in which Fonzie jumped over a shark on water skis.
As many opinions as there are about that scene on the family sitcom, the premise of the episode, which found Fonzie overnight cast as "the next James Dean" was not too far off from what actually happened to Henry Winkler once Happy Days premiered and he became an overnight teen idol.
The Tampa Tribune noted in 1974 that within six months of Happy Days being on air, Ron Howard was no longer the star of his own show. Henry Winkler had come out of nowhere to become a weird new kind of TV folk hero, easily stealing the spotlight from the child star who had long been regarded as his generation’s greatest talent.
How did that happen?
In 1977, Ron Howard told the Intelligencer Journal that Winkler's sudden popularity did catch him off-guard.
Asked if he felt threatened by Winkler's rising star, Ron said, "I did in the third season we were on air. Before that, 75 percent of the stories had centered around Richie, and then the percentage dropped to 35 percent. I was still in every scene, and my parts were the same, but I felt awkward."
You can hardly blame the producers for responding to how big a hit that Fonzie was with the kids. His popularity in 1975 was undeniable to anyone who stepped inside the mailroom at Paramount Studios, where 85 percent of fan mail was reportedly addressed to Winkler.
That year, the Press-Telegram asked Winkler why he thought the Fonz was so popular.
"I think it's mainly his strength — but then he's also human, he's not just a tough guy," Winkler said.
Whatever made Fonzie so charming, Winkler proved it didn't take growing up on TV to draw a huge crowd to rally around a new show.
In 1974, TV audiences were so excited for an opportunity to meet the Happy Days boys at a fashion show in Texas, the Texas Tribune reported that 25,000 people turned out.
"We just stood there and listened to the roar," Winkler said. "It was like being a Beatle for a minute."
Although there was some awkward tension between Howard and Winkler as two stars unpredictably fighting for top billing on the same sitcom, fortunately it didn't affect their work on the show or their relationship behind the scenes.
"It's a very easy job, very relaxing," Howard said of working on Happy Days. "I like the people I'm working with."
For Winkler, who experienced his breakout on Happy Days, his rise to fame may have been a whirlwind, but asked about his feelings when it came to the instant, overwhelming popularity of his character, the young actor showed that like the Fonz, he was just as cool as a cucumber.
"I have a lot of fun creating Fonzie, and it's wonderful if people enjoy him,” Winkler told the Press-Telegram.