Winkler on 'Pains,' dyslexia

Feb 21 2011 - 1:26pm


Henry Winkler (left) and Mark Feuerstein star on “Royal Pains.”
Henry Winkler (left) and Mark Feuerstein star on “Royal Pains.”

PASADENA, Calif. -- The current run of USA Network's "Royal Pains" comes to a close this week in an episode that brings back actor Henry Winkler as the father of lead characters Dr. Hank Lawson (Mark Feuerstein) and Evan Lawson (Paulo Costanzo). Winkler's Eddie Lawson, an absentee father, learns his legal fate for past criminal activity in this week's episode (7 p.m. Thursday). "Royal Pains" will return with new episodes sometime this summer.

"All I know is that I had a heart attack, I survive and I'm in the last episode of these six, so now I'm lobbying (to be back) next season," Winkler said over breakfast last month. "There is no way I can convey to you how happy I am that I'm on this show. It's written well and it's run by two (writers) who are thoughtful and smart and precise."

Winkler met with executive producers of the show before taking on the role, but the breakfast meeting did not go as smoothly as he expected.

"I talked a blue streak about every detail about their show because my wife and I watched the first season, so I knew everything," he said. "I took my maple syrup and poured it on my pancakes -- and it was the cream from my coffee."

To cover his gaffe, Winkler said to his breakfast companions, "You know, they're made from buttermilk. I've added to the flavor, thank you very much."

And he still ate every bite, saying of the experience, "I was mortified."

It's a different image of Winkler compared to the smoothness he portrayed in his classic role as the cool-as-a-cucumber Fonzie on the 1970s hit "Happy Days." But so are other aspects of his life.

Winkler, 65, was diagnosed as dyslexic at age 31, four years into his "Happy Days" stint at the same time his stepson, a third-grader, was first diagnosed.

"Everything they said to him, I went, oh my goodness, that's me," he recalled. "When I would audition, I would never audition the way the script was written. I would memorize as much as I could and I would improvise the rest."

That approach doesn't always fly with casting directors, who want actors to audition based on the script.

"I would say, 'I'm giving you the essence of the character,' "Winkler said. "And then I'd say, 'I'll do the best I can,' because until I knew what (my dyslexia) was, I just thought I was stupid."

Today, he said, he tries to get scripts as early as possible before an episode's "table read," when the cast sits around a table and reads the script aloud for the first time.

"I have to read them over and over again; otherwise, I will just fall all over myself," Winkler said. "You never get over your dyslexia; you learn to incorporate it."

Inspired by his own challenges with learning -- "School and I did not get along at all," he said -- Winkler launched a series of children's books -- 17 so far -- starring a character named Hank Zipzer.

"He has a little trouble, but his glass is half-full and he's funny," Winkler said.

His next project will be a book of photographs he's taken while fly-fishing for trout with reflections on things he's learned on the river. Among his lessons: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong and that there is a solution.

"The two words that I have learned are 'tenacity' and 'gratitude,'aaaa" Winkler said. "(I've learned) to be grateful for every detail because tenacity will get you there and gratitude will not allow you to be angry when you've arrived."

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