The CMC Keynote – Henry Winkler

Posted on: Wednesday 30 June 2010 3:17pm

Children’s author, actor, director and producer, Henry Winkler is known to many as the unforgettable ‘Fonz’ of Happy Days fame. He is also an advocate for children’s rights, having co-authored 17 children’s books on the subject in the popular series Hank Zipzer – The World’s Greatest Underachiever. An impassioned speaker on enabling and empowering young people, Henry explored the 2010 conference theme: ‘New decade, new challenges. How children’s media can make a positive impact on kids’ lives’. Henry Winkler: son, husband, father, dog owner, actor, producer, director, children’s novelist and classed as being in the bottom 3 percent academically, at least in the USA. For Henry the schoolboy, everything was hard, but at least he was great at lunch. So began the Fonz’s inspirational keynote about the trials of having dyslexia and what we as producers can do to connect with a young audience. In the US, the literacy levels of children aged 8 and 9 are measured to forecast how many prison cells will be needed in years to come, such is the level of low self-worth that these children experience. No one understands this better that Henry, whose German immigrant parents called him Dummehund (German for ‘stupid dog’), and only expressed pride in him when he became a hugely successful actor receiving 50,000 fan letters a week. So, how did Henry do it? According to him, it’s all about self-belief, and the determination to think positively. ‘Don’t put a full-stop on a negative thought’ was his advice. Make the most of yourself because if you don’t do this, you can’t make the most out of another person; you can’t take care of the most vulnerable, that is, children. Parents and producers can help children to develop a healthy, positive self-image simply by listening to them and telling them the truth, something that his series of books about a dyslexic boy called Hank Zipzer, achieves. Henry first appreciated the power of television to influence its young audience when a seven-year-old girl said “Fonz”, and her mother burst into tears. It was her first word. As people involved in the children’s television industry, we’re trying to be funny, we’re doing the best we can, but something else is happening – children’s lives are being changed. In Happy Days, Fonz advised Richie to get a library card, in real-life, library card requests went up 500%. As far as Henry Winkler is concerned, the producers and content makers of today have the same opportunity to make a difference.

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