The 23rd annual Fall for the Book Festival, based out of George Mason University, runs this week in Northern Virginia.
This Friday afternoon, Henry Winkler and co-author Lin Oliver will discuss their new children’s book “Hollywood vs. The Galaxy” in a free, interactive virtual event at 1:30 p.m.
“This is for third to seventh grade,” Winkler told WTOP. “Lin and I write comedy. It is our background, but underneath the comedy is the challenge of being a child.”
“What happens if I reveal myself? Will people still like me? Is friendship more important than success?… We don’t write self-help books, we write comedy that happens to be about something.”
“Hollywood vs. The Galaxy” is the third book in Winkler and Oliver’s “Alien Superstar” series about their 13-year-old character Buddy Burger.
“He lives on a repressive planet,” Winkler said. “Their ability to enjoy, smell, taste, see, hear and feel better is cut off [by] the Supreme Leader… Grandma Wrinkle, who is 900 years old, is the master mechanic of the star-fleet. She builds him a rocket ship, he takes off and lands on the only address he knows on Earth — backlot Universal Studios.”
Winkler’s collaboration with Oliver began with the “Hank Zipzer” series, which ran between 2003-2010. This is their 37th novel together.
“We work in a very wonderful way,” Winkler said. “Lin sits at the computer and types; I talk, then Lin has an idea; I wait, she types, then she reads her stuff back to me and we argue over every word… If we don’t laugh, it doesn’t go into the book.”
Oliver says she enjoys the collaboration just as much as Winkler.
“I love working with Henry because he’s smart, funny, collaborative and has great insights into kid behavior,” Oliver said. “This [book] is thick, but has plenty of illustrations, so it’s really kid-friendly. It’s a novel, but it’s a highly-illustrated novel with lots of great illustrations with a comic-book feel. The style of the illustrations goes with the comedy.”
Oliver is also executive director of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
“That’s a group I co-founded when I was 21 years old,” Oliver said. “Directly out of college, I had gotten a job as a children’s book writer for an educational series… Now there are 27,000 members worldwide and it’s the largest writers organization in the world.”
Outside of writing children’s books, Oliver was Executive Vice President of MCA Universal for 12 years and has writing and producing credits for over 300 television episodes, including “Harry and the Hendersons.”
Oliver remembers how Winkler and herself formed a creative connection.
“We had lunch and Henry was telling me about his childhood, [so] I wasn’t really getting to know him as the Fonz, I was getting to know him as a kid who had struggled with learning differences,” Oliver said. “Despite his success and career in Hollywood, he still felt the sting of growing up feeling like he wasn’t as accomplished as other kids in school.”
Winkler remembers how he got his break on TV’s “Happy Days” with a simple catchphrase: “Ayy!”
“They wrote a paragraph for the Fonz to say, and I thought that is not as cool as reducing a lot of language to one sound,” Winkler said. “You can say, ‘Ayy, she’s beautiful. Ayy, I’m hungry. Ayy, do not mess with me.'”
Years after “Happy Days” ended, Winkler continued a diverse comedy career, appearing in projects ranging from “The Waterboy” to “Arrested Development”.
“I have been so lucky,” Winkler said. “I’ve worked with Garry Marshall, Ron Howard, Adam Sandler, Mitch Hurwitz on ‘Arrested Development,’ Bill Hader and Alec Berg now on ‘Barry.’
Recently, Winkler was cast as Uncle Joe in Wes Anderson’s new film “The French Dispatch”, which opened last weekend.
“There are no stand-ins, so when he lines up a shot, you don’t have someone to stand there for two hours for you, you do it yourself,” Winkler said. “We’re outside, it’s freezing cold, he goes, ‘Henry?’ I go, “Oh my God, Wes Anderson is going to give me direction.’ I said, ‘Yes sir?’ He said, ‘Could you move a millimeter to your left?’ I said, ‘I can! And I will!'”
Anderson even offered to read his children’s book “Alien Superstar.”
“I see the movie now,” Winkler joked. “Maybe he doesn’t, but I do.”
Today, Winkler is busy shooting Season 3 of “Barry,” which won him an Emmy award in 2018.
“We’re almost done,” Winkler said. “We finish at the beginning of November and it will probably be on sometime in March… I’m not allowed to say anything or I will be dead, but it is harrowing.”
Despite his Hollywood success, Winkler says the children’s books are the most rewarding thing he does.
“We have met children who run up and say, ‘I have read every ‘Hank Zipzer.’ He is me! I understand the alien, how he feels left out. That’s me,'” Winkler said. “That is rewarding.”