Ron Howard Has Revealed How It Felt To Be Caught Up In Tom Hanks And Henry Winkler’s Bitter Feud

Hollywood’s two nicest guys embroiled in a decades-long feud? Yes, apparently multiple Academy Award winner Tom Hanks and none other than The Fonz – Henry Winkler – have been at loggerheads since the late 1980s. So how does their mutual friend Ron Howard feel about getting caught up in their unlikely beef?

Howard has actually frequently worked with both parties. His relationship with Hanks began way back in the mid-1980s on hit comedy Splash. The story of a guy who falls in love with a mermaid launched its leading man on to the A-list. And it confirmed that Howard was just as talented in the director’s chair as he was in front of the cameras.

It’s not particularly surprising, then, that the pair reunited again just over a decade later on Apollo 13. On this occasion, Hanks played Jim Lovell – one of three real-life astronauts who embarked on a space mission that very nearly ended in tragedy. But their most successful partnership would result from the adaptation of a little-known book called The Da Vinci Code.

Yes, Howard’s big screen take on Dan Brown’s phenomenally popular novel grossed more than $750 million at the worldwide box office. Hanks would then reprise his role as Harvard University professor Robert Langdon in two further adventures: Angels and Demons and Inferno. And in a 2016 interview with the South China Morning Post, the trilogy’s director explained how the pair have established such a strong connection.

Howard said, “We’re also very like-minded about the opportunities that a movie offers: the excitement, the sense of responsibility to the story and the audience. So we’re always on the same page – once we agree to do a movie together. But there have been times where we’ve discussed projects and we didn’t see it the same way and we didn’t pursue those. The ones we make together are the ones that we’re passionate about.”

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But did you know that Hanks has a passion for impersonating his long-time friend? That’s right, the Big star has regularly showcased his OTT impression of Howard on the talk-show circuit. Luckily, the director sees the funny side. In 2020 he told The Guardian, “I think his imitations are terrible! But they’re sort of infectious. I now find, when I’m directing him, I direct [Hanks] the way he portrays me on talk shows. But we have a lot of laughs about it.”

Yet Howard’s friendship with Winkler goes even further back. The pair instantly became best buds when they were both cast on nostalgic sitcom Happy Days in the mid-1970s. Howard played squeaky clean All-American Richie Cunningham, while Winkler starred as leather-jacketed rebel The Fonz. Speaking to Closer Weekly in 2019, Howard revealed he was initially in awe of Winkler when they first met.

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Howard said, “It was exciting for me to work with Henry because he was really a trained actor who attended Yale Drama School; just a trained New York actor. And, I’d grown up sort of through the Hollywood television system. So for me to work with this guy who was so thoughtful, so creative and yet so hilarious was really an opportunity for me to learn and grow and we just clicked, you know?”

And Winkler was just as effusive about his Happy Days co-star in the same interview. He remarked, “I think people gravitate to the Fonzie/Richie relationship because Ron and I are ten years apart. He was 18 and I was 27. We had a connection that you cannot describe in real life, and it was similar off-camera. He gave me my first mitt; I’d never played baseball before. He’s my brother.”

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Even so, Howard apparently had to overcome a bit of jealousy to maintain their friendship. While appearing on Inside the Actors Studio in 2019, Winkler revealed his co-star was initially upset that Happy Days audiences were more responsive to The Fonz than Richie. But thankfully, Howard began to understand that Winkler was simply doing his job and was soon able to keep the green-eyed monster at bay.

Winkler explained, “The fourth year, we went to a dude ranch and did a two-parter – riding wild bulls. I had to sit on a bull. Ron Howard drove me home in his VW, and I said, ‘Ron, tell me now. How are you feeling? We haven’t talked about this.’ He said, ‘You didn’t do one thing other than be good at what you’re doing. My feelings were hurt, but it’s good for the show.’”

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So how exactly did the beef between two of Howard’s closest friends kick off? Well, would you believe us if we told you that a 1989 buddy cop comedy starring a French mastiff named Beasley was to blame? Winkler had initially been appointed to direct Hanks in VHS favorite Turner and Hooch. But after less than two weeks, the former Happy Days star was given the boot.

