Happy Days: Why were the hairstyles so anachronistic?

Or some of them, anyway. Specifically, I’m thinking of teenage Joanie’s frizz, practically a white-girl Afro; Chachi’s feathered hair; and that little kid whom Fonzie was trying to adopt or get custody of, who had a bowl haircut that lapped down onto his collar. I think it was still the early '60s at that point in the show; yeah, the Beatles might have been on the scene, but it took a lot longer than that before little kids were allowed to have anything other than a brush cut.

From what I’ve heard about Garry Marshall, he’s supposed to be a very exacting producer. You’d think he would have insisted on accuracy in all areas. So why were such glaring anachronisms allowed?

As best as I can remember the type of details like hair styles were more accurate in the first couple of seasons of the show. In later years when it became a big hit these things started to slip (a similar thing happened on the TV show MASH). Maybe the producers figured by that point enough people were fans that they weren’t going to get hung up over stuff like that?

Because the show was about to jump the shark, obviously.

Undoubtedly. The stuff I mentioned was all in the later seasons. And they didn’t know, when they were casting for the first season, that the show would last so long or that Erin Moran’s hair would turn out like that.

Still bothers me, though. It’s not like I’m quibbling about the jukebox at Arnold’s: “But that model didn’t come on the market until 1961, and this episode takes place in 1959!” Hair is easy enough to get right.

I think this is part of a larger phenomenon related to TV or films set in another period. Inevitably, they are a glimpse into the time in which they were created in addition to being a look at a previous era. The movie Grease is another good example of a 1970s take on the 1950s. In the 70s, it had an very 50s “look” to it, but as time goes by, you can visually read more and more of the 70s creeping in. When you get that distance from the era in which it was created, some of these things seem more glaring. Yes, there were certainly things that seemed out of place even on first viewing, but the impression becomes stronger with the passing of time. Little House on the Prairie is another funny example of the 1970s aesthetic imposing itself kicking and screaming on another time period.

I wish I could think of some examples of this that don’t involve the 1970s (I will probably think of them after I hit “submit”) Oh, here’s one – for all the accolades Dazed and Confused received, and very deservedly, for it’s authentic 1970s look, I bet you dollars to doughnuts (I don’t know what that expression means, but I like it) that it will also seem more representative of the 90s upon future viewings.

I don’t really fault the shows for this sort of thing, I find it to be more intriguing than annoying. It’s a great example of our visual filters in action, we are always seeing things through the filter of our “now.” Another aspect of this that is interesting are the fashions, hairstyles, and other details that were popular in the period in which the show is set, but that aren’t included. You can only show so many things – how did the director/writers decide to include some and exclude others?

I’ve noted this too, delphica. It’s funny to watch period pieces filmed in past decades, because hairstyles (especially women’s) and makeup are often more reflective of the era in which they were filmed than the era in which they were set. This is true even when the movie/TV show is set in the future – there’s a certain “futuristic” look that’s instantly recognizeable as a product of the 1960s. It’s now obviously “retro”.

Part of this must be, as you say, that things that are common now are sort of “invisible” and only become obvious to the viewer once they’re past their sell-by date. Part of it is that everyone wants the actors to look attractive to the audience, and that means not doing them up in a way that’s completely out of whack with current fashion and beauty ideals. The hair/makeup people may know a particular “look” is anachronistic but decide that it’s worth sacrificing some historical accuracy to make the star look good.

Ooooh yeah, I think this can be seen even when it’s not particularly anachronistic – going back to Dazed and Confused, Milla Jovovich is dressed in such a way that is typical of the 70s, yet of all the 70s fashions, the ones selected for her character intentionally appealed to the audience of the 90s as well, to underscore her role as the stunner of the cast.

Yeah, I kinda remember Loretta Switt having a Farrah-Fawcett type 70s style at some point during the show’s run.

Exactly. Also BJ’s 1970s porn star moustache.

I don’t know about the jukebox, but the pinball machine at Arnold’s was Bally’s “Nip It,” a model that wasn’t produced until 1973.

Happy Days was never even close to being a realistic depiction of the 1950’s. To start with, in what year were any of the episodes set? The show lasted from 1974 to 1984, so you’re going to have to name a 10-year period (unless perhaps you’re saying that time stood still in this alternate universe, despite the fact that kids grew up). There were so many things that didn’t fit. How many malt shops in Milwaukee in the 1950’s had an Asian owner?

MAS*H was, of course, even worse. The movie and the earlier years of the series were really about the Vietnam War. (On the other hand, the novel that inspired the movie was written by a Korean War veteran and was truer to the period.) Despite some attempt to work in details from the Korean War, the attitudes in the movie and the series were hopelessly tied to a Vietnam War worldview. By the time the series went off, the series had moved beyond that to a post-Vietnam War attitude.

Before anyone complains about nitpicking, none of this means that Happy Days and MAS*H were bad series. They were, fairly deliberately, satires of the periods they depicted which attempted only minimal realism to those periods. It’s useless to even try to understand them as being representative of the periods they were supposedly set in.

MAD Magazine did a great parody of this. In the first few frames, Mr. C is reading the paper and it shows the results of the World Series from 1950-59.

I also like the Simpsons take on it…
Homer and Marge’s High School reunion (Class of '74, or something) theme was Happy Days.

Harrison Ford tells a story about being cast in American Graffitti. George Lucas wanted him to get an authentic period haircut (meaning, much shorter than was fashionable in the early 70s). Ford objected, saying that it would hurt his ability to get work in other movies. So they compromised, and turned the character into a Texan. He always wore a cowboy hat, which helped conceal the anachronistic hair length.

And the longhaired moviegoers probably never noticed until years later.