Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Podcast Tuesday: "The Lap of Luxury"

Henry Winkler gets cozy with Morgan Freeman on Happy Days.

The makers of Happy Days could never have imagined, 40+ years ago, that their lighthearted program would one day be analyzed, dissected, and thoroughly scrutinized on something called the internet. But that's what ended up happening. Each week, my cohost and I review an episode of the nostalgic ABC sitcom on our podcast, These Days Are Ours. This week, for instance, we're talking about the episode "My Fair Fonzie" from November 1977. The plot has Fonzie (Henry Winkler) attempting to woo a snooty society dame named Cynthia (guest star Morgan Fairchild) and subsequently causing chaos at a stuffy yacht club party.

Enjoyable as the episode's main story is, however, I was even more intrigued by a scene at the end of the show in which middle-aged suburbanites Howard and Marion Cunningham (Tom Bosley and Marion Ross) snuggle on the couch. Just as they're about to kiss, their college-age son Richie (Ron Howard) comes bounding through the door with his steady girlfriend Lori Beth (Lynda Goodfiend). Richie and Lori Beth want the couch, but Howard sternly declares, "We were here first, Richard."

What makes the scene so intriguing is that we get a tantalizing glimpse of the Cunninghams' bookshelf. Thanks to some mischievous set decorators, there are some very, uh, intriguing titles in the living room of this supposedly wholesome Midwestern family. Let's see what we have here.

A bookshelf with some very adult titles on Happy Days.

Some Happy Days reading material.
Okay, first of all, this episode is supposedly taking place in 1959, and not one of these books would have been available back then. But that's the least of our concerns. Much more intriguing to me is the fact that the squeaky-clean Cunninghams have at least two, possibly even three copies of Summer in Sodom, a gay porn novel by Edwin Fey from 1964. I also spot at least two copies of Lou Rand's Rough Trade, another gay porn novel from 1964. The cover promises "handsome homosexuals on a rampaging orgy of gay lust." (It was originally published in 1960 as Gay Detective.)

And that's not all! Elsewhere on the bookshelf, we find The Erotic Revolution: An Affirmative View of the New Morality (1965) by Lawrence Lipton. ("With astonishing candor, author, essayist, and poet Lawrence Lipton presents a startling and unique report of sexual morality in America today.") If that's not enough, we have two nonfiction books about the sex industry. Dirty Helen (1966) is an autobiography by ex-madam Helen Worley Cromwell, who is said to have possessed "the dirtiest mouth in Milwaukee." Elsewhere on the shelf is Mr. Madam: Confessions of a Male Madam (1964) by Kevin Marlowe. Since the Cunningham family is depicted as being rather staid, I would imagine that these books were placed there by a naughty crew member.

Not everything is so racy. The Cunninghams also own a copy of John Huston: King Rebel (1965) by William F. Nolan, a biography of the maverick writer-director-actor. Success Is As Easy As ABCC (1968) by M.R. Kopmeyer is a standard self-help book that Howard might need in business. (For the record, "ABCC" stands for "Ask, Believe, Cooperate, Compliment.") The Vietnam-themed short story collection The Weary Falcon (1971) by Tom Mayer would offer Richie and his pals an upsetting glimpse of their own future. The Heron (1970) is the acclaimed final novel by Italian author and activist Giorgio Basani. The Cunninghams even dabble in the supernatural, as suggested by the presence of The World of the Twilight Believers (1970) by Richard M. Garvin and Robert F. Burger.

There's just no telling what you can find in a classic sitcom if you can freeze the frame and zoom in on the image. What else did we find in "My Fair Fonzie"? Listen and find out!