Historical Echoes: “Happy Days” and Little Green Pieces of Paper
In 1965, Baby-Boomer kids may have been treated to TV footage of a high-stepping chorus line and thousands of people cheering to the background tune “Happy Days Are Here Again.” They may have noticed the tinny sound of the singing and the antiquated clothing styles of the people in the footage and, not knowing why they were looking at this, thought: Hey, this is a really great song.
“Happy Days Are Here Again” was written by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen in 1929. It became the campaign song for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1932 presidential bid. You can listen to a 1930 recording on SUNY Albany’s website (warning—very long musical introduction). Because it was associated with Roosevelt’s election and his stimulus plan—the New Deal—the song has become a symbol of economic recovery in general. It is song number 47 out of 365 songs in the Recording Industry of America’s and the National Endowment for the Arts’ “Songs of the Century.”
Roosevelt’s New Deal is often compared with the 2009 fiscal stimulus. A March 2009 congressional hearing attempts to derive lessons from this comparison. In 2008, just after President Obama was elected, Time magazine put the new president on its front cover, digitally altered to look like FDR. In a 2013 interview, Michael Grunwald, author of The New New Deal, compares the 2009 stimulus plan favorably with the 1930s New Deal. Chapter 1 of Theda Skocpol and Lawrence Jacobs’ Reaching for a New Deal compares the different situations of Roosevelt and Obama.
Allusions to “Happy Days Are Here Again,” when not facetious, resurface whenever things seem to be going in the right direction again (whatever that is). A January 2013 Crain’s article, “The sun comes out on Wall Street,” begins:
At last! The song they’re playing up and down Wall Street nowadays is “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Last week, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. both reported earnings that were considerably stronger than expected, thanks to ebullient activity in debt markets and a recovering housing market.
In 1965, kids were listening to the song as a backdrop to archival footage because millions had reason to cheer the fact that one fellow—slapstick comedian Soupy Sales—was back on TV after having been pulled off for a ten-day period due to a “financial” prank played while on the air. The words used in the fateful broadcast, as recalled later by Soupy:
Hey, kids, last night was New Year’s Eve and your mom and dad were out having a good time and it’s only right, since they work hard all year long. And they’re probably still in the bedroom asleep. Now, what I want you to do is tiptoe into the bedroom and don’t wake them up and you’ll probably see your mom’s pocketbook on the floor along with your dad’s pants. Now, be real careful, because we don’t want to wake them up, but I want you to go into your mom’s pocketbook and your dad’s pants and you’ll find some little green pieces of paper with pictures of guys with beards on them. Now, what I want you to do is take those little pieces of green paper and put them into an envelope, and on the envelope, I want you to write, Soupy Sales, Channel 5, New York, New York, and you know what I’m gonna send you in return? A postcard from Puerto Rico.
A complaint was called in to the FCC, and the show was suspended—but Soupy maintained that the children understood the joke from the start and, if they sent anything, it was “Monopoly” money. (Although in his shtick, he said he made $80,000.) Deprived fans (mostly college students) went wild with rage and picketed the studio, throwing eggs and paint, and the studio was forced to reinstate The Soupy Sales Show. When Soupy recounted the incident in 1993, someone from the audience yelled: “Hey, I want my dollar back!”
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the author.
Amy Farber is a research librarian in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Research and Statistics Group.