In Movies & TV

Anson Williams, now 65, visits Milwaukee on Friday, Dec. 19 to promote his new book. (PHOTO: Diandra Toyos)

Milwaukee Talks: Potsie from "Happy Days"

Anson Williams has a prolific career as a television director, writer and producer. He is also a successful entrepreneur, a father of five and a recording artist.

But to most people, especially Milwaukeeans, Williams will always be "Potsie."

This is OK with Williams, who says his time on "Happy Days" was a privilege and an opportunity that opened many doors for him.

Recently, Williams wrote a book, "Singing To A Bulldog: From 'Happy Days' to Hollywood and the Unlikely Mentor Who Got Me There," a collection of stories ranging from the time he was kidnapped by President Ford's daughter, Susan, to the time he directed a not-yet-famous Brad Pitt.

However, the book is mostly about the influence one man had on Williams.

"Without him, I wouldn't be here, talking to you right now," Williams said during the interview.

Willliams will be in Milwaukee promoting his book on Friday, Dec. 19 at Schlitz Park Atrium, 1555 N. Rivercenter Dr., from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The event will include a Q&A followed by a book signing.

OnMilwaukee.com recently had the chance to interview Williams and chat about his book, jumping the shark, raising five daughters, the Bronze Fonz, being "Potsie" forever and how the support of one person can change your life forever.

OnMilwaukee.com: Was writing a book a long-time goal for you?

Anson Williams: If you would have asked me a year ago if I was going to write a book I would have said, "What? Are you kidding me?" I have written a lot of scripts, but writing a book seemed impossible.

However, I knew some people through Reader's Digest who knew some of my life stories and they asked me to write some of them. I thought that would be fun, but I'm sitting at the computer, trying to figure out which stories about myself I wanted to write. Suddenly, I felt this sensation rush through me, and the first words I typed out were "there would be no stories without Willie Turner." It hit me so hard, I wrote the introduction to the book in one sitting.

OMC: Wow, so who is or was Willie Turner?

AW: Willie was an African American man in his 50s. He was an alcoholic, illiterate janitor. When I was 15, I was an unfocused, unconfident kid. I knew everything I did wrong and nothing I did right. I was broken. My family did not have any money and when I started to want things, I got a job as an assistant janitor at a Leonard's Department Store in Burbank, Calif. Willie was my boss.

If he hadn't help me, I would not be here talking to you today.

When I was done working, Willie would invite me to his "Dey Talk Room," a small janitorial space with a couple of rusty oil drums to sit on. He would take out a flask and took the time to find out who I was and what I was good at. He said things to me like, "You special, boy. You're gonna do something great in life."

He told me, "You don't look at the mountain, you climb the mountain." This changed my life. He gave me so many life lessons and they were amazingly important and timely for me. I never forgot them, or him.

Through the book, I want the readers to have the same experience I did. The chance to enter the Dey Talk Room and discover how to find and climb their mountains.

OMC: So the book is part memoir and part motivational, self-help book?

AW: It turned out to be more motivational than a memoir. It just poured out this way. It was a chance to honor Willie.

OMC: You described yourself as "broken" as a child. Who or what "broke" you?

AW: Every day of my life, my dad said something like, "If it wasn't for you, I'd have my art gallery and I wouldn't have to feed your stupid face." My dad made sure his failure was my failure, and I didn't let him down: I was irresponsible, insecure, klutzy. I was shocked after my first day of work when Willie said I did a good job and that he liked me.

OMC: How did you first see change within yourself once you knew someone believed in you?

AW: Willie and I were assigned the job of unpacking refrigerators in the appliance section of the department store. Back then, freezers that didn't over-freeze were a big deal. While we were unpacking, I said, "Freeze your food, not your freezer!" Willie said, "That's good. You have a gift for words." And he must have told someone, because two days later, there was a banner in the department with "Freeze your food, not your freezer" and we sold out of refrigerators.

Do you know what that meant to a 15-year-old who didn't think he was good at anything? I realized I had good instincts and I would have opportunities.

I brought this with me throughout my entire life. When I was on "Happy Days," I didn't get paid like actors do today to be on TV shows. I mean I did OK, but I wasn't going to get rich. So I started looking for an opportunity. Page 1 of 2 (view all on one page)

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