Henry Winkler’s youngest has him wrapped around her little finger. Well, actually, it’s more of a toe… a black, furry toe that belongs to Charlotte, Henry’s two-year-old Labradoodle.
“She’s so smart and fabulous, and such a substantial personality,” says Henry. “I can literally have a conversation with her.” What kind of conversation, I ask? “Well, she loves to play ball. And sometimes she’ll come to me and cock her head. I’ll say ‘I don’t have the ball, Charlotte. I bet you it’s in the backyard. Why don’t you find the ball and bring it to me?’ She looks at me, processing the information, then out the door she goes, finds the ball, and brings it back to me. A friend of my daughter’s lost his cell phone in the back yard and he said, ‘I can’t find my cell phone. Charlotte, where is it?’ She took him directly to it. She is just amazing.”
Apparently, Charlotte also speaks for her canine sibling, a ten-year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Monty. The Labradoodle barks to wake Henry in the middle of the night
when Monty needs to do his business. “I come down to the kitchen,” explains Henry, “open the back door and Charlotte stays exactly where she is. Her brother goes out. They absolutely have a communication. You can see it.”
A lifelong animal lover, Henry’s first dog, an Irish setter, was given away by his parents because his mother thought she was too big. “That was not nice,” says Henry. Especially given his challenging childhood and adolescence in New York, where his undiagnosed dyslexia made his school, home and social life challenging. It wasn’t until he was an adult that the real issue surfaced. “When I discovered that I was dyslexic, I realized I wasn’t stupid. And I was very angry about all the stuff that happened when I was growing up – being grounded or punished or called names – all of that was unnecessary and unfounded. Then I got past the emotion and realized that being dyslexic forced me to use other parts of myself that maybe I wouldn’t have used.”
Henry went on to complete a Masters degree at Yale and, after several acting assignments, including a role in the movie The Lords of Flatbush, he landed the part that would make him a household name across North America. Henry’s portrayal of Happy Days’ Arthur Fonzarelli (aka The Fonz), the tough, big-hearted chick magnet, had everyone flipping up their thumbs with a guttural “Aaaayyyyy.” The character won him two Golden Globes but it was a far cry from the real thing, laughs Henry.
“The Fonz was my alter ego. He was everything I wasn’t. I was never that cool.”
During and after Happy Days, Henry starred in a multitude of big screen and television movies, including Heroes, Nightshift, An American Christmas Carol, The Waterboy, and Down to You, and appeared on many television series such as Third Watch, The Practice, The Drew Carey Show and most recently Arrested Development. He also won an Emmy nomination for his stint as the voice of Norville in Clifford the Big Red Dog: The Puppy Years, a role he says was wonderful and fun. In addition to acting, the versatile Henry has produced (MacGyver, Mr. Sunshine) and directed (Memories of Me, Sabrina the Teenage Witch) over the years. At the time of this writing , he’s working on Unbeatable Harold, an independent movie production, and getting ready to address the PTA of America (he recently addressed 10,000 teachers at the International Reading Convention).
Meanwhile, on the personal front, Henry married Stacey Weitzman in 1978 and together they raised three children. Naturally, the family always included four-legged members.
“When my wife and I met and then married, she had two Yorkies, Amanda and Percy. They were older when I met them but Amanda bonded with me immediately and just followed me around the house. Then we had a Wheaton terrier named Waffles. Our youngest son named him because he looked like a waffle. Tootsie, our black Lab, died two years ago at the age of ten after a sudden stroke. It was horrible.”
Having been through a difficult childhood, Henry believes kids can positively benefit from sharing their lives with a canine sibling. “The responsibility, the affection and the opportunity to play together is wonderful,” says the 58-year-old father. “When a dog pays attention to a child and is happy to see him, it gives that child a very special feeling.”
Children are near and dear to Henry’s heart. Along with five other families, the actor and his wife founded Children’s Action Network (CAN). The organization provided free immunizations to 200,000 children under age three and currently works with about 110,000 kids who need adoptive parents. “As well,” says Henry, “we feed about 10,000 children in L.A. and have them mentored after school. How can kids be our future if they’re worrying about meatloaf and mashed potatoes instead of about history?”
His love of kids has turned the actor into a children’s author as well. Along with his partner, Lin Oliver, Henry has written six books, with plans for a seventh in the works. The humorous series about a resourceful kid named Hank Zipzer, who happens to be dyslexic, have made Henry a hero to a whole new generation of children. With names like I got a “D” in Salami, Niagara Falls or doesn’t it? and The Day of the Iguana, the books entertain kids and their parents, and Henry is receiving good feedback from his target audience. “One kid wrote me and said ‘the teacher has to take the book out of my hand because I laugh too loud when I read in class.’”
Henry credits a positive approach for many of the good things that happen in his life, and he encourages others to follow their dreams. It’s a philosophy he had to learn the hard way.
“I was kind of negative growing up,” reflects Henry. “Being dyslexic, your self-image is riddled and you start thinking you’re stupid and lazy and not living up to your potential. That thinking goes into every decision you make. But what I found was that if you cut off every negative thought before you put a period on the end of it, you can discard it and it will not stop you from moving toward your goal. You just say, ‘I have no time for you now.’
“I think it was Theodore Hertzl who said, ‘If you will it, it is not a dream.’ This is absolutely true. It is one of the precepts of living on the planet. If you keep your eye on the prize and move towards it, you can literally have it.”
Well said, Henry. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.