Formative TV Experience No. 10: The Balls of Leather Tuscadero
Late-seventies television was, with a few exceptions, a wasteland for teen girls. In 1982, we got one intriguing season of Square Pegs, but the real breakthrough came in 1988, when Roseanne's Darlene Connor slouched onto the scene, swiftly followed by Blossom, Daria, Buffy Summers, Willow Rosenberg, Angela Chase, Rayanne Graff, Lindsay on Freaks and Geeks, the daughters on Once and Again, Rory Gilmore, and many more: Teen girls as multilayered protagonists, not crush objects or spunky ciphers.
In contrast to so many seventies and eighties girls, Joanie on the hit sitcom Happy Days had an appealingly bratty presence. But what really blew my mind was a far more minor Happy Days character: Susie Quatro, who appeared from 1977 to 1979 as Leather Tuscadero, the younger sister of Fonzie's girlfriend Pinkie. With her husky voice, Kristy McNichol–ish shag, and greaser clothes, Leather was a bit of a baby butch, freakishly rock-and-roll for TV, almost exotic. Plus, she had her own trademark hand gesture: two slaps to the thigh followed by shooty-fingers!
At the time, I had no idea Quatro was an actual musician, but her Wikipedia entry informs me that she started playing music at 14 and played the bass guitar in Fanny, one of the earliest major all-female rock bands. She refused a spinoff because she didn't want to be typecast. (She's also Sherilyn Fenn's aunt. Go know!)
Anyway, below, enjoy this clip of her singing "Johnnie B. Goode," accompanied by hilariously dorky sideman Ron Howard. And if you can't get enough, I beg you to watch this insane sequence in which poor Richie Cunningham almost dies of a head injury. Touched by his plight, Leather Tuscadero croons a truly sappy seventies-style love ballad over a we-love-Richie montage. And an ancient-looking Arthur Fonzarelli weeps in the presence of God.