Written by Gary Goulin
Why I chose to read this book:
I read this book because my sister sent it to me as a holiday gift and I thought I’d read it simply
for pleasure with no expectations. I knew who Henry Winkler was and I remember enjoying
Happy Days as a child. I was pleasantly surprised to find this book was much more than a
simple autobiography documenting Henry’s acting career. The book was filled with lessons and
pearls of wisdom that Henry Winkler gleaned throughout his life. Henry shared about many of
the psychological and scholastic issues he experienced growing up and the problems he
encountered being typecast as the “Fonz” at such an early stage in his career. He chronicled
his personal growth as he went through life.
This book chronicles Henry Winkler’s life, starting in his childhood. He describes how his
parents fled Nazi Germany and what it was like for him growing up on the Upper West Side of
Manhattan as the son of immigrant parents. Henry was a very poor student due to dyslexia
that wasn’t diagnosed until he was well into his 30s. Because of his poor scholastic
performance, his parents thought he was lazy, and he was often severely punished. The book
explores the reasoning behind why Henry wanted to become an actor—namely to be seen and
to be heard. Growing up he felt very unseen and unheard by his parents. Their disappointment
in him for being a poor student was constantly made obvious. Nonetheless, Henry did gain
admission Emerson College and was accepted to and graduated from Yale Drama School.
Shortly thereafter he moved to Los Angeles.
Henry’s landing the role of Arthur Fonzarelli, the “Fonz”, was one of his first non-theatrical
roles. Because the “Fonz” was such a popular, iconic character, Henry became very famous
very quickly. Henry describes the problems he faced trying to get people to separate him from
the famous character he portrayed on television. People saw him only as the “Fonz” and not as
Henry Winkler, a real human being. Henry’s career stagnated after Happy Days ended. He
began directing, and later co-authored a very successful series of semi-autobiographical
children’s books about a dyslexic boy named Hank Zipzer and the problems Hank faced at
school. The series was entitled: Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Underachiever.
Henry describes how very late in life, he sought psychotherapy to help him deal with his issues
that began in childhood and persisted throughout his life. Those issues of feeling unseen and
unheard led to low self-esteem and his inability to emotionally connect with others. As Henry
began to deal with these issues, he was able to become a better actor, explaining he could now
fully immerse himself in his roles without self-doubt and self-consciousness. He won the role of
Gene Cousineau on the HBO series Barry for which he won an Emmy award, his first for an
Henry states that he is now finally able to fully enjoy life, his family, and friends, and that he has
Lessons I learned:
In this relatively short book, Henry was able impart a lot of wisdom, gleaned from his 70+ years
The first lesson I learned was to not let myself be defined by the poor choices I made which led
to my crime. Much like Henry Winkler was not the “Fonz”, I am much more than the bad
choices I made. Henry refused to let that iconic character define him. He refused to do
interviews as the “Fonz”, and he would not recreate that character anywhere but the set of
The second lesson I learned is that of patience. I loved his quote “Things come in their own
time. That you couldn’t have known then what you know now. That only the process of living
gets you there: you must do the work in order to eat the fruit of growing—of being.”
The third lesson I learned was to get rid of negativity. Henry states “Release the negative
thought before you put a period on it. Don’t put a period on the end of a negative thought.”
Another very important lesion I learned is that of gratitude. “No matter where we come from,
no matter what the color of our skin is, we all want exactly the same thing. We want a house,
we want food to eat. We want our children not to be malnourished and die from hunger. We
want clean water. We want love. I have had all these things—and still have them—in
abundance. And my gratitude is abundant, too.”
How this book will contribute to my success upon release:
By not letting myself be defined by my bad choices, and surrounding myself with people who
will love, nurture and support me, I know with certainty that I will never ever become a criminal
defendant again. If I surround myself with people who will help build my self-esteem and on
whom I can rely in difficult times, it will ensure a successful transition from incarceration and a
chance for a meaningful, happy, and honest life.
Patience will be critical for me both while incarcerated and afterwards. I will be losing a large
amount of control over my life. I need to accept that, be patient, and concentrate on the things
over which I will have control. I need to be patient and not get frustrated when things don’t go
as planned. As I transition back into society, there will be frustrations as well. Again, patience
will go a long way in making the transition successful. I “must do the work in order to eat the
fruit of growing—of being”.
Staying positive and avoiding negativity will help in many ways. By avoiding negative people in
prison, I won’t get caught up in the constant complaining, which can only lead to frustration
and isolation, causing time to pass very, very slowly. I shall seek out positive people so that I
can stay motivated and remain productive. I want to come out of prison a better person than I
was going in. This can’t happen if I let negativity surround me.
Gratitude has helped me thus far and will certainly contribute to my success upon release.
Despite the bad choices I made which led to my crime, I continue to be surrounded by amazing
and supportive family and friends. I am so incredibly grateful for that. I am acutely aware that
many inmates don’t have this love and support—their family and friends have abandoned
them. I know I will make a successful transition back into society because I do have the love
and support of my family and friends, all of whom will assist me in any way that they can.
Knowing that I’m very lucky compared to many inmates will help me maintain perspective,
allowing me to maintain a positive attitude throughout my incarceration and transition, and
subsequently to a more happy, fulfilling and honest life.