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I don't know what prompted the question, but back in the 1950s, when I was in my teens, I asked my mother if she had had a favorite movie star when she was my age. The answer I expected, I guess, was Rudolph Valentino, Ramon Navarro, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. or one of the other legends of the silent era. John Gilbert, perhaps.

She thought a moment, then said a name I had never heard before: Monte Blue.

Almost immediately she wanted to retract her answer and plead the fifth. My mother was very self-conscious and afraid, I guess, that I'd revert to childhood and start running around the house, yelling, "Mommy loves Monte Blue! Mommy loves Monte Blue!", which would encourage my younger sister to join in.

My mother had no old photograph of Blue to show me. So I had no idea what he looked like. His silent movies weren't being shown on television. In those days there was no such thing as cable or Turner Classic Movies.

A tall (6-foot-3), rugged man, Blue played football at Purdue, then did a variety of physical jobs before he become an actor rather late, which made him several years older than many of the actors of the silent era. When my mother became a Monte Blue fan – she'd never put it that way, of course – the handyman-turned-actor was nearly 40.

Worse for my mother, she knew Monte Blue was still acting, looking nothing at all like a leading man. He had been born Gerald Montgomery Bluefeather. His father was half French, half Cherokee Indian. Late in life Blue often was cast as an Indian. He played Geronimo in the 1954 film, "Apache," when he was 71. He may be best remembered now as Sheriff Ben Wade in the 1948 Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall movie, "Key Largo."

So when I spotted Blue one evening and pointed to him on our television screen, my mother was embarrassed. The movie star favorite of her youth had turned into an overweight old man.

Today, of course, I can see Blue in his prime. This change, made possible by technological advances and America's insatiable appetite for entertainment and a zillion cable stations and streaming options, benefits today's parents when it comes time to answer questions from their children. Such as "Who or what is The Fonz? And what's the big deal?"

If you had to introduce them to Henry Winkler through one of his appearances on "Royal Pains," where he played the father of the two main characters, then your kids would look at you like I looked at my mother the first time I saw Monte Blue. However, parents today don't have to do that because they can go directly to the source – a rerun of "Happy Days," which can be viewed at home in a number of ways. "There's The Fonz! Isn't he cool?"

One other big cultural change is that movies and television programs don't age as quickly as they used to. Even music holds up much better than it did when I was a kid. In the 1950s there wouldn't have been any market for DVDs of 1920s movies or songs. Today there's a market for everything. And except for one very dreary period when both fashion and movie music went hideously astray – I think it was called the 1970s – the old stuff remains entertaining.

All this leads up to a phone interview I had with Henry Winkler when he was riding high as The Fonz. Obviously, Winkler and The Fonz were not much alike, thanks to something called acting, but in some way the two did think alike. My favorite Winkler/Fonz moment came in the very first episode of "Happy Days" when The Fonz was in the men's room, standing in front of a mirror, wondering if any pruning was necessary. He whipped out a comb from his back pocket, checked the mirror again, then shrugged and replaced the comb. You can't improve on perfection. The idea was Winkler's, but the reaction was pure Fonzie.

Winkler has proven to be a cool guy ever since. He even had the good sense to avoid the motorcycles his TV counterpart loved so much.

Providence Journal, April 18, 1976

By JACK MAJOR

Although there's a Presidential campaign going on, 1976 might well be remembered as The Year of the Fonz.

Letters continue to pour in here about Henry Winkler, the 30-year-old actor who plays Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli on the suddenly sensationally successful ABC comedy series, Happy Days. But the mail we receive about The Fonz – maybe 50
letters – each week - is nothing compared to what Winkler receives.

“I get 11,000 letters every week," he told me in a recent phone interview to plug this Saturday's appearance at the Providence Civic Center. "I used to read every letter, but it got to be too much."

Every letter?

"Yes," Winkler insisted. "I think I've read about 200,000 letters so far."

Why?

