On Porn, Dys­lexia and Shul

Forward Magazine - - Front Page -

Henry Win­kler is on the phone. Fi­nally. We missed our con­nec­tion a cou­ple of days ear­lier, and by “missed our con­nec­tion,” I mean he for­got to call. He had two per­for­mances of his new Broad­way play, “The Per­form­ers,” that day — as though that should take pri­or­ity — and the For­ward got lost in the shuf­fle. Go fig­ure.

When next I heard from the Fonz (yeah, right, make be­lieve you don’t know who that is), he left a con­trite voice mail mes­sage that he was at the zoo with his grand­son.

But fi­nally, from a cab on a way to a res­tau­rant, he called.

“The Per­form­ers” takes place on the night of the Adult Film Awards — the Os­cars of the porn in­dus­try — and Win­kler plays Chuck Wood, an ag­ing Jewish star with a large shmekl up for an award. Un­like Win­kler, who never went away, it’s a come­back role for Wood. Win­kler has been om­nipresent, as a writer, di­rec­tor, pro­ducer and of course ac­tor, most fa­mous of late for his re­cur­ring role on the hit TV se­ries “Royal Pains.”

While rid­ing through mid­town, Win­kler spoke with the me about the play, win­ning the Or­der of British Em­pire award and the syn­a­gogue his par­ents helped found. CURT SCHLEIER: Was mak­ing Chuck Wood Jewish your idea, or was that in the orig­i­nal play? HENRY WIN­KLER: It was in the orig­i­nal play. It’s very funny and dif­fer­ent. What was your re­ac­tion when you first read it? I never read it [in the tra­di­tional sense.] The first time I saw it, I read it out loud for [a group of po­ten­tial] in­vestors. I did it with [cur­rent co-stars] Cheyenne Jack­son and Ari Graynor, and three ac­tors I didn’t know. It was very funny and com­pletely en­ter­tain­ing. This was in New York. I was do­ing “Royal Pains” and had a day off. It was about a year and a half ago. On the sub­ject of read­ing, you suf­fered from dys­lexia. Did that influence your ca­reer? Ab­so­lutely. I’ll tell you why: be­cause of my sense of learn­ing how to get things done, my tenac­ity, my sense of grat­i­tude when things ac­tu­ally worked out. All of these things I’m sure pro­pelled me like a rocket. These are the things I say to young ac­tors, to any­one: If you will it, it is no dream — Herzl’s words. Those are the watch­words of my life. They’re not just words, but the way the uni­verse works. Did the dys­lexia make you a bet­ter par­ent? My par­ents made me a bet­ter fa­ther. They were strict and not able to hear me when I spoke or see me as a hu­man be­ing [be­cause of the dys­lexia]. My chil­dren, I al­ways al­low them to say what­ever is on their minds. No mat­ter how late I was when I was walk­ing out the door, if they had some­thing to say to me, I lis­tened. I think a heard child is a pow­er­ful child. Your dys­lexia has pro­vided a sec­ond ca­reer for you, as an au­thor of chil­dren’s books that have sold 4 mil­lion copies. The 23rd is com­ing out in April [2013], a Ghost Buddy book, [one of two se­ries he writes with Lin Oliver]. There are also 17 Hank Zipzer books that are about my life as a dyslexic. The Ghost Buddy books are a newer se­ries about not judg­ing a book by its cover or a hu­man be­ing by what you think they are. The books and your work with chil­dren who are chal­lenged have earned you a num­ber of awards, in­clud­ing a Che­va­lier from France and the OBE from Eng­land. What was that like? I got a call that the Queen of Eng­land wanted me to ac­cept an award. Would I be open to ac­cept­ing it? Of course! Tell me a lit­tle about your Jewish back­ground. I just spent Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kip­pur at Con­gre­ga­tion Habonim, on 66th Street right off Broad­way. My par­ents were found­ing mem­bers of that tem­ple. I was a bar mitz­vah there and mar­ried there. How has your Jewish back­ground af­fected your ca­reer? I love the tenac­ity of the Jews. For 5,000 years, peo­ple have tried to de­stroy us, and we are still here, mak­ing fan­tas­tic con­tri­bu­tions to the world. But has be­ing Jewish af­fected your ca­reer? I never thought of it that way. I don’t know. I don’t have an an­swer. I’m proud of be­ing Jewish. I ad­mire the strength of my par­ents es­cap­ing Nazi Ger­many. And I’m happy to be here in Amer­ica, work­ing in a pro­fes­sion I love. Fi­nally, have you done any in­ter­views in the past 40 years in which Arthur Fon­zarelli hasn’t come up? Not a one. What do you think the Fonz is do­ing now? Right now he owns a Mr. Good­wrench fran­chise. And I’ll tell you about his ex­cep­tional loy­alty: He came to the first pre­view and told me I have a hit on my hands.


Fonz’s New Look: Henry Win­kler (far right) plays an ag­ing porn star in ‘The Per­form­ers,’ also star­ring Ali­cia Sil­ver­stone (mid­dle) and Daniel Breaker (left).

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