Linda Purl will never forget how much of an impact Henry Winkler’s iconic role had on a young fan.
The actress, who starred as Fonzie’s girlfriend on ‘Happy Days,’ told Fox News Digital the little-known story of how her co-star made a child’s dream come true with the assistance from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“This little boy was 11 – he was terminally ill,” the star recalled. “His wish was to meet the Fonz.”
“Our habit was to get out of costume and makeup, completely put on our dresses and schleppy stuff, go to stewardship, have dinner together, and get back to doing our hair and makeup. Henry was getting out of pompadour, the jacket. He would get into whatever he came to work that day. This little boy was coming, and he was going to dinner [with us]…And Henry comes in, but not as Henry but as Fonz.”
“I was like, ‘Well, that’s silly. What’s the deal? Just be yourself,'” the 67-year-old said. “What I didn’t realize until I saw him in action was that Henry knew this young boy wasn’t coming to meet Henry. He wanted to meet the Fonz. And Henry was very clear about the difference between the two. So, we all had dinner with this darling boy and his father. And in this case, Henry had rushed to get the rest of the family airlifted at his own expense. He didn’t tell us. didn’t even say, but we found out later.
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Purl said when the 77-year-old learned that the child and his family were only staying one night in town, he quietly extended their stay by several days. He also assured that the Hollywood studio would give the boy and his family “a spectacular time”.
“As we sat there… the Fonz could have said things to this little boy that Henry couldn’t have said – sort of fonzi-isms. You know, the life wisdom of ‘Hang on, man you it’s gonna be [OK].’ I had to turn away [because] the tears were flowing, most of us yes. But Henry stayed strong, and he stayed on his mission and his task for about an hour with this little boy to give him that precious moment of joy. It’s Henry.”
Purl appeared on “Happy Days” from 1974 to 1983. She said the cast welcomed her with open arms.
“The first time I did ‘Happy Days,’ it was one of my first jobs when I moved to Los Angeles,” Purl recalled. “I walked in, auditioned, and got the part…I came back several years later as a completely different character. It happened because there was a casting notice. [saying] they were looking for “a Linda Purl type”. My agent called me and said, ‘Do you think Linda could audition for this Linda Purl guy?’ And I did. And thank God I got the part. Otherwise, I think I would have entered into a sort of identity crisis.”
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“Everything about this set was fun,” Purl said. “The regular cast members were all friends and they’ve been friends for life…We’re a tight bunch.”
“There was an atmosphere on the set of ‘Happy Days’ where when you opened the door to that soundstage on the Paramount lot, you just let your [troubles] behind and stepping into that kind of bubble, a world where things were soft and light and happy… I think all of that feel-good vibe came in the performances that we were able to do.
Purl even worked on set with Heather O’Rourke, who previously starred in “Poltergeist” in 1982. The child star died in 1988 aged 12.
“To call her a dynamic talent is really good,” Purl said. “Of course, that’s just the saddest story. She was awesome and she added so much to this set because of who she was…She fit right in. She was so sweet and innocent. There was no Not so long ago I saw his mother and sister. It’s nice to keep in touch like that.
Purl had a successful decades-long career in Hollywood. More recently, she starred in the movie “Paul’s Promise”. It’s based on the true story of Paul Holderfield, a bigoted firefighter who becomes a pastor and founds one of the first integrated churches in the South during the ’60s civil rights movement. Purl plays matriarch Mimi Holderfield.
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“Every character has such an arc and Mimi is no exception,” she said. “As a mom, I know how much just being a parent brings you to your knees. You wonder what the right answers are to impossible questions.”
“This woman I was able to portray had hopes and dreams for her son. She yearned for him to have peace. It’s a universal desire for any parent.”
Purl said learning about real life from Holderfield left a lasting impression on him.
“[What surprised me] was how quickly he transitioned,” she said. “In an instant, he changed. The obstacles to his soul have been let go. He understood what he was losing by holding a prejudicial point of view. And how if he could just go from being a selfish human being who was fearful and angry on a penny…he was able to do a 180 and see how loving thought could prevail and how well that could work not only in his life but blessing so many people around him.”
Purl described why she was looking forward to filming in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Filming began in November 2020 and ended in January 2021.
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“It’s a very special place,” she said. “There’s something in the air there. From the light to the rocks and the sand, it’s just magical…we’ve been closed several times due to COVID. Several people have fallen ill. But one of the many things that I admired about our producers was their resilience in the face of tremendous adversity. It was an extremely difficult time. But the team spirit was on another level because we were all in the same boat.
Purl said she is grateful to tell unique stories, whether on the big or small screen. And she hasn’t forgotten the many lessons she’s learned along the way.
“When I was working [with Andy Griffith on ‘Matlock’]I was amazed at his white-hot intellect,” Purl said. “He was one of the smartest [people] I knew. He was savvy on so many levels. And that’s not something that came up in any of the characters he really played, at least not to my knowledge. He was not a particularly jovial person. He was a deeply complicated person, as many comics are… With all that intelligence, we only saw a fraction of what he was capable of as an actor.
“It’s interesting, when we first met at lunch, he was talking about [his 1957 film ‘A Face in the Crowd’]”, Purl continued. “He said, ‘You don’t understand. This is who I am. He was talking about his own character. He had a great King Lear in him. He had a great Willy Loman in him from ‘ Death of a Salesman’. And for some reason, his choice probably, we didn’t see him play those roles, some of the great classic roles that I know he had in mind to do.”
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These days, Purl is looking forward to her next role.
“I’m still learning,” she said. “There is always something else to experience, to learn, to grow, to give, to receive. It’s an endless adventure.”
“Paul’s Promise, a Home Entertainment release, comes out December 6th.