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Henry Winkler on new memoir 'Being Henry'

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

If you were born after, say, 1990, when you think of the actor Henry Winkler, you probably first think of Barry Zuckerkorn, the incompetent lawyer on "Arrested Development," or maybe the acting teacher Gene Cousineau on the HBO dark comedy "Barry." But for those of us born before 1990, he will always be Arthur Fonzarelli, aka The Fonz on "Happy Days."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HAPPY DAYS")

HENRY WINKLER: (As Arthur Fonzarelli) Because I'm the Fonz. Ay (ph). Ay. Ay. Ayyyy (ph).

DETROW: Winkler and I recently spoke to talk about his new memoir, "Being Henry." We talked about a lot how he first made it onto "Happy Days," how he struggled to get new roles for years because of typecasting and how important going to therapy was for him in later years. But there was one really important question that we weren't able to get on the air when the interview first ran on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HAPPY DAYS")

RON HOWARD: (As Richie Cunningham) Here we go, Fonz. I'm heading for the ramp. Are you sure you want to do it?

DETROW: That's Ron Howard there as Richie Cunningham, driving a speedboat and looking back as Winkler, who's waterskiing, gives Richie a big Fonz-tastic thumbs up because he is about to inadvertently create pop culture history by jumping the shark.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HAPPY DAYS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Look at that shark, Pots.

ANSON WILLIAMS: (As Potsie Weber) Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) How could you accept the challenge?

WILLIAMS: (As Potsie Weber) It wasn't me. It was you.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) I know. I know.

DETROW: I had to ask.

You know, "Happy Days" influenced the culture in so many ways, but, of course, it influenced it in one particular way that that's still in the culture today. And that is the jump the shark phrase, which for better...

WINKLER: Yes. Right.

DETROW: You know all about it. But for anyone who's listening, it doesn't - generally means a show has gone past its prime. It's gotten absurd. And in the book, you tell the story about how you jumped the shark and how you were partially responsible for the scene happening by just talking about the fact that, hey, you know, I'm a good water skier. Can you tell us about that?

WINKLER: Yes. My short German father would tell me a thousand times, (impersonating German accent) tell Garry Marshall you water ski. I said, I'm not telling him I water ski, Dad. One day I'm talking to Garry, who is my mentor. I miss him. And I say, Garry, I just want you to know, my father wants you to know I water ski. And we left it at that and went on to talk about other things. All of a sudden, there I am, Ron Howard is driving the speedboat and I'm water skiing behind it.

DETROW: In a leather jacket, we got to say.

WINKLER: In the leather jacket, which they ripped out the lining to make it easier if I fell, to be a little more buoyant, which it wasn't. And it was really hard to be cool in this kind of yellow rubber vest. And I had to ignore it because the Fonz would not wear this thing. So I'm water skiing, jumping the shark. It's the only part of the water skiing I didn't do.

DETROW: That makes sense. I guess you didn't actually jump the shark. Yeah.

WINKLER: No, no, because they wouldn't let me do the stunt.

DETROW: Yeah.

WINKLER: That was higher than my pay grade. And, you know, they showed it. At that time, people read newspapers. And every time they mentioned jump the shark, there was a picture of me water skiing. I had great legs at that time, so it didn't matter. And we were No. 1 for four or five years after it anyway, so it just didn't matter.

DETROW: That is an important point. You did not jump the shark at the moment you jumped the shark because the show continued pretty well for a while.

WINKLER: It did. And I'm the only actor in the universe who jumped the shark twice.

DETROW: Which is true. His character on "Arrested Development," Barry Zuckerkorn, jumps over a shark in one scene as a wink to viewers in the know.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY DAYS")

PRATT AND MCCLAIN: (Singing) Sunday, Monday, "Happy Days." Tuesday, Wednesday, "Happy Days." Thursday, Friday...

DETROW: You can hear more of my full conversation with Henry Winkler at npr.org. Winkler's new memoir is called "Being Henry: The Fonz... And Beyond." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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