Writers

Henry Winkler visited with Kindergarten through third grade students at Sacred Heart School today, but it was as an author of children’s books, not as an actor.

He was there along with co-author Lin Oliver to tell his story, that of being a dyslexic kid growing up in New York public schools, similar to the character in their two books series, Hank Zipster and Here’s Hank. “I had a real problem reading and doing history or math,” he told his incredibly attentive audience. “I was great at lunch, eating my tuna sandwich with the best of them. But when I wrote my name, it came out ‘Heavy’ not ‘Henry.’

He talked about how hard high school was for him and how it he had to take geometry four times. “That was way back in 1963, and not one person has used the word hypotenuse to me since then,” he quipped.

He continued: “No matter how hard school is for you, it has nothing to do with how brilliant you are, with the brilliant thoughts in your brain. When you figure out what it is you want to do, never let it leave your brain.”

What was on Henry’s brain was becoming an actor, something he first thought about when he was seven. Because of his grades, he couldn’t be in his school plays, that is until 11th grade when he appeared in Of Thee I Sing.

“My father was a very short German man who sold wood,” he said. “He wanted me to sell wood. The only wood I was interested in was Hollywood!” (Queue peals of laughter from his audience, about 1/3 of whom raised their hands when asked if they’d ever watched Happy Days.

It was, of course, that show that rocketed Henry to fame. Arthur Fonzarelli, aka The Fonz, defined hipness — with perfect comic timing — to America for the 10-year (1974-1984) run of the show. “I said, ‘Eh, whoa,’ a lot so I didn’t have to memorize a lot of script,” he joked.

During a period when he wasn’t acting, Henry’s agent Alan Berger suggested he write books. “But I thought I was stupid, but Alan kept pushing me to write a book about dyslexia. I met Lin for lunch and we hatched Hank Zipster. Ten years later, over three million books had been sold.”

The books are written in Lin’s office with Henry talking and Lin typing. Then Lin adds her ideas and “we argue over every word.” Added Lin: “Collaborating is listening to each other’s ideas. What you create together is better than what either of you can do alone.”

Henry read from the latest Here’s Hank, Everybody is Somebody, before taking questions from the audience. Nina wanted to know what it’s like to be an actor because she wants to be one. His reply: “You have to know the story, because we are story tellers. It’s a hard job.”

“Acting, telling stories, helped me become a writer,” he said, summing up his journey.

Footnote: It’s not all writing for Henry Winkler today. He’s currently appearing in the second season of Barry on HBO, portraying a drama teacher. While the show is not kiddie fare, it did earn him his first primetime Emmy, four decades after he played The Fonz on Happy Days.

And another footnote: The bottom photo shows Atherton resident Laura Pitchford (green blouse), who did the photo work today, with Henry when she was a teenager. Her family and Henry had a mutual friend, Charles Haid, who was on Hills Street Blues, and they’d see each other in Aptos during the summer. She thinks it was taken in 1975. Henry was good enough to autograph it today.

Photos by Laura Daschbach Pitchford (c) 2019

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