Happy Days Bowling Shirt
Leopard Lodge League bowling shirt
costume worn on Happy Days television
(Museum object #2006.39.1)
Like the fictional Shotz brewery featured in the television series Laverne and Shirley that drew from one stereotype for which Milwaukee, Wisconsin is particularly famous — beer — this bowling shirt costume from the set of the television series Happy Days, also located in Milwaukee, highlights a favorite pastime of Wisconsin in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Worn by Marion Ross, who played Marion Cunningham on Happy Days during its 1974-1984 run, this shirt was produced by bowling shirt manufacturer Nat Nast. The shirt's back bears the bowling team's name, “Leopard Lodge League,” a reference to the fictional fraternal organization to which her television husband, Howard Cunningham (Tom Bosley) belonged.
Bowling has been associated with Milwaukee in the popular imagination for decades. While the sport arrived with early European immigrants to America’s east coast, it developed its deepest roots in the German communities of the Midwest, including Milwaukee, in the late 1800s. The American Bowling Congress, the sport’s governing body, relocated from Dayton, Ohio to Milwaukee in 1908. Before the American population began moving to the Sun Belt, bowling was most popular in blue collar, Rust Belt cities like Milwaukee, a city that produced some of the best known names in the sport, including Hank Marino, Ned Day, Carol Miller and Esther Ryan.
Movie shorts featuring bowling in the 1940s led to television broadcasts dedicated specifically to the sport beginning in the 1950s. This exposure significantly bolstered the bowling’s popularity among the growing middle-class during the time period featured on Happy Days. For a show that appealed to viewers based on popular perceptions of the period, its writers also linked the customary bowling league with the fictitious Leopard Lodge (no. 462), whose leopard-spotted brown fezzes are distinctly reminiscent of those affiliated with the Shriners.
The use of fraternal organizations in other 1950s-1960s programs, such as The Honeymooners with “The International Order of Loyal Raccoons” or The Flintstones and its “Royal Order of the Water Buffaloes,” as well as on Dennis the Menace and The Andy Griffith Show, had already proved to be a successful source of humor and writers incorporated the theme into the Happy Days script, even though by the 1950s fraternal organization membership had begun to decline since its peak earlier in the twentieth century.
Happy Days — the precursor to other famous spin-offs including Laverne and Shirley, Joanie Loves Chachi, and Mork and Mindy — first brought idealized values associated with 1950s middle-class America to television viewers on ABC in a 1971 pilot titled “New Family in Town.” While the network did not immediately turn the pilot into a series, its characters did appear again in a segment on Love, American Style.
In 1973, ABC resurrected the concept as a series, now titled Happy Days, with ABC executives hoping to capitalize on the show’s sentimental depiction of life in the 1950s, a theme recently popularized by the hit movie American Graffiti. Ironically, the Love, American Style segment provided some of the inspiration for George Lucas to co-author American Graffiti in the first place. The combination of this movie and Happy Days generated a continuing nostalgia for sentimental 1950s culture throughout the 1970s.
After some changes to its initial composition, Happy Days came to revolve around the Cunningham family: hardware-store owning father Howard, stay-at-home mom Marion, clean-cut son Richie (Ron Howard), and his tag-along younger sister Joanie (Erin Moran). The addition of local hooligan Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli (Henry Winkler), with catch-phrases like “Ayyyi” and his trademark leather jacket, endeared audiences and led to an impressive decade-long run. In 1980, the Smithsonian Institution honored the show by installing Fonzie’s jacket hung in an exhibition, a tribute to the show’s immense popularity and its place in American culture. Happy Days finally went off the air in July 1984 after 255 episodes.
[Sources: TV Land website online at http://www.tvland.com/shows/happydays/; TV Acres website online at http://www.tvacres.com/fraternal_org_program.htm.]
Posted on September 07, 2006
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