AARP Eye Center
Henry Winkler, 72, appears in NBC’s Better Late Than Never and HBO’s upcoming Barry. He's also busy serving as executive producer of CBS’s MacGyver remake but found time to talk with AARP about life — then and now.
Finding family roots
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William Shatner, George Foreman, Terry Bradshaw, Jeff Dye and I traveled for 40 days on a guy getaway for the new season of Better Late Than Never. We went to Morocco, parasailed in Spain and picnicked in a nude Munich park. Then we visited Berlin, where my parents were from. My Aunt Erna was smuggled out of Nazi Germany in 1939, alive, in a coffin with a spider plant at her feet. When I moved to Los Angeles from New York City in 1974 for Happy Days, I took a cutting with me. That plant is now gigantic and hangs outside our kitchen. It’s truly unbelievable, the tenacity of life.
Dealing with dyslexia
I was dyslexic and didn’t know it until I was 31. Couldn’t do math, spell or tell left from right — left was the elbow that stuck out the window while I drove. I was told I should write books for children about it. I thought, I can’t — I feel stupid. Then I thought, OK, I’m gonna try. My fourth-grade teacher, Miss Adolf, was very mean, and I portray her that way in Hank Zipzer, the World’s Greatest Underachiever, my series of books about a learning-challenged kid. My music teacher, Mr. Rock, told me, “You’re gonna be OK.” I’ve held on to that buoy for over 50 years.
The true story of the Fonz jumping the shark
My father kept nagging me to tell producer Garry Marshall I was a good waterskier; I taught waterskiing. I told Garry, “My father wants you to know I waterski.” Next thing, the Fonz is jumping the shark while on water skis. [The term “jumping the shark” became a popular term for the moment when a TV show peaks, runs out of ideas, tries lame new ideas that don’t fit the show, and begins to die — other examples are the musical episode of Grey’s Anatomy and the arrival of adorable kid Raven-Symone on The Cosby Show.] I did the skiing, but they’d never let me do the stunt [a stunt man did the risky shark-jump scene]. On Arrested Development, it was easy to do the shark-jump gag, because the shark was on the dock — I just jumped over it.
MacGyver your life!
It was a very difficult time, 1984. Happy Days ended. I said, “There’s no way I can be a producer.” My attorney said, “You’ll learn.” The first thing we sold was the MacGyver television series. We shot 139 episodes between 1985 and 1992.