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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fly-Fishin’ With The Enduring Brand of Fonzie

Over the years I have been fortunate to promote and market a number of legendary best-selling authors, including Dr. Ruth, Jeff Foxworthy, Stephen Covey, Seth Godin, Og Mandino, Harvey Mackay, and Bill Bryson. For some of these authors I may have only had a chance to know them for a brief period of time, promoting one of their books with a radio tour and then moving on. But of all the authors I have worked with – and there have probably been close to a thousand of them – none have impressed me as much as Henry Winkler.

He has quietly built up a legendary entertainment career that few living icons can match. And I am now involved in promoting his upcoming book with his publisher, Insight Editions, as my client.
As one of my television heroes, Fonzie was an idol to millions while starring in the nation’s number one television hit, Happy Days. I fondly remember watching the show as an adolescent and thinking I needed a real-life Fonzie to complement my Richie Cunningham life. I wanted to be cool, to be the one who gets the girl with a snap of my thumb, to be the one who can walk into a room of toughies and have no fears, and who can say nothing and still say a lot.
The mid-1970s, when Happy Days debuted, there were many comedies competing for bragging rights.  By 1977, the season after Happy Days topped the charts for a full year, there was stiff competition from MASH, Threes Company, All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Welcome Back Kotter, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Maude and even its own spinoff, Laverne and Shirley. Oddly enough, critics back then chastised television as a wasteland and said it was going down the tubes. Upon reflection, one might argue this was the golden era of television. By contrast, today’s era of reality shows and well, more reality shows, has debatably spawned a new television low.
Henry is on a USA Network Show, Royal Pains, and is filming a new movie. He has had a long career since putting his leather jacket in the closet – Broadway, films, TV movies, and a best-selling children’s book series,  Hank Zipzer.  His new book is entitled I Never Met An Idiot On The River, which is a wonderfully written book about his passion, fly-fishing. It is filled with his original photographs, poetry, and stirring text describing life on a fishing boat far away from Hollywood.
In the process of writing his press materials, I researched a man I thought I knew fairly well, though had admittedly fallen off my radar after his 250+ episodes of Happy Days last aired nearly three decades ago. I felt I was learning anew about an old friend, as if we were separated after high school and now reunited on Facebook.
After an exhaustive online search I concluded he is a rear gem. Not only has he managed to live a very productive life long after being the hottest television star, but he has been able to pull off the near impossibility of living a sane and respectable life. He is the anti-Charlie Sheen. Fame has not turned Henry into some scandal-riddled celebrity who finds himself making headlines for arrests, addictions and public meltdowns.  He doesn’t fill the tabloids with confessions of sexual indiscretions. He doesn’t have public spats with anyone. I don’t know that he has ever gotten a parking ticket.  I am sure he has not an angel – none of us is perfect – but it is refreshing to see someone still performs at such a high level and also comes off as a clean and humble. He is even married to the same woman for over 35 years. That’s no easy feat in Hollywood.
One of the things I like about his new book is that he talks about  family and fatherhood and about living a double life – the busy work life in LA or NYC – and the escape to the rivers of Montana and other hideaways. As a dad of two young children I always look to find a balance between work and play and between myself and my role of caring for others.
For Henry, he’s found fly-fishing as a release, as a hobby. For me, for today, I find comfort in rewatchnig Happy Days in the memories conjured up by working with The Fonz.
***Brian Feinblum can be contacted at brianfeinblum@gmail.com

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