Henry Winkler really needs no introduction, he is a Hollywood legend who has thrilled us on screen and stage for over 40 years.
An award winning actor, director, producer and author. Henry is loved by grown up children for his role as Arthur Fonzarelli in Happy Days and many other excellent film roles. He is also adored by all children for his cartoon antics as Uncle Julien in the wonderful series ‘King Julien’ and for playing Mr Rock on CBBC’s excellent series ‘Hank Zipzter.’
Hank Zipster was in fact adapted from a series of books that were written by Henry Winkler himself. They are about a dyslexic boy and they are a wonderful collection of books for children everywhere from 5 years old to 105 years old. Henry kindly gave me a copy while I was working in panto with him in Wimbledon and I was blown away by their brilliance.
Henry is also an inspirational speaker to young people, reaching out to children Internationally, changing their lives with his wonderful words of wisdom and showing them that whatever background they come from, they matter and they can make a difference in this world.
I was once lucky enough to attend one of his wonderful seminars for children at the Unicorn Theatre in London. I don’t think I have ever encountered such an inspirational few hours and he actually brought me to tears as he encouraged and enchanted very poor inner city kids that day. He had a connection with his audience that was pure magic and I left not only inspired myself, but also determined to make every child I met from that moment on feel special and like they could achieve anything they wanted to.
One of my favourite pieces of advice that he shared with those kids that day, was that if any teacher, parent or adult told them that they were, bad or idiots, not smart enough or simply not good enough, that they should know that it was the adult who dared to be negative about them, that was in fact, the idiot and that any adult that was negative about any child did not know what they were talking about.
He enlightened me and the children there by showing us that in every child there is a genius. They may find maths difficult but they may be a genius at drawing. They might find reading difficult but they were a genius because they had at least tried to read.
I think he is right on every level. As Phoenix reaches his toddler years, I already have people telling me what he will be good at. I hear other parents of toddlers deciding what their children might or might not be good at and it's wrong! Just because they are good at physical things early on, it does not mean that they won't be incredible at creative writing or maths later on and just because they can talk early doesn't mean they will be 'A' grade students but hopeless at sport. We must remember to never 'mould' our children but instead encourage them and praise them in all things. Nurture the genius within so that they can reach their fullest potential in every aspect of their existence.
Our children are geniuses, each and every one of them and it is foolish to decide their fate before they can even talk. It is foolish to decide anyone's fate, no matter what age they are, because we can always change. We can always find the genius inside us.
I am thrilled that he agreed to answer a few questions for me on parenthood to share with you all, as I look up to him so much. I also have a tale to tell you from when we worked together....
But first of all, ladies and gentlemen, I give you a little bit of Mr Henry Winkler....
What is your favourite thing about being a parent Henry, especially when your children were small?
"The thing I found gave me the greatest pleasure was watching the joy of a brand new human being. There is nothing like it. I can give you a simple example that amuses me. .... Going to a TERRIBLE movie, but loving it because your child is laughing so hard
their popcorn flies all over you. That is joy, that is everything you need to know about love."
What is the hardest thing you've found being a parent?
"The most difficult thing about being a parent is being consistent... Remembering that it's okay to create fair boundaries and not to take personally, your child's ability to pierce your heart with an arrow of words."
Was it hard juggling Hollywood with being a dad?
"I always made sure that when I walked through the door of our house, Hollywood was on the outside and my family was on the inside. There was almost no Hollywood in our house.
In our family home there was, building plastic models with glue, there were family meals, there was painting my son's face like a singer in Kiss, there were trips to the museum,
and there was a wonderful connection between all of us.
I admired and admire still the wisdom that came out of my children, no matter what age."
Do you have a holiday message for us all?
"Changing the world starts with changing yourself. During this holiday time, reflect with gratitude on the joy in your own home.
I wish a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year to you all."
So there you have it. My Henry Winkler. A short interview as he is a very busy man and one of the reasons he's so busy is not only becuase he is incredibly busy working but also because he always has time for everyone. I asked him to do this interview and he replied immediately, saying he would love to. Such a gent.
