He was the epitome of cool, and just about every boy in the 70s wanted to be Fonzie. Sporting a motorcycle, black leather jacket, masterful command of jukeboxes (and other appliances) and most importantly, a superhuman ability to attract the opposite sex, he won the hearts of millions of TV viewers on the popular series, Happy Days.
After being abandoned by his father, Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli was raised by a single mother and soon took to the streets on his beloved motorcycle, jumping from gang to gang.
He might never have left that environment had he not come across one Ritchie Cunningham, a nerdy teen who certainly needed some help in the “cool” department. The Fonz befriended Ritchie and acted as his protector, confidante, and mentor in the art of female seduction.
Eventually, Fonzie was welcomed into the Cunningham household, a typical 50s post-war family. The family patriarch, Howard, was dismayed by Fonzie at first but managed to warm to him over the years. Marion, the mom, developed a maternal relationship with Fonzie and was the only one who could ever get away with calling him Arthur. Little sister Joannie did what any girl would do – and promptly developed a crush on the big guy, who affectionately dubbed her “shortcake.”
Fonzie handled Joannie’s infatuation with compassion and grace but he would never allow himself to become tied down to one woman, not with the harem he possessed. The only woman to ever come close to capturing his heart was demolition derby cohort, Pinky Tuscadaro, and even she couldn’t corral The Fonz.
Ultimately, The Fonz was a free spirit, a brave warrior up for any challenge. Whether it be standing up to rival gang, winning a fencing challenge, or honoring a commitment to be in a dance marathon after pushing his motorcycle for miles on end, the Fonz was fearless in the face of adversity – even if it meant jumping garbage cans with his motorcycle, or more impressively – a shark during a water skiing challenge.
This defining moment in Happy Days history, when the show officially passed its peak, is now a phenomenon commonly referred to in popular culture as “jumping the shark.” But, while Happy Days may have indeed jumped the shark at that moment, the Fonz lives on as one of the biggest cultural icons to ever come from the 1970s decade.
Henry Winkler partially based Fonzie on the Sylvester Stallone character in a film the pair worked together on called The Lords of Flatbush. And as hard as it may be to imagine, Fonzie was only supposed to be a bit role in the Happy Days series. But audiences were enamored with the character beyond the producer’s wildest dreams and his role on the show grew so enormous that there was actually talk along the way of renaming the series “Fonzie.”
Surprisingly, the leather jacket Fonzie wore on the series was something that made the ABC censors a bit uneasy in the first season. They would only allow him to wear it when he was around his motorcycle, under the guise that it promoted motorcycle safety. When he was away from the bike, he was forced to wear a golf jacket that was decidedly unhip.
Finally, cooler heads prevailed and Fonzie was allowed to wear his leathers no matter the circumstances. Today, that jacket looks much nicer hanging in the Smithsonian Institution than a measly windbreaker.
If imitation is greatest form of flattery, the Fonz is one flattered dude. His signature exclamation, “Aaaay!” followed by a double-thumbs-up, has been imitated by millions of fans around the globe. More than a few people have probably even bruised their hands as they attempted to start a jukebox with a good solid Fonzie whack.
But these people are mere mortals; they haven’t begun to scrape the surface of cool. Fonzie, on the other hand – when it came to cool – he was an iceberg.
Was Fonzie one of your heroes back in the 70s? If so, I’d love to hear any memories or thoughts you’d like to share about the classic television character from back in the day in our comments section below. Aaaay!