Happy Days was the number one show in America the day I met the Fonz.
Star Wars had yet to be released, which is why the teenagers in my town mobbed Henry Winkler, yet let Harrison Ford dither unnoticed on the nearby sidewalk. Even Sally Field’s considerable star power was dim given the circumstances.
Rather than act irritated, Winkler appreciated his fans.
We called out to him: “FONZIE!” He responded by turning up the collar on his coat and wheeling to face us with two thumbs up, giving us his trademark, “AAAAAYYYYYY.”
My friend and I were two goody-goodies who actually cut classes to watch the filming of the movie “Heroes” in Petaluma, California that day in 1977. Our classic American downtown was transformed into a mock warzone. Smoke bombs were exploding while Winkler, who’s Vietnam vet character was suffering from PTSD, ran dodging and feinting down the street.
When I lived in California, celebrity spottings among friends were like today’s trending topics. Almost everyone had a story or two. Once on a trip to LA a couple of years later, two of us blundered into the movie set of “The Jerk.” At the time, Steve Martin’s first comedy album was the height of hilarity among my college student crowd, and resulted in endless repetitions of “Let’s Get Small,” and “Excuuuussse Me.”
But when we came up to Martin he wasn’t funny at all. He was sitting in a director chair in yet another city street appropriated for a movie set. We asked him for his autograph and he refused, telling us something like: “If I did it for you, I’d have to do it for everybody.”
But Winkler happily agreed when my friend and I approached him between scenes with our Kodak Instamatic and asked if we could take our pictures with him. No bored sneer from the Fonz. When my turn came, he put his arm around me, stood on his toes and enthusiastically posed.
As a shy nerd without one shred of cool cred, I was delighted.
Today I follow Henry Winkler on Twitter, “liking” his political comments and his pictures of the huge trout he regularly catches on flies in Montana. I keep track of a creative career that has continued throughout the years. My days of Happy Days hysteria faded with my youth long ago, but the Fonz made a fan for life that day on the street in my hometown.