I worked with Henry while playing Peter Pan at The New Wimbledon Theatre way back in 2006. He was my Captain Hook. Panto is tiring but great fun and Henry was an inspiration from the start and I will tell you tale about my dreadful behaviour and how Henry changed my attitude but it took me a while to catch on to just what he was trying to teach me.
Mid way through the run the producer called me to tell me off. He said there had been a complaint that I was laughing on stage....
Now, one thing I do pride myself on is being a professional and unless the role I'm playing is a naughty one (Glinda in the Wizard Of Oz) I do not laugh on stage, certainly not as Peter Pan playing opposite Henry Winkler.
I suggested to the producer, that it could be towards the end of the show where I often broke the 4th wall, in the style of panto, to laugh at one of Bobby Davro's jokes but I would certainly never laugh out of turn.
The producer was pretty rude and spoke to me like I was a child, as some bosses do and would not take my word for it that I had not been laughing on stage but would not tell me who the complaint was from either.
Now when it comes to showbiz and life I am not very skilled at being a, kiss ass game player, so I'm sorry to say that I lost my temper with that producer. I told him that I felt it was un-professional of him to 'tell me off' without getting his facts straight first. I said, I thought he was outrages for upsetting me before a show and I finished off by telling him that he had 10 minutes to apologise to me or he could shove his shows up his arse and I'd be going home and not returning ever again!
Yes I was totally un-profesional in my reaction and at that point in my career, I foolishly thought that talent was all that mattered. Now I know, it does not matter at all. The producers and casting agents rule show biz and they have the ego and power combination to smash up anyone's career in a heartbeat, talented schmalented, no one really cares about that. It's all about stroking the producers ego and I had just trodden all over his and spat on it. Silly, silly me!
Henry Winkler, had the dressing room next to me and on hearing the commotion, came to my room, grabbed me by the hand and took me in to his room. I was by now uncontrollably sobbing with rage.
He told me that I was absolutely right to be angry and agreed I had never laughed on stage and that it was unfair of the producer to tell me off. He had an amused wise look in his eyes as he suggested to me that my reaction might not be that beneficially to me in the long run. I swore at him, a lot and as he is pure talent and no ego, he just took it with a wry smile on his kind face..
He tried to explain to me through my tears that he had been a lot like me but that over the years he had learned that talent alone didn't get you the job and that often, certainly in showbiz, toeing the line was much more important than talent and that sometimes you just had to take it on the chin.
He then called the producer for me and within 5 minutes the guy was apologising to me and admitting he may have jumped the gun to which of course I apologised for my overreaction and the show went on.
Henry was right though, I got my apology but I never worked for that company again. In reality I should have just said sorry for laughing to the producer (even though I hadn't) and carried on. Thems the rules in show biz.
You see in films and stories we love the maverick, the person who fights for what's true and right. The person who won't be bullied by the big guns is the hero on the silver screen. But in real life that's not true. In real life you have to toe the line or you simply do not work.
Of course I didn't learn this lesson straight away from Mr Winkler, I have stories and stories I could write a book about the times where I just didn't keep my big mouth shut. Whether I was sticking up for fellow cast members on filming jobs or questioning things that I could plainly see were just not right, I always asked the questions wondering why others did not, but now I see why.
Finally I understand what he was trying to tell me all those years ago. You can't change the world if no one will employ you. There are battles that are worth fighting and ones that you just have to put to one side and knowing the difference is the difference.
Henry often jokes how he was offered the role of Danny Zucko in Grease the Movie, first - but he turned it down, not wanting to be type cast, even though he realises now, he already was.. He laughs that John Travolta got a private jet and he got a tuna sandwich.
The things I learned from working with Henry I will keep in my heart forever. His comic timing is un rivalled ( he is up there with Peter Sellers) and he’s such a wonderful actor you cannot fail to learn from him. But he is also kind, generous and wise and he made me a better person, that’s for sure. He is my (very young) Dumbledor. A true inspiration if only I had listened to him but as he says, it's never too late to find your own genius.
Happy Hanukkah Henry Winkler, if the whole world shone as brightly as you we would light up the heavens like Santas Sleigh all year round.