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Henry Winkler: ‘Royal Pains’ Character Mystery Even to Him

Henry Winkler says even he doesn't know whether his new series character — Eddie, the mysterious wayward father on the USA Network's "Royal Pains" — is a good-hearted finagler or someone more sinister.

Eddie was talked about last season by his estranged sons (Mark Feuerstein and Paulo Costanzo) on the popular series about a concierge doctor to the very rich. Viewers know that, thanks to his gullible younger son, Eddie has taken money from their HankMed company and claims he'll give it back. On Thursday's (6/10) episode, he'll get even deeper into his sons' world.

"I was invited into the writers' room to chat about the character. Nobody knew who Eddie was; they had an impression of him," Winkler tells us. "We talked about him a little bit. Now he grows as we watch the dailies. I've found that is true of certain characters. That happened with the Fonz, and with Barry Zuckerkorn," he says, referring, of course, to his iconic "Happy Days" character and to his ineffectual, disinterested lawyer in "Arrested Development."

Winkler doesn't know how many episodes of "Royal Pains" he'll wind up doing. He does know he's grown very fond of his onscreen offspring — Feuerstein, who "has more energy than 25 human beings and just astonishing creativity," and Costanzo, who "is sensitive, funny, a genius at improvisation. You never know where your scene is going to go with him."

The beloved star has been headquartering in New York with wife Stacey while doing "Royal Pains" — but he's also been traveling much of the time, as media spokesperson for a therapeutic use of Botox for upper limb spasticity, and on book tour appearances on behalf of his and Lin Oliver's 17th and final Hank Zipzer kids' tome. In it, our learning-challenged hero at long last finds his key to success as he gets into performing arts school with none other than prolific producer-director Garry Marshall as his mentor.

"I had to make him Hank's mentor because he was my mentor," explains Winkler, who unknowingly struggled with dyslexia throughout his school days. "I sent him the first copy. He called up and said, in his Garry way, 'This is very lovely — I'm in the book!'" Readers can look forward to a new book series from Winkler launching this fall.

SHE'S MAKING IT: When NBC's "Last Comic Standing" premieres tonight (6/7), readers will have the chance to see this column's own Emily-Fortune Feimster — just Fortune Feimster onstage — doing her comedic thing. Talented as she is as an interviewer and writer, the North Carolina-born funny lady's heart is understandably in her burgeoning performing career. She has said goodbye to Beck/Smith Hollywood after contributing for six years. She's been performing full time with Hollywood's The Groundlings sketch comedy company and regularly doing stand-up at the Comedy Store and elsewhere. We miss her, but we're happy, proud and cheering her on!

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: Jennifer Beals, about to jump back into series TV stardom with production cranking up on her forthcoming Fox "Ride-Along," says that her new character is "even tougher than Bette — much, much tougher than Bette." That is, Bette Porter, the lesbian art gallery owner she portrayed for six seasons on Showtime's "The L Word."

The "Ride-Along" character is "the first female superintendent of the Chicago Police Department." Is she gay or straight? "Straight, so far," answers Beals. "We've only shot the pilot." She's been doing research to prep for the part, including real ride-alongs with cops "to see how they handle people, and how people see them. It's definitely a whole new world for me — a very, very masculine world, and she's trying to maintain her femininity within the context of that world."

Beals has her "The L Word Book, a photographic journal" memoir/fundraiser newly on the market. And she has "The Book of Eli" coming out on DVD June 15. She looks back on production of the Denzel Washington post-apocalyptic sci-fi feature with fondness. It marked a decided change of pace after "The L Word," but Beals says that wasn't the attraction: "I was just looking to be part of a really great, complex story with meaning." She expected to find "an incredibly testosterone-driven action movie set," but filmmaker brothers Allen and Albert Hughes "were so sweet and giving, you want to give your best to them and to Denzel."

Her character, the blind mistress of top villain Gary Oldman, "is an extremely powerful human being to be able to survive in her situation, learning how to talk the halls of politics, not giving into despair or to anger," she adds.

RECOVERING: Actor, writer and director Robby Benson, who underwent open-heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in late May, is on the mend and then some. Pensacola, Fla., talk-show personality Taris Savell tells us that the family considers his surgery totally successful, and in fact, that he was up and walking around two days afterward, although still in pain. Born with a heart defect, the performer, who rose to fame in such films as "Ode to Billy Joe," and as the voice of the beast in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," has been through heart surgery multiple times. In fact, he wrote the off-Broadway play "Open Heart," about the trials of heart surgery, and starred in it with his wife, Karla DeVito, in 2004. He continues to be an advocate for heart research.


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