I was in a lousy mood when I awoke this morning, but I nonetheless rallied myself to haul ass to the New York Comic Book Marketplace at Manhattan's Pennsylvania Hotel. It's a good small-scale, old school show with tons of stuff to buy and artists and celebrities to meet, but my main motivation in going today was to meet Henry Winkler, known to all Americans of my age as Arthur Fonzarelli, aka "the Fonz," the breakout star of TV's (HAPPY DAYS 1974-1984).
HAPPY DAYS — and more importantly to American pop culture, Winkler's character — was an indelible part of the '70's growing-up experience for kids of my age and the Fonz became an icon of the era, despite his origins being based in the early-'70's wave of nostalgia for the 1950's. It may be hard for those born after the fact to quite grasp it, but the Fonz (or "Fonzie" as some called him) was abso-fucking-lutely everywhere during the height of the show's popularity and the merchandising avalanche revolving around him was titanic.
From the height of the Fonz's popularity. If Henry Winkler had actually run for president during the 1976 campaign — and the voting age were lowered to 10 — he would have won by a landslide.
It was especially amusing to witness the character's progression from something of a thug in his initial appearances to an unlikely role model who balanced his epitomizing of the concept of "cool" with leading by example when it came to stuff like brushing one's teeth or making sure to "eat your veggies." It was shortly after that point in the character's development when the Fonz jumped over a shark while on water skis, thus providing the popular lexicon with the basis of the term "jump the shark" in reference to pinpointing the exact moment when something irreversibly goes off the rails and immediately nosedives into outright shit. Near the end, the Fonz could actually be considered something of a superhero, especially when he fought beside the very strange martial arts warrior woman, Katmandu, and it was around that point when I bid HAPPY DAYS and the Fonz, both once unmissable parts of my weekly ritual as a kid, farewell. That said, I did return for the show's final episode, which aired during my sophomore year of college, and I watched it with a suite full of girls who got rather weepy over it since it was the end of a pop culture era that we'd all seen take root and flourish during our formative years.
Anyway, today I met Henry Winkler, the Fonz himself, a pop culture deity from my childhood, and he was a total sweetheart who was very engaged with his fans. "Poverty be damned," I said to myself, and I shelled out for a couple of autographed pictures and a photo op. (I also couldn't resist a personalized copy of his fly fishing memoir, because how could I not have a fly fishing memoir written by Henry Winkler on my bookshelf?)
Yer Bunche meets the Fonz. If only I could send this shot back to my classmates at Hillspoint Elementary School in 1976...
I love that Winkler has a totally aware sense of humor that allows him to show up with ready-to-autograph shots of himself as the Fonz moments before he quite literally jumped the shark. I intended to get only one photo, but there was no way I could pass this one up.
And while searching Google some images with which to punctuate this post, I came across this:
I have no idea what the hell it's supposed to mean but I can only imagine the reaction if Winkler had shown up with a stack of these for autographing. Sadly, I would have bought one, thus ensuring myself a one-way ticket to the 8th level of Dante's Hell, the "Malebolge."