Students + Campus

‘The Fonz’ goes to college — as a guest lecturer

Actor and children's book author Henry Winkler speaks on collaboration in Hollywood

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Henry Winkler and students
Peter Evans/UCLA

Appearing as a guest lecturer at a Fiat Lux seminar, Henry Winkler is surrounded by students, who presented him with a cake, in a white box, to celebrate his 69th birthday.

Baby boomers remember actor Henry Winkler as “The Fonz” in the long-running 1970s sitcom “Happy Days,” but their children and grandchildren may know him best for a popular series of 29 children’s books that he hashes out with co-author Lin Oliver.

“We argue over every word, but we have a great time,” Winkler recently told about 50 UCLA undergraduates in a guest appearance at their Fiat Lux freshman seminar.

His confession about the process behind the books, which chronicle the adventures of “Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Underachiever,” the title of the series, was part of a revealing discussion in the seminar, “Collaborating in Hollywood: You’ll Never Make It in This Town Alone.”

Team-taught by communication studies chair Tim Groeling and two UCLA alumni who work in Hollywood, the class examines the stresses, strains and rewards of working in a field where, as Winkler put it, “you depend on the other person.”

Co-instructor Andrew Lenchewski is the show runner for the USA Network sitcom “Royal Pains,” in which Winkler appears as a recurring character, while co-instructor Joannie Burstein is the president of a personal management and production company.

As part of his discussion, Winkler opened up about his personal struggle with dyslexia which was not diagnosed until he was 31 and which earned him the nickname as a child of “dum hund” — German for “dumb dog.” His books’ lovable, hapless protagonist, Zipzer, struggles with the same disability.  

Winkler encouraged the undergraduates to follow their instincts, pursue their dreams and not worry if they still don’t know just yet what they want to do with their lives.

“What’s in you is percolating right now,” he said. “It’s your job to dig it out and give it to the world as a gift.”

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