Over 20 years after Happy Days left primetime, Arthur Fonzarelli, aka “The Fonz,” is headed back to his roots in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Happy Days premiered on January 15, 1974 on ABC and quickly became a cornerstone of the network’s schedule. The series ran for 11 seasons and spawned a number of popular spin-offs like Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, and Joanie Loves Chachi, as well as a couple animated series. The sitcom initially focused on All-American, naive teenager Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard), his family and friends in 1950s Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The Fonz, played by Henry Winkler, was a initially a minor character and hoodlum friend of Richie’s who hung out at the local drive-in restaurant. He quickly became a breakout character and a series regular. As episodes passed, he became the show’s most prominent and featured character. At one point, ABC even wanted to rename the show Fonzie’s Happy Days to capitalize on the popularity. Producer and creator Garry Marshall, Winkler, and Howard all protested so it didn’t happen.
Though Happy Days ended its run in 1984, city officials in Milwaukee want to capitalize on the show’s longtime popularity.
Last year, the city’s convention and visitors bureau, Visit Milwaukee, started a campaign to immortalize The Fonz in a bronze statue. The city had to raise $85,000 to produce the statue. To help raise the money, the group has been selling “Bronze the Fonz” t-shirts, with $10 from each sale going to fund the project. Other local vendors have gotten into the act as well, selling items like “thumbs-up” shaped cookies and hot fudge sundaes (a Fonz favorite).
When the campaign was announced, Winkler was flattered but a bit confused. In September, the actor/producer said, “It’s an honor, but it is so bizarre to think there should be a statue.” He continued, “If it helps the city, a city that has been so supportive and warm to me over the years, then I am so okay with it.”
Now, just a few months later, the city has raised the funds they need and Winkler was on-hand for the announcement. He told reporters, “I can only say that I’m proud of Milwaukee. I’m proud of how it’s grown. I’m proud to be an honorary citizen, and I’m overwhelmed that I’m going to bring my family here, and there will be a statue of a character that I love and that gave me the world.” Both Marshall and Winkler have agreed to be present at the unveiling ceremony this fall and other series castmembers are expected to attend as well.
Though some local merchants and art gallery owners have been critical of the project, the city’s convention and visitors bureau hopes that the dedication ceremony and statue will attract media attention and additional tourist traffic. The exact design is under wraps but Winkler has seen sketches and likes them.
In the past, cable channel TV Land has donated classic TV character statues at various locations across the country. They include Bob Newhart’s Dr. Bob Hartley (The Bob Newhart Show) in Chicago; Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden (The Honeymooners) in New York; Mary Tyler Moore’s Mary Richards (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) in Minneapolis; Andy Griffith’s Sheriff Andy Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show) in Raleigh, North Carolina; and Elizabeth Montgomery’s Samantha Stephens (Bewitched) in Salem, Massachusetts.
The cable channel doesn’t have any plans to donate any more statues and is currently reevaluating the program. TV Land did however make a donation to the Bronze the Fonz statue fund, as did other large companies like AT&T and Miller Brewing.
Since the series didn’t focus on a particular Milwaukee location, city officials are still try to decide where the statue will reside — though a downtown location, along the Milwaukee River, is likely. There’s been talk of installing a webcam so that anyone can see who’s visitng the statue. Winkler likes the idea and wants to take it one step further. He joked, “I thought it would be so funny to set up some communication so I could then talk to the people: ‘Get off my statue, you know. Be respectful!'” Stay tuned!