The Iconic John Travolta Role Henry Winkler Regrets Passing On
Henry Winkler is having something of a late career renaissance. This is not so shocking a reversal of fortune that anyone has coined a “McConnaissance”-style portmanteau for him, but the dude is doing well.
The former “Happy Days” star’s career began picking up steam again in the early aughts, when he began nabbing supporting roles in large comedic ensemble shows. He played Barry Zuckercorn on “Arrested Development” and Sy Mittleman on “Childrens Hospital.” Both shows helped spread the news that he was a joy to work with — Winkler is famously one of the kindest actors in Hollywood — and when asked how he got that rep by Fox News, Winkler replied that it takes effort. “Well, sometimes you have to work at it. You know, it depends on the person,” he said. “But if you want to be friends with someone, then pick up the phone. Don’t wait for someone else to call you.”
Winkler won his first ever Emmy in 2018 for “Barry” (per The Hollywood Reporter) and most recently, is part of the ensemble for Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch.”
However, his post-“Happy Days” career might’ve taken an entirely different turn if he’d said yes to playing another 1950s greaser type back in the era when “the Fonz” was still at his peak.
The Fonz said “no” to Danny Zuko
Speaking to Newsweek, Winkler said he regrets passing on “Grease” back in 1978.
Winkler was still playing Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli at the time, and didn’t want to be typecast as a 1950s tough guy. After all, fifties nostalgia could only last for so long. “I was stupid. I was stupid. I didn’t see the big picture. I thought I was going to be typecast,” he said. “And, I was typecast, there was no stopping that. I didn’t work for eight years after The Fonz, really.”
Rather than work in front of the camera, Winkler transitioned to producing “MacGyver” for seven years. He attempted a directing career, but was fired from one of his biggest films — “Turner and Hooch,” starring Tom Hanks. “I was directing that movie for 13 days,” Winkler told Andy Cohen on WWHL, “and then I was called into [former Disney Studios head] Jeff Katzenberg’s office and he said, ‘Do you have everything with you? Go home.'” It is rumored that Winkler and Hanks still don’t get along. Winkler went on to direct many TV episodes.
Even though things worked out in the end, Winkler can’t help but reflect on what could have been. “I went home and had an orange juice,” Winkler told Newsweek. “John Travolta said yes [to the role], and he went home and bought a plane.”