Behind The Scenes On ‘Laverne And Shirley’

Published on February 10, 2018
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Laverne and Shirley, the mega hit TV show from the late 70’s was actually a spinoff of the show Happy Days. Incredibly, more successful than Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley ran for eight seasons from 1976 to 1983. Laverne and Shirley (played by Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams respectively) first appeared on Happy Days as two girls who were out for a good time with Fonzie and Richie on a date. Laverne and Shirley proved to be such a smash success with audiences that Happy Days‘ producers arranged for the two talented ladies to get their own show. And the rest, as they say – is history.

Behind The Scenes On Laverne And Shirley

Behind The Scenes On Laverne And Shirley

Best Friends on Camera

Although best friends in front of the camera, apparently Ms Marshall and Ms Williams fought on set and often had severe criticisms for the writers. Screaming and swearing were regular occurrences, so much so that Gary Marshall (Penny’s brother and the show’s creator) would hesitate before bringing his children onto the set.

Best Friends On Camera

Best Friends On Camera

Power Couple

Laverne & Shirley burst onto the air in on January 27, 1976, and was the No. 1 show on TV that week! Interesting to note that the most successful TV sitcom of the season that year was All in the Family. Penny Marshall’s husband at the time, Rob Reiner was the lead actor. They didn’t need a financial advisor, they had made it!

Power Couple

Power Couple

Gettin’ It Right

Originally called Laverne Defazio and Shirley Feeney – someone nicknamed the show Laverne & Shirley. It didn’t take long for the producers to realize the latter was a much better name, and so after a couple of episodes, the show became just – Laverne & Shirley.

Gettin It Right

Gettin It Right

They Can Act – They Can Sing

The show was so successful that Marshall and Williams were asked to record an album in 1976. Entitled ‘Laverne and Shirley Sing’, they famously later sang on a float for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – and subsequently on an episode of Laverne and Shirley.

They Can Act They Can Sing

They Can Act They Can Sing

Keeping It In The Family

The Laverne & Shirley show was a Marshall family affair through and through. Penny Marshall acted and helped direct while her brother Garry Marshall (pictured above) created, produced, directed, and wrote scripts. Ronny Hallin, their sister, was the casting director and Anthony Marshall, the patriarch of the family – was also a producer. What a talented family!

Keeping It In The Family

Keeping It In The Family

I Love Laverne and Shirley

The show’s creator Garry Marshall, had worked on Lucille Ball’s show I Love Lucy. His experience there gave him inspiration for Laverne and Shirley. He saw a whole in the market and he didn’t a financial advisor to know that no one on TV was doing physical comedy. Laverne and Shirley was born.

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I Love Laverne and Shirley

L for Laverne

When asked about the ‘L’ sown on her sweater, Penny Marshall explained it like this. When you’re starting out on a show you’re constantly trying to remind audiences of your name. Scriptwriters had both actresses mentioning their names numerous times in the first few episodes. One day when Penny was sifting through some vintage clothes she noticed a letter sown into the front of a sweater. She didn’t need a fashion course; she immediately got the idea to put an ‘L’ on her clothes.

L For Laverne

L For Laverne

No Babies Please

In 1982 Cindy Williams (who played Shirley) got pregnant. Her manager and husband at the time, Bill Hudson, pressed Paramount with a list of demands. The studio had initially assured her they would write the pregnancy into the series – but then decided against it. Williams left the series during season eight and sued Paramount for $20 million.

Cindy Williams With Husband Bill Hudson Los Angeles, Ca.

Cindy Williams With Husband Bill Hudson Los Angeles, Ca.

Not So Kosher

Strangely milk and Pepsi mixed together was Laverne’s favorite drink. Marshall introduced this detail because at home Marshall’s mother had always forced her to drink milk, while at Jewish summer camp, they couldn’t drink milk with meat – so they had Pepsi. If her mother even allowed Penny to have Pepsi at home, it was only after she’d drunk her milk. Sometime her mother didn’t rinse out the glass: the iconic milk-Pepsi drink was born.

Not So Kosher

Not So Kosher

When You Need A Friend

Marshall and Williams were always close while filming Laverne and Shirley. Then Penny Marshall and her husband Rob Reiner separated in 1979. The actresses became much closer while Shirley (Cindy Williams) offered much needed emotional support and friendship on set, picking up the slack and being extra hilarious when Laverne (Marshall) didn’t have the heart to be funny.

