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Personal Stories

Hank Zipzer, aka, Henry Winkler

By: Henry Winkler
Henry Winkler

"It started to buzz. I looked up. The loud speaker above the door crackled and buzzed again. Then it started to shake. It was coming alive! 'Hank Zipzer!' the loudspeaker said. 'Report to Principal Love's office at one.' I put my hands over my ears and slid down in my chair."

Thus begins the day of Hank Zipzer, the World's Best Underachiever. Hank is a fourth-grader who struggles in school due to his learning disability. Though really creative, Hank has a hard time with written projects. He even lists the "ten reasons why he should not write an essay" for his teacher. "Hank is me. And he is a positive guy, you know, and he just can't do certain things, like spell or read and do math," Winkler tells NBC's Today program host Mia Hamm, (soccer star trading places with Ann Curry on May 12, 2003.)

Winkler, and co-author Lynn Oliver, wrote two Zipzer stories appearing in bookstores this month: "Niagara Falls or Does It?" and "I Got A 'D' In Salami." The books are perfect for 4th to 8th graders. They are great reading fun. Kids can relate to these stories. More importantly, the books let children know they are not alone. And states Winkler, "If you will it, it is not a dream. You can do anything you want to do."

More about Henry Winkler

"Thank you for listening to me... my parents never did." -- Austin College (TX) commencement address, 5/19/02 Henry Winkler is best known as television's "Fonzie", also know as (AKA) Arthur Fonzarelli, of Happy Days. Though most relate to him from his television role of many years, he is a well-educated man who struggles with dyslexia. He says of his childhood "I grew up with a high level of low self-esteem."

Winkler is the son of immigrant parents who expected him to join the family saw mill business. Even as a child Henry saw roles on stage as the key to happiness. Often he and his parents were in conflict. "There was no meeting of the souls." Though his teachers and other school professionals who worked with him defined him as a boy who really did not apply himself to his work, Winkler came to know his own strengths.

Evidence of that strength is his distinguished acting, directing and producing career in both television and films. For an actor, reading is essential. He has been able to work around his learning weakness to develop his strengths. He has won Golden Globe and Emmy awards for his acting. He has produced many films about families and how they cope ("PBS Happily Ever After", and the sequel, "Two Daddies to Love Me"; directed and produced "All the Kids Do It," an Emmy Award-winning CBS Schoolbreak Special about teen drinking.)

He also is the father of three who has learned when to let go and when to be the "strictie" as his children define it. Winkler and his wife, Stacey, are also active in other many other areas of humanitarian activities. They have been recognized for their efforts on behalf of children by B'nai Brith and the United Nations.

Winkler earned his bachelor's degree from Emerson College in Boston, Mass., with a dual major in drama and child psychology. He studied abroad and then came back to earn his master's degree at Yale University in drama.

Beyond the television and film industry, Winkler's interests often focus on the needs of young people. A founding member of the Children's Action Network, he also has worked to help the national Infant Immunization Project, Toys for Tots, and the MacLaren Children's Center (for abused children) in Los Angeles. He also has worked extensively to educate about the needs of children with learning disabilities. He states "Because of my character on Happy Days I was asked to narrate a film for students with learning disabilities in 1976. It was called “Everybody has a Song”. Of course I wanted to help these poor kids with this problem! So as I’m reading the narration into a tape recorder, it started to dawn on me. I’m not lazy. I’m not stupid. I’M DYSLEXIC!!! Who knew? Nobody knew when I was growing up."

One of his most recent roles was as Artie on the PBS children's show, Clifford the Big Red Dog. He will also be a voice of a city bird in the new Clifford Puppy Days scheduled to air on PBS this fall.

To read the first chapter of the book and his interview with CBS news.