Leadership

What anyone can learn from Henry Winkler's 42-year wait for a primetime Emmy

Henry Winkler (L) Ron Howard (R) during season three of "Happy Days" in 1975.
ABC Photo Archives | Getty Images
Henry Winkler (L) Ron Howard (R) during season three of "Happy Days" in 1975.

Actor and producer Henry Winkler won his first primetime Emmy on Monday. The win comes 42 years after Winkler received his very first primetime Emmy nomination for the '70s role that made him an icon: Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli in the TV series "Happy Days." He even joked that he took an old acceptance speech with him on stage.

In accepting his award, he reflected on advice he received early in his career: If you stay at the table long enough, the chips come to you. Said Winkler, "Tonight I got to clear the table."

Henry Winkler poses with the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series award for 'Barry' during the 70th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at the Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2018.
Kevork Djansezian | NBCUniversal | Getty Images
Henry Winkler poses with the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series award for 'Barry' during the 70th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at the Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2018.

Winkler won a primetime Emmy for "Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy" for playing Gene Cousineau on HBO's "Barry." During a backstage interview, Winkler noted that he was 27 years old when he started playing "Fonzie" and now, at age 72, it feels "unbelievable" and "thrilling" to now hold the golden statue.

On Monday, Winkler reminisced on his love for acting. "I dreamt of being an actor since I was seven years old, in New York City, on the west side with short German Jewish parents who did not want me to be an actor, until I became a star," Winkler joked. "At which time they became the co-producers of Henry Winkler."

Winkler, who struggled with dyslexia while growing up, viewed acting as his only career option. "I don't know that I could have done anything else," he said. "It never was in my mind, in my body, in my heart to do anything else."

"Happy Days" made Winkler one of the biggest stars on TV. He was nominated three years in a row for his his work on that show -- in 1976, 1977 and 1978. He'd later go on to be nominated two other times, including once in 2000 for a guest role in "The Practice."

Despite his long career, he still needed to audition for the part in "Barry." He told the Hollywood Reporter that he sat in the same sort of metal folding chairs he'd sat in for auditions at the beginning of his career.

"I just love this work. I love going in every day," he said at the time. "And while there are a lot of people who at my age don't audition, they also don't get the job. So I'm happy to."

Though Winkler was nominated for a primetime Emmy five other times, he's won two daytime Emmy awards and two Golden Globes.

Backstage, after accepting his award, Winkler offered some simple advice for rising actors that anyone can follow: "Be yourself, be honest about your ability." He added, "prepare so that you are not a flash in the pan."

"When I first started here in Hollywood in 1973, I thought of myself as a tree, a sapling and I planted it," Winkler said, reflecting on his career. He added, "I wanted it to grow and be strong until I couldn't do this anymore."

"And what a great tree it is."

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