When You Need A Friend

When You Need A Friend

Schlemiel, Schlimazel

Laverne and Shirley had a strange little ditty they sang. Apparently it was from Penny Marshall’s childhood when she used to sing it with her friends. They’d link arms and say, ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, schlemiel, schlimazel, hasenpfeffer incorporated!’ It didn’t mean anything but it made everyone laugh.

Schlemiel Schlimazel

Schlemiel Schlimazel

Laverne and Shirley Join The Army

In 1981 Marshall and Williams actually did voice-overs for their animated incarnations in Laverne and Shirley in the Army. It aired on Saturday mornings and Laverne and Shirley defeated lots of strange and wonderful creatures like werewolves, aliens and Big Foot over the course of the show’s run.

Laverne And Shirley Join The Army

Laverne And Shirley Join The Army

Recycle and Re-Use

In 1966 a sitcom called Hey, Landlord! was a bit of a flop. It had some great people working on it, but for whatever reason it didn’t succeed. Many years later some of the scripts were dusted off and used for episodes of Laverne and Shirley.

Recycle And Re Use

Recycle And Re Use

No Strangers to Show Business

Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams had actually been working together for some time before teaming up to eat up the screen together as Laverne and Shirley. They wrote for Francis Ford Coppola’s My Country ‘Tis of Thee, a spoof. Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, and Martin Mull were also part of the Coppola writing team.

No Strangers To Show Business

No Strangers To Show Business

Lenny and Squiggy

Lenny and Squiggy existed long before Laverne and Shirley. Michael McKean and David Lander were old friends from college where they had both been a part of a comedy troupe – where they had originally invented the characters. When they started to write for Laverne and Shirley, Lenny and Squiggy were revived and added to storylines.

Lenny And Squiggy

Lenny And Squiggy

Hitting the Charts

Not only was the show Laverne and Shirley a smash success, the show’s theme song didn’t too badly either. When Cyndi Greco’s song ‘Making our Dreams Come True’ hit the airwaves in 1976 it was No. 25 on the billboard charts.

Hitting The Charts

Hitting The Charts

Lenny and Squiggy Part Two

With the outlandish success of the show, including the gals’ neighbors Lenny and Squiggy – Michael McKean and David Lander also released an album in character entitled ‘Lenny and Squiggy Present Lenny and the Squigtones’. Spinal Tap’s legendary Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) is credited with guitar. In 1979 Lenny and Squiggy performed a track from the album – ‘King of the Cars’.

Lenny And Squiggy Part Two

Lenny And Squiggy Part Two

Romance On And Off Set

On camera Squiggy was desperate to get Shirley to go out with him – which never really happened. Off camera, he was more successful and he and Cindy Williams went out in the beginning of the series. You can’t blame a man for trying!

Romance On And Off Set

Romance On And Off Set

The Lady’s Got Talent

Lander, aka Squiggy and a writer for Laverne and Shirley encouraged Penny Marshall, Laverne – to direct an episode of the show in season 4: ‘Squiggy in Love’. Apparently it was good advice because Marshall went on to become the first female director to gross more than $100 million at the box office with the hit Big, starring Tom Hanks. Subsequently she directed iconic movies like A League of Their Own and Awakenings.

The Ladys Got Talent

The Ladys Got Talent

Tall Dark And Danson

As much as future star Ted Danson needs no introduction, the brevity of his appearance on Laverne and Shirley in season 5 is unexplained. He only appears in one rather more serious episode, where his character, Randy Carpenter, is ready to propose! Unfortunately Randy is killed before he gets a chance to go through with his plans.

Tall Dark And Danson

Tall Dark And Danson

Boo Boo Kitty

One day during rehearsals Shirley pulled a stuffed cat toy out from under the bed. She was meant to find dust, but instead found a stuffed animals, so she improvised and called it after one of her mother’s cats. Boo Boo Kitty became a show regular, beloved by all. Williams reportedly met Stevie Nicks one night backstage and Nicks immediately told her how much she loved Boo Boo Kitty!

Boo Boo Kitty

Boo Boo Kitty

The Merch Table

Imagine Friends execs selling Ross and Rachel dolls, or Seinfeld selling a Kramer puzzle. Well, that’s exactly what Laverne and Shirley did. With the success of the show they didn’t need a financial advisor – its producers decided to open a merchandise line. You could buy puzzles, coloring books, novels, dolls, a board game, casino slot machines, an ‘L’ for Laverne top and bottles of Shotz beer. I’ll bet you they’re on sale on e-bay at this very moment.