We don’t know exactly what happened behind the scenes. But it appears as though Hanks may have had something to do with the change of director – judging by Winkler’s comments in various interviews. The Fonz first sparked rumors of a fallout while talking to People magazine in 1993. He remarked, “Let’s just say… I got along better with Hooch than I did with Turner.”

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Winkler then reiterated these comments while promoting Barry on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen in 2019. The subject came up when a viewer phoned in to ask about his supposed feud with Hanks. Rather than deny that the two were sworn enemies, Winkler initially pretended to have misunderstood the caller’s query.

Yet Winkler soon appeared to confirm that yes, the rumors were true. He explained, “I was directing that movie [Turner and Hooch] for 13 days and then I was called into [producer] Jeff Katzenberg’s office and he said, ‘You have everything with you? Go home.’” But it was what the star didn’t say that spoke greater volumes.

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Yes, Winkler was all too happy to talk about his connection with the film’s canine star. He told Cohen, “I got along great, great with that dog. Love that dog.” But the star – who was replaced in the director’s chair by Roger Spottiswoode – failed to mention the film’s human lead at all.

Winkler’s facial expressions at the 2020 Golden Globe Awards didn’t do much to diffuse the rumors of a beef, either. As Hanks was delivering an emotional speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award he’d just been given, the cameras swooped in on Winkler who was sitting in the audience. And it’s fair to say that the Barry star wasn’t exactly overcome with joy.

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Yet Winkler insisted that there was no bad blood between the pair just a few weeks later. Speaking to TMZ while going about his daily business, the Happy Days star claimed, “I don’t have a feud with Tom Hanks. What everybody says and what is true are two different things.”

Winkler went on to reference another Hollywood star who the press claimed he’d got on the wrong side of. He told TMZ, “There used to be a tremendous feud between John Travolta and me. And there was no feud. It’s created, and it’s wonderful.” You may not know that Winkler actually turned down the part of Grease’s Danny Zuko that eventually went to Travolta. So why did he give the role a wide berth? Well, Winkler apparently had over fears of being typecast.

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So what about the comments that Winkler had made to People magazine and Andy Cohen which heavily implied there was some animosity between Hanks and himself? Well, the former claimed that his remarks were all made in fun. And to everyone’s surprise, there was even a suggestion that the pair could share a film set again.

Yes, Winkler told TMZ that he’d bumped into Hanks just a few days earlier at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Without a hint of sarcasm, he remarked, “It was beautiful.” The actor went on to claim that he was open to the idea of a collaboration with his apparent sworn enemy.

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Winkler then blew everyone’s minds when he revealed that he’d recently posed for the cameras with his apparent nemesis. And even more unexpectedly, the snap was taken while he and Hanks were enjoying a Bruno Mars gig. Sadly, this holy grail of celebrity photos has yet to be made public.

And Winkler also backed up his claim that he and Hanks weren’t at each other’s throats by mentioning how much he’d enjoyed working with the Forrest Gump star’s wife. Rita Wilson had appeared in two episodes of Happy Days playing different characters. She first showed up as Roxanne in the tenth season premiere before taking on the role of Barbara a year later.

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You might not know that Hanks also popped up alongside Winkler in the classic sitcom. Yes, long before he became a national treasure, the Cast Away star appeared in the tenth season episode titled “A Little Case of Revenge.” And in one of those strange coincidences that Hollywood sometimes throws up, Hanks played Winkler’s nemesis.

In the tenth season episode titled “A Little Case of Revenge,” Hanks shows up as a black belt karate expert named Dr. Dwayne Twitchell. And he wastes little time in seeking vengeance against his third-grade enemy The Fonz. Yes, dressed in a full karate suit, Twitchell challenges the much-loved greaser to a duel right in the middle of the show’s famous diner.

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But what about Hanks’ view on his oft-rumored celebrity feud with Winkler? Well, we only have the latter’s side of the story. The former has never discussed the matter on camera or in print and neither has his wife. But there is another famous name who knows both parties very well that has. And he appears to have confirmed once and for all that Hanks and Winkler do not get on.

