Aaaaay! The Fonz is back in Milwaukee to stay. After a local fund-raising campaign, a statue of the popular Happy Days character was unveiled today and many of the show’s stars were on hand to give the bronze figure a thumbs up.
As longtime TV fans know, the Happy Days sitcom was set in Milwaukee. The series ran for 11 seasons on ABC but never actually filmed in the Wisconsin city. Henry Winkler’s Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli began as a minor character but ultimately became the sitcom’s most recognizable figure.
The statue campaign began in 2007 as the brainchild of the city’s convention and visitors bureau, Visit Milwaukee, to help encourage tourism. The city needed to raise $85,000 to produce the statue. To help raise the money, the group sold “Bronze the Fonz” t-shirts, with $10 from each sale going to fund the project. Other local vendors also got into the act as well, selling items like “thumbs-up” shaped cookies and hot fudge sundaes (a Fonz favorite).
The funds were raised within months through the local efforts and contributions by companies like AT&T and Miller Brewing. The cable network TV Land also contributed.
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.
Making the long trek for the unveiling today were Henry Winkler (The Fonz) and his family, Marion Ross (Mrs. Cunningham), Tom Bosley (Mr. Cunningham), Erin Moran (Joanie Cunningham), Don Most (Ralph Malph), Anson Williams (Potsie Webber), and Happy Days creator Garry Marshall. Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, who played the title roles in the Laverne & Shirley spin-off, also were in attendance.
All were given a tour of local Milwaukee landmarks like the Harley-Davidson Museum. Cindy Williams, whose Shirley Feeny character worked at a bottling plant, met some workers at Miller Brewing. After speeches and the unveiling of the statue today, a parade followed the celebrities down Wilson Avenue as they make their way to Miller Park. Tonight, they’ll throw out the first pitch at the Brewers game and Anson Williams will sing the National Anthem.
We spoke with Winkler recently and he told us that he was overwhelmed by the warm sentiment of the statue and that it was actually a realization of a dream that he had long ago, as a child. Then, watch the cast reunite this morning on The Early Show.