The Merch Table

The Merch Table

Come As You Are

In 1977 when Marshall and Williams were asked to be presenters at the People’s Choice Awards, they said no because the event fell on one of their rehearsal nights. When they were told they didn’t have to dress up, the women changed their minds. Good thing too – because they made a memorable appearance in their jeans and t-shirts while presenting the Favorite Television Comedy Program award to Happy Days stars Henry Winkler and Ron Howard.

Come As You Are

Come As You Are

Special Stage

Paramount’s Stage 20, where Laverne and Shirley was filmed was hallowed ground. Other hit TV series and movies were filmed there. On TV, The Odd Couple (in which Penny Marshall co-starred) and My Three Sons, on the big screen – Star Trek: Voyager and Edward Norton’s Oscar-nominated Primal Fear were all created on Stage 20.

Special Stage

Special Stage

No Thanks Big Apple

Producers never thought the show would last more than 5 seasons. The whole story was to end with the friends’ move to New York, until Marshall and Williams insisted on keeping it real in Milwaukee. Subsequently they thought ‘what the heck’ – and went along with the show’s move to Hollywood where Laverne and Shirley kept people laughing for three more seasons.

No Thanks Big Apple

No Thanks Big Apple

Romantic Wrestling

Well I suppose talent attracts talent – or so it would seem as Laverne and Shirley hosted such luminaries as Jeff Goldblum on the show. In season 7, Jeff stepped onto set in ‘Watch the Fur Fly’ and did some romantic wrestling as Laverne’s date.

Romantic Wrestling

Romantic Wrestling

Not Meant To Be

Shirley’s boyfriend early on in the series, Carmine Ragusa (played by Eddie Mekka) was an aspiring actor and singer. In the final episode of the show, Carmine landed a lead role in the Broadway musical Hair; this storyline would have been the focus for Mekka’s own spin-off sitcom. Alas…it was never meant to be and the whole project lost momentum after the end of Laverne and Shirley.

Not Meant To Be

Not Meant To Be

Like Mother Like Daughter

Considering how talented their daughters are, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that both Mama Marshall and Williams guest-starred in an episode in season 3: ‘The Second (Almost) Annual Shotz Talent Show’. Frances Williams was Mrs. Bellini. She cleaned up pennies from her act after she sang ‘Pennies From Heaven’. Marjorie Marshall, a dance instructor, played Mrs. Ward, who danced with Laverne while she was auditioning. As they say: like mother like daughter.

Like Mother Like Daughter

Like Mother Like Daughter

Tonight with Jay Leno and Laverne

It may come as a surprise that Jay Leno, the hugely successful late night TV host, was once a guest star on Laverne and Shirley. Leno played a rough and tumble guy called Joey who was interested in Laverne. Despite her charms, she had to convince him she was a real lady – and the kind of girl you could take to a dance.

Tonight With Jay Leno And Laverne

Tonight With Jay Leno And Laverne

In A Galaxy Far Far Away

Like other hit TV sitcoms, Laverne and Shirley hosted a lot of guests. Interesting, strange, always surprising – Carrie Fisher is no exception. The recently deceased actress of course later became inextricably linked with Star Wars and the character Lea. But on Laverne and Shirley Carrie played a playboy bunny – in an episode when Laverne was exploring new lines of work!

In A Galaxy Far Far Away

In A Galaxy Far Far Away

Together Again

Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams reunited for an episode of the Nickelodeon series Sam & Cat in 2013. Playing two TV writers who were constantly at odds, they showed everyone they still had what it takes. Apparently from then on the two women became true friends again on and off set. Happy endings are the best.

Together Again

Together Again

Stranger than Fiction

Life is sometimes stranger than fiction when you learn that Art Garfunkel (Of Simon and Garfunkel) also made an appearance on Laverne and Shirley. When the girls visit a coffee house for a change and some culture, they get a taste of the beatnik experience when Art Garfunkel recites poetry and pretends to be a tree – on stage.

Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction

Coffeehouse Romance

A lot of things happen behind the scenes – and Laverne and Shirley is no exception. Art Garfunkel and Penny Marshall dated for almost five years, no passing fling then. The relationship is something she talks about in her memoir ‘My Mother was Nuts’.

Coffehouse Romance

Coffehouse Romance

Wheezer

In an attempt to help boost the confidence of her new beau Wheezer (aka Jim Belushi), who fails to fight off some tough guys – Laverne enrolls her dad to set up a scheme to push her new boyfriend out of his comfort zone. The late iconic actor Jim Belushi played his part with humor and style when he was invited guest star on Laverne and Shirley.

Wheezer

Wheezer

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