Speaking to The Guardian in 2020 to promote his documentary Rebuilding Paradise, Ron Howard was asked about Hanks and Winkler’s supposed rivalry. You might have expected him to deny all knowledge or quickly bat the question away. But the man who’d directed Hanks five times and acted alongside Winkler for the best part of a decade decided to get real.

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Howard claimed that both Hanks and Winkler had confided in him about their dislike of each other. The award-winning director said, “It was disappointing. I’m friends with them both and both men felt compelled to come to talk to me about it.”

Howard continued, “It was just one of those unfortunate things where they really had a working style that did not fit. I know it was painful for both of them and I was able to lend an ear, if not offer any solutions.” These comments appear to confirm once and for all that Hanks and Winkler have had their issues.

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Despite this, Howard revealed that he hasn’t been afraid to ask Hanks and Winkler to show up at the same event over the past three decades. The director added, “They’ve both been invited to my birthday parties. It’s been a lot of years – two men with a lot of water under the bridge.”

And journalist Hadley Freeman appeared to recognize the importance of these revelations. In a Twitter post linking to the article, she wrote in September 2020, “I buried the lede. My interview with Ron Howard includes exclusive and explosive details about the Henry Winkler versus Tom Hanks fall-out on Turner and Hooch, aka Hoochgate! At last, my encyclopedic knowledge of so-so ’80s comedies comes into its own! *Kinda.”

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Freeman’s interview left its readers with all kinds of emotions, too. In fact, some were astounded to learn that Hanks and Winkler had ever been enemies in the first place. One distressed fan commented on Twitter that October, “I refuse to believe this on the grounds that Tom Hanks is made from pure joy and I won’t listen to anything that says otherwise.”

Another wondered whether Howard’s “water under the bridge” remark was significant. They tweeted, “Sounds like the beef has been squashed. This was very upsetting to me until I got to that part. I too would prefer they address this together and fawn over each other and explain how it was this ridiculous misunderstanding. But for now, I will take comfort in knowing they can put aside their differences for the sake of celebrating their mutual friend’s birthday.”

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But our favorite comment goes to the woman who pitched an idea for how to put all the drama to bed. She wrote, “Who is going to make their televised reconciliation a reality? This is the feel good moment America needs. Dolly Parton should host and Ron Howard narrate of course.”

Of course, Howard had more pressing things on his mind than a 30-year-old rivalry stemming from Turner and Hooch. The director is being tipped for a possible Oscar nomination for his documentary Rebuilding Paradise. And a percentage of the film’s profits is being directed toward recovery efforts in the area featured: Paradise, California.

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As you may already know, Paradise suffered the deadliest fire on American soil in a century in 2018. No fewer than 85 people lost their lives as a result of the firestorm which spread through the Californian city. Approximately 50,000 residents were forced to relocate, too, while only five percent of structures remained intact, according to Deadline.

In his interview with The Guardian, Howard explained what drew him to the devastating real life story. He said, “We wanted to see what it means to keep going when the direction of one’s life has been completely devastated and all your goals are gone.” The director also revealed that his Hollywood past has always been an inspiration when it comes to choosing new projects.

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Howard went on, “I grew up as a child actor, been working all my life, and I love it. But it does create a kind of bubble. So I look for projects that lead me to life experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise had – and on my own I’m an introverted, risk-averse individual. But, when there’s a story to be told, it gets me out of the house, talking to people, learning things. And then I just go.”

But Rebuilding Paradise certainly isn’t the only project that Howard has been working on in 2020. The workaholic has no fewer than eight different films or TV shows in the pipeline. And for fans of his ’80s work, this list also includes a particularly exciting prospect: a TV adaptation of fantasy favorite Willow.

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Howard explained the status of the project in an August 2020 chat with Andy Cohen on Sirius XM. He said, “I was in a two-hour story meeting last night… It’s in very active development and the scripts are going great. They have to get through the season and budget and so forth; there’s no greenlight there yet. But I’m very optimistic, really optimistic about it. I love his take on it.”

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