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July 19, 2013

Historical Echoes: “Happy Days” and Little Green Pieces of Paper

Amy Farber

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
, 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
—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.

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