Few pieces of fictional clothing, save for perhaps the legendary sweater of fuzziness donned by Mister Rogers, are as iconic as Fonzie’s bitchin’ leather jacket. A jacket it turns out Fonzie was only allowed to wear because the producers of Happy Days hustled like a bunch of motherfuckers.
For the people in our audience who are too young to be aware of who the hell Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli is, he was a secondary character on a show called Happy Days back in the days when a show with a name like that could make it to air without people complaining it was too camp.
However, it quickly became clear to the people who made the show that the audience loved Fonzie and it didn’t take long for him to become the star of the show, eclipsing and in some cases outright pushing out some of the characters from earlier seasons. So much so that a character “Doing a Fonzie” and becoming the star of a show they were never meant to is considered an actual trope. But we digress, as a character Fonzie is known mainly for 3 three things, being great with ladies, being a badass who ain’t afraid of nobody and his signature leather jacket.
Weirdly, despite the fact that Fonzie’s leather jacket is now considered a cultural treasure that was even, for a time, stored in the Smithsonian under lock and key, the censors at ABC initially refused to let Fonzie appear on-screen wearing it. The accepted reason being that ABC feared that audiences would assumed Fonzie was a no good hoodlum. Which to be fair was fairly accurate because part of Fonzie’s backstory was that he used to a member of two separate gangs. It’s for this reason that in the first few episodes of the first season of the shows run, the Fonz was forced instead to wear a shitty white wind-breaker instead of a bitchin’ leather jacket in some scenes. Even still, we think we can all agree that Fonzie still looked cooler than liquid nitrogen dreadlocks.
Undeterred, the producers of the show found a loophole in this rule that stated Fonzie could wear a leather jacket if he was riding or stood in the general vicinity of a motorcycle because it was considered a piece safety equipment. According to legend, the producers told ABC that if Fonz was pictured riding a motorcycle in his piss-poor quality wind-breaker, the audience might worry he’d get cold, something that wouldn’t happen if he was wearing a leather jacket. As soon as ABC agreed to these very specific terms, the producers simply started putting Fonzie next to a motorcycle in every scene he was in, even if he was inside someone’s house, just so that they could justify why he was wearing a leather jacket to the censors. Why those same censors didn’t object to a guy driving a motorcycle through someone’s front door is an issue for another day.
It’s actually for this reason that Fonzie would ride his motorcycle through the front door of Arnold’s in each episode since it meant that then censors couldn’t argue that the leather jacket wasn’t necessary. Which is hilarious because that joke became one of the series’ longest running gags and means that one of the most iconic scenes in television history only initially happened because the producers of Happy Days really wanted Fonzie to be wearing a leather jacket in that one particular scene.
As Fonzie grew more popular and his character arc began to focus in on him being a genuinely nice guy who was quick to jump to people defence when they were in trouble, the censors began to lighten up and realised that the Fonz was just a really awesome guy who felt safe inside of his cow-coat. Eventually censors relented completely and in the second season of the show Fonzie was allowed to wear his leather jacket sans motorcycle. However, that doesn’t change the fact that for the first few episodes, Fonzie had to be near a motorcycle to wear the piece of clothing he would forever become synonymous with. Which is even more hilarious when you realise that the actor who played Fonzie, Henry Winkler, couldn’t actually ride a fucking motorcycle.