They came to see the Fonz. They lined the Wells Street bridge. They lined the Riverwalk across the river and south of the ceremony on the river’s left bank. They watched from windows, terraces and rooftops and they watched from pontoon boats on the river, itself.
Fans lined up along Wells Street to the east of the river, where they couldn’t even get a glimpse as actor Henry Winkler and sculptor Gerald Sawyer unveiled the much-discussed Bronz Fonz Tuesday morning in Downtown Milwaukee.
"I just want to say, this is truly beautiful," said Winkler after the sheet was removed. "You can hear about it, you can talk about it, we had conversation though e-mail, but to see it in real life and that it exists, it’s just unbelievable, it really is."
The 10 a.m. ceremony -- emceed by local actor and comedian John McGivern -- opened with a welcome from Dave Fantle, vice president of public relations for VISIT Milwaukee, the organization that spearheaded the effort to bring the Fonz to Downtown.
"We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the man who made Arthur Fonzarelli and immortal TV icon," said Fantle. "We’re not just dedicating a bronze Fonz today, we’re honoring Henry, an actor, an author, a director, a writer, a producer, a family man, a tireless children’s advocate and a great humanitarian. Fonzie is a character, Henry is the real deal. Thank you, Henry."
On a small platform to the left of the podium were seated most of the stars of television’s beloved "Happy Days." There was Anson Williams (Potsie), Don Most (Ralph), Marion Ross (Mrs. Cunningham), Tom Bosley (Mr. Cunningham), Erin Moran (Joanie), Penny Marshall (Laverne) and Cindy Williams (Shirley). With them were the show’s co-creator Garry Marshall and co-producer Bob Boyett.
Although of them only Garry Marshall addressed the invited crowd of media and dignitaries, each of the others was introduced.
"This is a great honor for all of us of the cast," said Garry Marshall. "But for me it’s a great honor … I made up a character but suddenly a man came named Henry Winkler and he made this character real. He made it real in your minds and in your living rooms and in your hearts … and he made Fonzie a person who not only you wanted to watch but you wanted to put on your lunch box, your pajamas, your shirts, your hats and everything. … Even though I have no plaque, I’m going to give him a hug. How happy I am he was in the "Happy Days" show."
The real star of the event, of course, was Winkler.
Winker smiled throughout the event and rose to shake hands with speakers like TV Land’s Karen Cummins and International Happy Days Fan Club president Giuseppe Ganelli -- who traveled from Italy for the unveiling -- and to receive proclamations from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and County Executive Scott Walker.
Just before the unveiling he was introduced by McGivern and spoke of his appreciation for the way Milwaukee has received him and his fellow cast members over the years.
"Thirty years ago we came here for the first time to Milwaukee and form the moment that we landed in this city we were so welcomed by the compassion, the hospitality, the warmth, the culture of this great city. And we are here again 30 years later and nothing has changed. It is the same warmth the same hospitality the same compassion that greeted us when we got off the plane.
"We are here to celebrate this amazing honor in my life, that I share piece by piece, finger by finger. It’s taller than I am, I can’t believe that, I’ve never actually been this tall. But I share every inch of this statue with my family, with my television family and with my adopted family, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you."
The sculpture itself is more or less life-size, standing at five feet, six inches tall and Winkler was moved to see that the veins in the right hand spell out his initials and those of his wife, Stacy.
"I hope that this statue really represents in the way that this city deserves," said Winkler. "This is one of the great cities in the United States of America and everyone should actually come here to enjoy the the theater, enjoy the good food, enjoy the warmth of the people and the Fonz!"
At the event, Craig Culver, of Culver’s presented a check for $10,000 to the Boys & Girls Club for its literacy program, in honor of Winkler’s charity work with children.
The celebrations continue throughout the day with an ice cream social at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, a Downtown parade and with Anson Williams singing the national anthem and the entire cast throwing out the first pitch tonight at Miller Park.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.