January 10, 2013

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For the second time in less than six months, actor Henry Winkler will visit Chattanooga in what is becoming a relatively common, if not curious occurrence.

Winkler is best known to a generation of fans as Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli on “Happy Days,” a G-rated hybrid of Marlon Brando and James Dean who became synonymous with the response, “Ayyyy,” and who then quite literally jumped the shark, giving birth to the term used to describe that moment when something that was once great has reached a point of decline.

More recently, Winkler, 67, has starred in the popular TV series “Royal Pains” and “Hero Factory,” as well as smaller roles in a string of TV shows since his “Happy Days” heyday (and don’t forget Night Shift, the cult comedy also starring a young Michael Keaton). So, he’s not exactly out of work or struggling for cash.

So why spend the weekend signing stills and endlessly posing (thumbs up!) with aging fans? We requested an interview with Winkler to find out, but alas the holidays intervened and nothing transpired.

Nevertheless, Winkler will return to town over the weekend for the annual World of Wheels custom car show to do just that. He was last spotted in Chattanooga in September, appearing at a benefit for the Mountain Education Fund (at which time he Tweeted, “You want friendly??? Go to Chattanooga!!!”) Prior to that appearance, the actor was the featured speaker at Memorial Health Care System’s 2006 Family Expo in 2006.

Investigating this (obscure, some would say obsessive or idiotic) phenomenon, we dug deeper. (Ayyyy—we’re The Pulse, what do you expect? The Pentagon Papers? Watergate?) Without the benefit of an interview, the best reason we can point to is Winkler’s ties to the Children’s Action Network, which raises awareness of and provides for children’s needs. Winkler and his wife, Stacy, are founding members of the organization and seek out projects that create quality entertainment for children. Makes sense.

This would explain his trips here as the star power behind the MEF fundraiser and Memorial Hospital’s Family Expo, but not the obvious money-grab that is the autograph booth at World of Wheels where, incidentally, one can also personally encounter Danielle Colby-Cushman from “American Pickers.” Neither Pinky nor Leather Tuscadero, she is nonetheless nothing to sneeze at.

We’d not waste the time or energy on such “Happy Days” alums as Anson “Potsie” Williams or Donny “Ralph Malph” Most—or even Erin “Joannie” Moran, who most certainly could use the cash—were they to appear. After all, most of the show’s cast—excluding Winkler and star Ron Howard—recently sued seeking royalties for merchandise sold by CBS bearing their likenesses, including comic books, DVDs, T-shirts, scrapbooks, trading cards, lunch boxes, and other trinkets manufactured in China. The case was settled out of court last summer.

Winkler is another story. Its no secret that former stars often pimp themselves out at conventions. That long list—which might begin with the original cast of “Star Trek”—is littered with many ex-notables who find themselves in need of an audience and money. We once encountered a depressed and overweight Val Kilmer signing 8x10 glossies of his former self in a booth at ComicCon in San Diego next to former “Buck Rogers in the 21st Century” star Erin Gray. (Gray, now 62, was, incidentally, a delight—and still a babe).

As with Kilmer, it saddens us somewhat to see him at this level. But he does meet convention-celebrity appearance criteria, so why not duck into a quiet,mid-size Southern city for a quick pile of cash on an otherwise uneventful weekend. There are worse gigs.

Welcome back, Henry. And forgive us if we almost said “Kotter.”

January 10, 2013

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