The Urban Dictionary defines “Laverne & Shirley” as: “Two Lesbians who kiss and love each other but are too afraid to have sex”. As in:
Lenny: ”I wonder how sexy it is when those two bang each other? ”
Squiggy: ”Naw, I can tell by the way she is looking at me that they are nothing but a couple of Laverne and Shirley’s. ”
Laverne & Shirley ran from 1976 to 1983 on ABC. It starred Penny Marshall as Laverne De Fazio and Cindy Williams as Shirley Feeney, roommates who, as the series began, worked in a Milwaukee brewery. The show was a spinoff on the mega popular Happy Days (1974-1984). Incredibly, it became even more successful than Happy Days. The characters of Shirley and Laverne first appeared on Happy Days as two girls who were out for a good time with Fonzie and Richie on a date. They proved to be so popular with audiences that the producers of Happy Days arranged for the characters to get their own series.
My sources tell me that it was a tense set; although they played best friends on camera, Marshall and Williams did not get along, yet together they were critical of the writers. There was a lot of screaming and swearing, bad enough that series creator Gary Marshall (brother of Penny) wouldn’t allow his kids on the set.
Laverne & Shirley was the Number One show on television after its first week, although Number One for that season was All In The Family. Marshall’s husband at the time, Rob Reiner was one of the leads on that landmark series. That had to have made for nice paydays in that household.
The series was originally titled called Laverne Defazio and Shirley Feeney, but after the first three episodes, the show became just Laverne & Shirley.
The show was so successful that Marshall and Williams were asked to record an album in 1976. Laverne And Shirley Sing had the two actors prominently featured on the LP jacket, their contributions seem to have been primarily in spirit. The female vocal leads, for the most part, were handled by Melissa Manchester, Diana Canova, and the soulful Waters Family. Michael McKean, who played Lenny on the series, wrote Oh Gee one of only two original compositions on the album. In keeping with the show’s late-1950s era, the album is mostly covers of early Rock ‘n’ Roll classics, including The Crystals‘ Da Do Run Run, The Four Freshmen‘s Graduation Day, and Everly Brothers‘ All I Have To Do Is Dream. There is also a peculiar spoken word cut More From Our Yearbook with Marshall and Williams reading from a mock high school yearbook.
Laverne & Shirley was a Marshall family affair. Penny Marshall acted and helped direct while her brother Garry created, produced, directed, and wrote scripts. Ronny Hallin, their sister, was the casting director and Anthony Marshall, the patriarch, was also a producer.
Garry Marshall, had worked on I Love Lucy, which gave him the inspiration for Laverne & Shirley.
I always thought that ‘L’ on Marshall’s sweater stood for lesbian.
In 1982, Williams got pregnant. Her manager/husband, Bill Hudson, pressed Paramount and ABC and with a list of demands. The studio 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.
Laverne & Shirley had a strange thing that they sang before the theme song. It was from Marshall’s childhood; he and her sister, Ronny would lock arms and chant it during their seven-block walk to school when they were kids:
1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8, schlemiel, schlimazel, hasenpfeffer incorporated!
It didn’t mean anything, but it became part of our 1970s lexicon.
Marshall and Williams had worked together before Laverne & Shirley. They wrote for Francis Ford Coppola‘s spoof My Country ‘Tis Of Thee, along with Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, and Martin Mull.
Michael McKean and David Lander were old friends from college, where they did the characters Lenny and Squiggy as part of a comedy troupe. Lenny and Squiggy were dug up and added to Laverne & Shirley storylines. McKean and Lander also released an album in character, Lenny And Squiggy Present Lenny And The Squigtones, with Christopher Guest on guitar and Kenny Loggins on percussion.
On Laverne & Shirley, Squiggy was desperate to get Shirley to go out with him, which never really happened. Off-camera, Lander and Williams were dating. It was Lander who encouraged Marshall to direct an episode of the show in Season 4. Marshall went on to become the first female to direct a film with a gross of more than $100 million: Big (1988) starring Tom Hanks. Some of her other films as director are Awakenings (1990), which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and A League Of Their Own (1992).
Producers never thought the show would last more than five seasons. The whole story was to end with Shirley and Laverne moving to New York City. Marshall and Williams insisted on keeping it real in Milwaukee, although they were okay with the show moving to Hollywood for the final three seasons.
Laverne & Shirley had a lot of guest stars, including Carrie Fisher who played a Playboy bunny in an episode where Laverne is exploring new lines of work! Other actors that worked on the series include: Jeff Goldblum, Ted Danson and Anjelica Huston.
Art Garfunkel (Simon & Garfunkel) guested on Laverne & Shirley. When the girls visit a coffee house for a change and some culture, they get a taste of the beatnik experience when Garfunkel recites poetry and pretends to be a tree on stage. Garfunkel and Marshall then became an item for more than half a decade.
Marshall was diagnosed with lung cancer and a brain tumor in 2009. After undergoing surgery, radiation, and chemo, she joked about gaining 60 pounds during her cancer treatments, saying:
…everybody else loses weight, yet somehow, I got fat!
Garfunkel said of Marshall:
Everything changed. Penny is a sweet human being who can bring anybody down to earth. We had a lot of laughs, great sex, and a ton of party nights.
Be sure to read James St. James‘s RIP celebrating the life of Penny Marshall.