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Milwaukee Group Raising Money for Sculpture of The Fonz

A group that promotes Milwaukee as a tourism and convention destination is raising money to put up a sculpture of the character Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli from the long-running television show "Happy Days" that was set in the city.

Visit Milwaukee is leading an effort that has already raised $45,000 toward $85,000 to commission the statue, and the group is confident it will meet its timetable of unveiling the bronze sculpture next year, said Dave Fantle, the vice president of public relations for the nonprofit organization.

It has contacted four artists and hopes to choose a sculptor by the end of next month, he said.

Henry Winkler, the actor who played the character during the show's 10-year run, says he likes the idea and would be willing to come to Milwaukee for the sculpture's dedication.

But he conceded he was a bit taken aback when Fantle contacted him about the project.

"It's an honor," Winkler said. "But it is so bizarre to think there should be a statue. I wasn't sure it was something that could happen to me.

"If it helps the city, a city that has been so supportive and warm to me over the years, then I am so OK with it."

Visit Milwaukee got the idea of a Fonzie statue from TV Land, a cable network that broadcasts reruns of vintage shows.

TV Land has donated six sculptures commemorating memorable TV events or characters to various cities, starting in 2000 with a New York City statue of Ralph Kramden, Jackie Gleason's character from "The Honeymooners."

But TV Land, owned by New York-based Viacom International Inc., is not planning to donate any additional statues and is re-evaluating the program, said Jennifer Zaldivar, a TV Land spokeswoman.

The dedication ceremony would draw media attention to Milwaukee, Fantle said, and the sculpture would provide another tourism draw for a city.

"This is a statue of a TV icon who remains the epitome of cool," he said.