"Because it tells me a lot about human nature, and I’m very interested in learning about human nature."

Winkler's Providence appearance is the result of promoter Frank Russo's efforts to package an oldies but goodies show. Performers Saturday night – showtime is 7:30 –will be Jay and the Americans, Danny and the Juniors, Bo Diddley, The Shiffons, and Del Shannon. Winkler will open the show in the character of The Fonz, but he intends to reveal the real Winkler to the crowd during a 15-minute question and answer session later in the program. '

The real Henry Winkler is, of course, a far cry from The Fonz.

He is a soft spoken, apparently deadly serious young man educated at Boston's Emerson College and at Yale University, and dedicated to the acting profession. He was born in New York City, the only son of Ilse and Harry Winkler, president of an international lumber corporation. He is unusually articulate, and, according to Russo, very cooperative, going far beyond the call of duty in promoting personal appearances here and in Hartford and Springfield.

"No one had to twist my arm to visit Providence. I spent a lot of time in New England and I like it there," he said. Then he paused a moment. "Warwick! I" remember going to
Warwick once as a fraternity initiation prank. I had to drive there, then contact, the sheriff or police chief on duty."

He says he turned down four series offers -two to play The Fonz in the '50s, another to play The Fonz in the '70s with a wife and family, and one to play the AI Pacino role in Serpico. (David Birney eventually did that one in a pilot renamed “The Deadly Game” to be presented by NBC Saturday night.)

Winkler's proudest film acting so far was in the ABC movie, “Katherine,” in which he played a young radical. ("That was' my finest moment on celluloid,” he says.) Winkler also was featured in two other movies, “The Lords of Flatbush” and “CrazyJoe.”

Unlike The Fonz, Winkler is not fond of motorcycles. ''I've seen too many people ripped up in motorcycle accidents. But to those who want to ride them, I say ride them in good
health."

Yet Winkler says that when he is acting he generates energy that allows him to do things he ordinarily wouldn't attempt. Like when he ran in front of a car for a scene in “The Lords of Flatbush.”

"I got hit by that car nine times because we couldn't afford a stunt man."

Did he get hurt?

"Only a few bruises, but it felt good."

Winkler says it's all part of his profession, something he decided to enter "when I was 7.
And I've been studying acting ever since."

Oh yes, one other question ...

Winkler was anticipating it:

''I'm not married, and don't intend to be for along time. But tell your readers I think women are wonderful.”

 

 

Also . . .
Don Adams Patty Duke Ricardo Montalban
Herb Alpert Richard Egan George Montgomery
Dana Andrews Jack Elam Joanna Moore
John Astin Linda Evans Mary Tyler Moore
Frankie Avalon Pat Finley Ozzie and Harriet Nelson
Barbara Barrie Eric Fleming Hugh O'Brian
Bill Bixby Peter Fonda Pat O'Brien
George Burns Anthony Franciosa Gene Pitney
Michael Callan Annette Funicello Martha Raye
Richard Chamberlain Zsa Zsa Gabor Della Reese
Leslie Charleson Beverly Garland Carl Reiner
Petula Clark Jackie Gleason Barbara Rush
Dabney Coleman Merv Griffin Robert Ryan
Robert Conrad Mark Harman Henry Silva
Bill Cosby Patricia Harty Julie Sommars
Joseph Cotten Marty Ingels Barbra Streisand
Bob Crane Jack Jones The Three Stooges
Richard Crenna Jack Kelly The Supremes
Ken Curtis Dave Ketchum Dick Van Dyke
Bill Dana Sue Ane Langdon Jerry Van Dyke
Bobby Darin Sheldon Leonard Robert Vaughn
Sammy Davis Jr. Jack Lord Clint Walker
Richard Deacon George Maharis Ray Walston
Bob Denver Jackie Mason Betty White
James Drury Raymond Massey Andy Williams
  Martin Milner Henry Winkler
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