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Sitcoms convinced me every old building used to be a whorehouse.
Do you live in a centuries-old house? If so, according to sitcoms, you’re probably living in a former brothel, bordello, cathouse, house of ill repute—you know, a whorehouse. Sitcoms convinced me that if a building was around during the American Revolution and/or Civil War, there’s a good chance it was inhabited by prostitutes. But hey, it’s probably a historical landmark.
For one brief, shining moment in the 80s, the historic-old-building-that-used-to-be-a-whorehouse was a common sitcom trope. Here are a few examples...
Newhart – “In the Beginning” (1982)
The series premier of Newhart begins with Dick (Bob Newhart) and Joanna (Mary Frann) purchasing the historic Stratford Inn in an unnamed fictional town in rural Vermont. Dick, a writer and self-proclaimed history buff, agrees to give a speech to a local historical society, the “Daughters of the War for Independence,” who say many of their ancestors stayed at the inn in the winter of 1775. While Dick is researching the inn’s history for his speech, he discovers letters that indicate the inn was a brothel that hosted many American soldiers during the revolutionary war, meaning the Daughters of the War for Independence are actually descendants of prostitutes, or as Dick says, “daughters of a three-day pass.”
While giving his speech, Dick initially tries to avoid the subject by skipping over that era of the inn’s history, but the Daughters are anxious to hear about the winter of 1775, when their ancestors stayed there, and they demand he discuss it. Dick finally reveals the truth about the inn, but he tries to put a positive spin on it, suggesting that without the services of the Stratford, the colonists wouldn’t have won the war and America wouldn’t be what it is today. To his surprise, he wins over his audience and receives a rousing round of applause.
Too Close for Comfort – “Home is Where the Bart Is” (1984)
In the season four episode of Too Close for Comfort, “Home is Where the Bart Is,” the Rushes discover that the city wants to demolish their house to build a new subway station. Incensed, Henry (Ted Knight) leads a campaign to block the construction of the station and save their home.
During their first community meeting, Monroe (Jim J. Bullock) runs in and breathlessly announces that he thinks the Rush home could be declared a historical landmark. He explains that the house played a key role in the history of San Francisco, hosting celebrities, diplomats, and even a former US president. Everyone is curious to know exactly what the house was—an embassy? A diplomat’s residence? To tactfully broach the subject, Monroe asks if anyone saw “that movie with Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton.” Muriel (Nancy Dussault) helpfully supplies the name of the film: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Monroe replies, “Well, this was the best one in San Francisco.”
Despite Henry’s concern that the house will become a city joke, the family has no choice but to use the history of their home to try to save it from being demolished. Unfortunately, Supervisor Helms (Ben Piazza) says they don’t have enough evidence to prove it. At the last minute, the family is visited by an elderly woman named Sally (Carol Bruce), who says she was “one of them” when the house was “one of those” and confirms that a former US president visited the house twice. Helms still isn’t convinced until Sally mentions that she knew his father, whom she suggestively refers to as “Ever-ready Everett.” *wink wink* Get it?
Cheers – “The Stork Brings a Crane” (1989)
In the season eight episode of Cheers, “The Stork Brings a Crane,” Rebecca (Kirstie Alley) discovers that Cheers is coming up on its 100th anniversary, and she decides to throw a big bash to celebrate. She sends Woody (Woody Harrelson) to the library to research the history of the bar, and he learns that it was originally called “Mom’s.” Rebecca muses that Mom was a “twinkly little old lady” who served homemade apple pie to whalers, but Woody bursts her bubble when he explains that “Mom was an aging ex-fan dancer who provided free room and board to attractive, newly-arriving immigrant groups.” He adds that Mom’s reminds him of a “cute little place back in Hanover.” Rebecca tells him he has the wrong idea, and Woody agrees, saying, “Yeah, you’re probably right. The place back in Hanover was a whorehouse.”
Rebecca doesn’t let this news dampen her spirits. She goes all out for the 100th anniversary celebration, dressing in 1889 garb, hiring a barbershop quartet, and inviting the mayor and the oldest living man in Boston, and everyone forgets about the bar’s sordid history when Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth) goes into labor.
Mama’s Family – “What a Dump” (1989)
In the season five episode of Mama’s Family, “What a Dump,” the mayor of Raytown (Alan Oppenheimer) holds a block party to announce that he plans to demolish the whole block and use it as a landfill. Everyone is distraught until they learn that they’ll receive $30,000 for each of their homes, but Mama (Vicki Lawrence) is still reluctant to leave.
Things look grim as the ground-breaking ceremony is about to begin, and Mama is sitting alone in her empty house, savoring her fond memories. Suddenly, Bubba (Allan Kayser), who has been researching the city’s history for a school paper, rushes in with an exciting announcement: he has discovered an old police report that revealed that James A. Ray, the founder of Raytown, died in a brothel called “Ma Bodine’s.” When he tells Mama the address of the brothel, she ushers him out the door to get the report.
Meanwhile, the construction crew is preparing the wrecking ball, and Mama has to stall to protect her house until Bubba gets back. This results in a hilarious scene where Mama ends up swinging on the wrecking ball while the crowd scrambles to stop her.
Bubba finally comes back with the police report, and Mama proudly announces that her house was once Ma Bodine’s brothel, where James A. Ray died. The mayor says he has no choice but to declare her house a historical landmark and stop the demolition. Unfortunately, Mama’s neighbors aren’t as thrilled as she expected, since now they’re all out $30,000.