Happy Days (book)

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Happy Days: My Mother, My Father, My Sister & Me is an autobiography by American journalist, Shana Alexander, published by Doubleday in 1995.

Subject of the book[edit]

Although the book deals frankly with her often difficult relationship with her parents, Tin Pan Alley composer Milton Ager and his wife, columnist Cecelia Ager, in interviews author Alexander maintained she wanted to avoid writing a lurid, tell-all Mommie Dearest-type of celebrity confessional but rather “to tell this difficult story and to make a memorial to them. They were a remarkable couple, spanning a rich history of show business. And by the end they really did become my best friends.” [1]

“When you write about your parents you have to find a balance and be truthful without sacrificing any dignity,” she said. “I feel I described my parents in a careful refinement of words.” [2]

Although used to writing about difficult subjects and complicated, tough people (her previous books had included Anyone's Daughter, about Patty Hearst; Very Much a Lady about Jean Harris, the headmistress convicted of murdering Scarsdale diet author Dr. Herman Tarnower; and The Pizza Connection about Mafia drug dealing), in interviews, Alexander maintained that the look at her self and her own family, especially the complex, sometimes baffling relationship between her parents and her relationship with them was a daunting task. Alexander researched the book for five years and found difficult the fact that her parents, the primary subjects, refused to reveal key facts. "We were an allegedly open family, but our parents never told us anything," Ms. Alexander said. "I had to do a lot of detective work to uncover the truth about my parents' lives. I knew almost nothing about them as people." [1]

In the book, Alexander reveals a perplexing contrast between her parents public and private lives. On the surface, her parents lead glamorous lives and were the toast of the town. Her father Milton was a noted and highly successful composer whose songs included "Happy Days Are Here Again", "Ain't She Sweet", and "I’m Nobody’s Baby"; her mother Cecelia wrote columns in Variety, was a Hollywood screenwriter, and Manhattan movie critic. Friends like George and Ira Gershwin, the Marx Brothers, Sophie Tucker, and Dorothy Parker were some of the frequent visitors to their homes in New York and Hollywood. Yet, in their private lives, the couple, who often lived in hotels, were temperamentally opposites, slept in separate rooms, and essentially led separate lives. Alexander describes her mother as cold and unattached and writes of her inability to express love to either her daughters or her husband. However, the marriage lasted 57 years.

The book’s title, "Happy Days", taken from one of her father’s most famous songs, "Happy Days Are Here Again" is ironic “because my childhood was anything but,” Alexander said.[1]

Critical reception[edit]

The book was praised for its craftsmanship and its intriguing subject matter, particularly around the unanswered questions concerning Alexander’s parents’ lives [3] and as a “moving autobiography of a life damaged by the chilly Cecilia’s inability to love her and her sister Laurel, and her beloved father’s inability to help.” [4] While noting the glittery atmosphere created by appearances of the many celebrities who were the Ager’s friends, Publishers Weekly summed up the book’s main achievement: “But ultimately what will stay with readers the most is Alexander's moving account of her parents, her relationships with them, and their relationship with each other.” [5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Mary Alice Kellogg, “Shana Alexander Takes On the Toughest Subject, Her Family”, The New York Times, November 12, 1995.
  2. ^ Clyde Noel, “Shana Alexander Talks About Her Family”, The Los Altos (California) Town Crier, May 27, 1996.
  3. ^ Delia Ephron, New York Times Book Review, November 5, 1995
  4. ^ “Picks and Pans”, People, December 4, 1995, Vol. 44, Issue 23
  5. ^ John Smothers, Publishers Weekly, November 15, 1995.