For those of us who came along in the fifties and early sixties there was one overriding desire that drove us to try to do and be more than we were. Yup, any guy who was half-way alive and conscious wanted to be cool. Being cool was a very important thing for almost every male. In fact, those who didn't care about their coolness were looked upon as weird. Something was wrong with them. They probably took a bottle too long. They wouldn't know how to be cool if a map were drawn for them. But, those who were cool, were cool and there was nothing they could do about it. The rest of the guys tried everything they thought was necessary to be classed in that very elite group of "The Cool."
Some young person asked me a number of years ago if the late fifties and early sixties were really like they are portrayed in "Happy Days." "Was it really like that?" Did you actually have characters like Fonzie or is he just dreamed up by Hollywood. I quickly assure them of the fact that, yes, it was like Happy Days and all the characters were in my school; Tifton High School. Cool people didn't really have to try to be cool. They just were. There's no set recipe for being cool. If you are, you are and everyone knows it. The cool person becomes a "star" on campus without doing anything. He's just there and he is cool. You can't define it or describe it. It's just a state of being that one has and they might not even know it themselves. Sometimes a really cool guy would be told he is and then, all of a sudden, he wasn't anymore. The moment a cool guy was told that he possessed that to which many aspired, he was in danger of losing it because he would suddenly begin to act the part he thought should be played. The best thing to do was never tell a person they were cool. Just let it happen naturally.
Fonzie sauntered around in his tight jeans and his bowed legs. He wasn't big but he was wirey. Hair slicked back, a big grin and an atmosphere of utmost confidence. Fonzie would never let anyone know he was scared or intimidated in any way. He was filled with brash advice and almost a mafia atmosphere around him. If he thought he couldn't handle a situation he had someone who could and would. But he was always in charge. Fonzie was cool!! Just ask him anything and the coolness would ooze out of his pores. He could walk on the scene and everyone acted differently. People tried to walk like him. They wore the same jacket he wore. They pulled their jeans down low and wore the right brands. Cool guys are emulated because they are who they are not for what they have done. All the girls thought that Mr. Cool was something special. They flirted with him and secretly wanted to date him. Mr. Cool had it. Whatever "it" is he had it.
When asked by my teenage church members about the "Happy Days" of the late fifties they would say: "Did you have a Fonzie?" Were there really guys that were like Fonzie on Happy Days? I would quickly reply that yes we had a Fonzie and he was one of my best friends. "What was he like?", they would inquire. I would always say that he was the coolest guy in the school. "What was his name?" I would quickly answer; "His name is Darwyn Shannon, the coolest dude around." Darwyn wasn't big but he was muscular and wirey. He could walk on his hands as good as a lot of people could walk on their feet. He wore tight fitting "T" shirts that showed off his muscles just like the T V Fonzie. Big smile; liked to laugh and full of jokes and tricks. Everybody liked our Fonzie, Darwyn Shannon.
I met this character when I was in the tenth grade. Somehow, we immediately became friends and did a lot of things together. He lived in an outlying little community named Brookfield, GA with his mother, brother and sister. His father had recently been killed in a car accident. They lived in a little house in Brookfield that was known as a "shotgun" house because it was long and narrow. The railroad had built them for their workers and now Darwyn's family lived in one. Living in Brookfield hampered our ability to do things together but a solution happen to arise. My father owned a rental house and I asked Darwyn if he thought they might like to move to town. He talked with his mother and they decided they would rent the house and move closer in. We lived right next to each other and Darwyn and his family became like family to the Harrell's. Darwyn Shannon has always been like a brother to me. We developed that kind of relationship early on and it lives today.
But, back to the cool. Darwyn had an old 1940 Ford coupe with a little flat head V-8 in it. He painted it primer gray by using power puffs to dab the paint on it. It looked like a spray job. He also put an air horn on it that sounded like a semi trailer truck's horn. It would blow one off the highway when he would sneak up behind a person and blast them with that horn. It was an old car but it was Darwyn's car and it too was cool.
Tifton High's Fonzie was apt to do the unexpected. I recall that when we would have a school assembly in the auditorium he would do something that was hilarious. While everyone was coming in and things were getting settled down "Fonzie" would suddenly let out a horrendous scream. It sounded like really bad brakes on a car squealing and howling at the same time. Everyone knew Darwyn was in the room. Quickly, the school Vice-Principle, Mr. Julian Cannon would come down, get Darwyn and take him out of the assembly. I don't know what was said or done at that point but that scream was awesome.
You see, Darwyn was cool. He didn't try to be but he was. He walked a certain way with his bowed legs, and they were really bowed just like Fonzie's on Happy Days. Anything he wore was always neatly pressed and starched. Mr. Cool was very particular about his clothes and anything else he touched. By the way, he is still like that today. If Darwyn was in the crowd then it was the crowd to be in. Cool.
So, the answer is "yes." The late fifties and early sixties were like the Happy Days show. Watching that show can bring back memories of the guys in our school who did the same kind of things they do on Happy Days. Driving cool cars. Hanging out at the cool places. Drinking cherry cokes in the local drug store. Going to the radio station on Friday night for the "sock hop." Space will not permit me to tell many more of the things we found to do but, suffice it to say, we found them. But, there was no harm in us because kids in those days had some sense about what to do and not to do. But, there is one thing they could not do unless they just naturally possessed the ability and that was to be cool. Darwyn Shannon was our Mr. Cool.
William F. Harrell