Statue of `The Fonz' proposed for downtown Milwaukee
MILWAUKEE - Aaay, Milwaukee.
``The Fonz'' soon might be part of its downtown landscape, immortalized in a life-size bronze sculpture that city tourism leaders hope will be a stopping point for visitors.
The Fonz, of course, is Arthur ``Fonzie'' Fonzarelli, the character from the long-running TV show Happy Days, set in a nostalgic version of Milwaukee, circa the late 1950s and early 1960s. Visit Milwaukee, a non-profit group that promotes the city as a tourism and convention destination, is leading an effort to raise $85,000 to commission the statue.
So far, Visit Milwaukee has raised $45,000, and the group is confident it will meet its timetable of unveiling a bronze Fonz in 2008, said Dave Fantle, the agency's vice president of public relations. The agency already has contacted four artists and hopes to choose a sculptor by the end of October, he said.
The project carries the blessings of Happy Days co-creator Garry Marshall and Henry Winkler, the actor who played Fonzie during the show's 10-year run, which started in 1974.
Winkler confessed he was a bit taken aback when Fantle first contacted him about the project.
``It's an honor,'' Winkler said. ``But it is so bizarre to think there should be a statue. I wasn't sure it was something that could happen to me.''
Or, more accurately, happen to a character brought to life by Winkler, a 61-year-old actor, producer, director and author. Still, Winkler likes the idea and says he would come to Milwaukee for the statue's dedication.
``If it helps the city, a city that has been so supportive and warm to me over the years,'' he said, ``then I am so OK with it.''
Visit Milwaukee got the idea of a Fonzie statue from TV Land, a cable network that broadcasts re-runs of vintage shows such as Happy Days and M*A*S*H.
TV Land has donated six sculptures commemorating memorable TV events or characters to various cities, starting in 2000 with a New York statue of Ralph Kramden, Jackie Gleason's character from The Honeymooners.
Other statues include Mary Richards, the main character from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Located in downtown Minneapolis, it depicts the well-known shot from the show's opening credits when Mary gleefully tosses her hat in the air.
Another is a sculpture of Bob Hartley, from The Bob Newhart Show, near the entrance to Chicago's Navy Pier.
All six sculptures are from shows mainly popular in the 1950s, `60s and `70s, in keeping with TV Land's focus on its baby boomer audience.
But TV Land, owned by New York-based Viacom International Inc., isn't planning a major role in the campaign for a Fonzie sculpture. The network isn't planning to donate any additional statues and is re-evaluating the program, said Jennifer Zaldivar, a TV Land spokeswoman.
TV Land is planning to revamp its lineup of shows, Zaldivar said, adding newly created programs, as well as ``more contemporary shows,'' i.e., re-runs that the children of baby boomers might recognize. As a result, a program that donates sculptures commemorating older TV shows might not fit TV Land's new image, she said.
Bit Viacom, which owns the rights to the Fonzie character, has approved the project, Fantle said.
The dedication ceremony for the statue, with appearances by Winkler and other Happy Days cast members, would draw media attention to Milwaukee, Fantle said. He said the sculpture also would provide another tourism draw for a city that anticipates an upswing in visitors next year when Harley-Davidson Inc. opens its museum just south of downtown.
But what about those umpteen attempts to depict Milwaukee to the outside world as some place other than the home of Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, a Happy Days spinoff that some complain has typecast Milwaukee as a stodgy, blue-collar town?
``This isn't a statue of Laverne and Shirley, `` Fantle said. ``This is a statue of a TV icon who remains the epitome of cool.''
The Fonz represents the old image of Milwaukee, which some visitors still appreciate, Fantle said. He said the statue could serve as a bridge between that world and Milwaukee's new image, exemplified by the Milwaukee Art Museum and other developments.
``I don't think we want to run and hide from our past, especially when our past happens to be a timeless television character,'' Fantle said.
Or, as the Fonz, with two thumbs up, might put it: ``Aaay.''